Robert Crowder

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Also known as Baba Ibekunle Bey, this percussionist has pursued a serious course of study in various percussion traditions that resulted in some contacts with the jazz world as artists such as bandleader…
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Also known as Baba Ibekunle Bey, this percussionist has pursued a serious course of study in various percussion traditions that resulted in some contacts with the jazz world as artists such as bandleader and drummer Art Blakey hit on similar wavelengths from time to time. He plays on a selection of recordings combining multiple percussionists and jazz musicians, and is often confused with two other musicians named Robert Crowder.

He is sometimes believed to also have been the saxophonist and arranger who was employed by both the Earl Hines and Lionel Hampton bands from the late '20s into the '30s, but it is both certain that technology had not been developed that would have allowed him to play from within the womb, and it is also logical to assume both the Hines and Hampton bands had "no diaper" policies in force for sidemen during these decades.

Another Crowder that crowds this Crowder is the Chicago drummer who worked with avant-garde groups such as the Art Ensemble of Chicago, as well as some blues artists. The idea of both the drumming Crowders being the same guy is exciting to think about because it would imply a severe stylistic change from the early Afro-jazz drumming styles to later, spacy avant-garde playing, as well as the impressing feat of Crowder being involved in sessions with Blakey and other dynamic jazz artists when he was a young teenager, according to the birthday given for Crowder on the liner notes to a Roscoe Mitchell album. But unfortunately, it is not a reality.

The earlier hand drummer Crowder's family bounced back and forth between the state of his birth and Philadelphia before finally settling in the big city for good in the late '30s. He is remembered fondly by many of this city's drummers and dancers who heard him perform many times over the years. He began drumming as a child using wooden cheese boxes and found objects. Local parades featuring African-American rhythms excited him, but he was searching for something else, something that seemed to speak to him directly when he heard for the first time drummers such as Jean la Destiné and Chano Pozo, who Crowder saw performing with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. He began to study with percussionist John Hines, and also learned from the drummers who were playing for dancers at several local locations. He began drumming for many types of dancing as well and became one of the mainstays of the African hand-drumming scene in Philadelphia. A connection with the city of brotherly love's most famous bop drummer was inevitable, as Crowder continued dipping into Haitian, Brazilian, and African drum traditions. He was featured on the classic Blakey album Afro Beat in 1962, and later recorded with artists such as Montego Joe and Olatunji.

When the artist and drummer Saka Acquaye came to Philly from Ghana to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, it had a giant impact on Crowder. The historical content of the Ghanian drummer's music was particularly exciting to Crowder. He went on to become the founder and director of the Kulu Mele African American Dance Ensemble. In 1995, a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts made it possible for Crowder to go to Ghana for further studies with Acquaye.