Cultural Percussionist

Danny Barker Day

Daniel Moses Barker (January 13, 1909 – March 13, 1994) was an American jazz musician, vocalist, and author from New Orleans. He was a rhythm guitarist for various bands of the day, including Cab Calloway, Lucky Millinder and Benny Carter throughout the 1930s.

One of Barker’s earliest teachers in New Orleans was fellow banjoist Emanuel Sayles, with whom he recorded. Throughout his career, he played with Jelly Roll Morton, Baby Dodds, James P. Johnson, Sidney Bechet, Mezz Mezzrow, and Red Allen. He also toured and recorded with his wife, singer Blue Lu Barker. From the 1960s, Barker’s work with the Fairview Baptist Church Brass Band was pivotal in ensuring the longevity of jazz in New Orleans, producing generations of new talent, including Wynton and Branford Marsalis who played in the band as youths.

Danny Barker was born to a family of musicians in New Orleans in 1909, the grandson of bandleader Isidore Barbarin and nephew of drummers Paul Barbarin and Louis Barbarin. He took up clarinet and drums before switching to a ukulele that his aunt got him, and then a banjo from his uncle or a trumpeter named Lee Collins.

Barker began his career as a musician in his youth with his streetband the Boozan Kings, and also toured Mississippi with Little Brother Montgomery. In 1930 he moved to New York City and switched to the guitar. On the day of his arrival in New York, his uncle Paul took him to the Rhythm Club, where he saw an inspiring performance by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. It was their first performance in New York as a band.

Barker played with several acts when he moved to New York, including Fess Williams, Billy Fowler and the White Brothers. He worked with Buddy Harris in 1933, Albert Nicholas in 1935, Lucky Millinder from 1937 to 1938, and Benny Carter in 1938. During his time in New York, he frequently played with West Indian musicians, who often mistook him for one of them due to his Creole style of playing.

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