Billy Eckstine

image for Billy Eckstine
Exhibition Label
Billy Eckstine’s seductive bass-baritone made him America’s most popular singer at the start of the 1950s. Eckstine launched his career by winning an amateur contest at Washington, D.C.’s Howard Theater in 1933, and later served as the lead vocalist with Earl Hines’s orchestra (1939–43). At a time when record producers balked at allowing African American singers to record anything but the blues, Eckstine achieved a breakthrough with “Skylark” (1942), which outsold Bing Crosby’s version of the song. In 1944 he assembled a groundbreaking band whose changing roster of stellar jazz musicians included Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt, Art Blakey, and vocalist Sarah Vaughan. Credited as “the cradle of bebop,” the ensemble was not commercially successful and disbanded in 1947. Eckstine transitioned to a successful career as a solo performer and recording artist, and became actively involved in the civil rights movement.
Con su seductora voz de bajo-barítono, Billy Eckstine fue el cantante más famoso de Estados Unidos a principios de la década de 1950. Su carrera despegó en 1933 al ganar un concurso de aficionados en el Howard Theater de Washington, D.C., y poco después pasó a ser cantante principal de la orquesta de Earl Hines (1939–43). En tiempos en que los productores discográficos se resistían a que los cantantes afroamericanos grabaran algo que no fuera blues, Eckstine logró romper esquemas con su versión de “Skylark” (1942), que desbancó a la de Bing Crosby. En 1944 reunió una banda que sentó precedentes, con un elenco estelar que variaba regularmente y que llegó a incluir a Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt, Art Blakey y la cantante Sarah Vaughan. Aunque se le considera “la cuna del bebop”, el conjunto no tuvo éxito comercial y se disolvió en 1947. Eckstine hizo la transición hacia una exitosa carrera como solista en vivo y en discos, y se involucró activamente en el movimiento pro derechos civiles.
Artist
Herman Leonard, 1923 - 2010
Sitter
Billy Eckstine, 8 Jul 1914 - 8 Mar 1993
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Restrictions & Rights
© Herman Leonard Photography LLC
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection
1948 (printed 1998)
Object number
NPG.2014.111.8
Topic
Equipment\Sound Devices\Microphone
Costume\Dress Accessory\Handkerchief
Interior\Performing Arts
Billy Eckstine: Male
Billy Eckstine: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician
Portrait
Place
United States\New York\Kings\New York
Medium
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
Dimensions
Image: 39 × 31.5cm (15 3/8 × 12 3/8")
Sheet: 50.3 × 40.5cm (19 13/16 × 15 15/16")
Frame: 71.8 × 56.5 × 3.8 cm (28 1/4 × 22 1/4 × 1 1/2")
National Portrait Gallery
Type
Photograph