b. Lucius Venable Millinder, 8 August 1900, Anniston, Alabama, USA, d. 28 September 1966, New York City, New York, USA. Growing up in Chicago, Millinder worked in clubs and theatres in the late 20s as a dancer and master of ceremonies. His engaging personality resulted in his being appointed leader of several bands in Chicago, New York, and on tour. In 1933, he brought a band to Europe, playing as part of an all-Black revue. The following year he was appointed leader of the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, fronting it at the Cotton Club in Harlem. Beginning in 1938, he had a few bad years, part of the time leading the Bill Doggett band but mostly suffering acute financial embarrassment. In 1940, he formed a new band of his own, hiring some high-quality musicians - including, at one time or another in the first few years, trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Guy and Freddie Webster, saxophonists Tab Smith, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis and Sam ‘The Man’ Taylor, and in the rhythm section Doggett, Trevor Bacon and David ‘Panama’ Francis. Millinder also had Sister Rosetta Tharpe in the band for a while. He enjoyed considerable success, playing dance dates, often at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, broadcasting and touring, with occasional recording sessions for good measure.
Despite the changing times, Millinder kept the band afloat throughout the 40s, eventually calling it a day in 1952. Thereafter, he earned his living outside music, but formed occasional bands for special concerts. Although he was not a musician and could not read music, Millinder was an exceptional frontman, conducting his bands with flair and showmanship. Given the fact that many of the arrangements used by his bands over the years were complex, he clearly had a good ear and was able to create the effect of leading when in reality he was following the musicians under his baton. Although it might be said with some justification that the Mills Blue Rhythm Band and his own band of the early 40s owed little to him musically, there can be little doubt that they owed him much for the success they enjoyed.