Little Known Black History Fact: Earl “Fatha” Hines

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Earl Hines, better known as Earl “Fatha” Hines, was a pianist who was dubbed the “Father of Modern Jazz Piano.” Today is his birthday.

Earl Kenneth Hines was born in 1903 in Duquesne, Pa., just 12 miles outside of Pittsburgh. At 17, he became a professional musician, joining singer Lois Deppe’s band at a Pittsburgh nightclub.

In the early ’20’s, Hines moved to Chicago, then known as the Jazz capital of the world, and struck up a partnership with Louis Armstrong as the pair played together. Hines would later join Armstrong’s band, crafting some of his earliest recordings but the pair would part ways.

Hines then went on to become his own bandleader, with names like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie playing alongside him. Gillespie once said in an interview that Hines paved the way for modern jazz piano players such as Herbie Hancock and others. Count Basie once referred to Hines as the greatest piano player in the world.

The ’40’s were a time of prominence and nationwide fame for Hines as radio brought his sound to larger, mainstream audiences. But by the end of the ’50’s, his fame all but faded. But a few years later, his fortunes turned.

In 1964, he returned to music after a brief retirement and enjoyed a career resurgence that saw him playing alongside Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Mingus, Tony Bennett, and many others.

Hines played from 1964 until just weeks before his death in Oakland, Calif. In 1983. He was 79.

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