Lou Black

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This banjoist was born and died in a Midwest town called Rock Island, but as a musician he strictly inhabited jazz territory. He began flailing on the banjo as a child, and at 16 was playing professionally…
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This banjoist was born and died in a Midwest town called Rock Island, but as a musician he strictly inhabited jazz territory. He began flailing on the banjo as a child, and at 16 was playing professionally with Rock Island's most swinging combos. Pianist Carlisle Evans fronted a riverboat band, which represented the young banjoist's first road trip in 1919, although it was a river and not a highway that carried the S.S. Capitol along. Early in the '20s, Black joined up with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings group at the Friars' Inn venue in Chicago. He stayed with this outfit for several years, joining the Original Memphis Melody Boys in 1923 for a wee stint before returning to the employment of earlier bandleader Evans.

Beginning in the mid-'20s and continuing into the early '30s, Black picked up a position as a staff musician on radio WHO in Des Moines, IA. It might have been the built-in obscurity of this station that got to him, but he wound up quitting music entirely for a time period roughly equal to the number of years he had already been alive. That took him all the way up until 1961, and in the process he missed having to make the same decision that almost every other jazz banjoist did (i.e., switching to guitar). Theoretically having achieved some kind of balance between playing music and not playing, he began a short but final period of activity on the banjo. In 1963 he surprised Dixeland jazz fans by sitting in with various groups around New York City. Later that year, the banjoist began playing gigs around the area of Moline, IL. In late 1965 he was injured in a car crash, then died from a heart attack while still recuperating in the hospital. The Black discography consists mostly of archive recordings done during the early days of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, and he does not seem to have recorded during his '60s period of music-making.