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Fridays are the day when we at the McElrath Cabaret Blog present blog posts in our Cabaret Through Time series. We present historical cabaret singers, entertainers, venues, writers, and musicians, and often include cabaret videos. We hope that you find them informative!
Ellis Larkins–Accompanist and Solo Pianist Extraordinaire
I want today to draw attention to a piano player who was so gifted and such a talent, and his name was Ellis Larkins. Mr. Larkins is remembered for being the accompanist for Ella Fitzgerald, Chris Connor, Eartha Kitt, Joe Williams, Harry Belafonte and many other popular singers. He was also a very fine piano soloist as well.
To briefly recap his biography, he was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1923. He was, according to Wikipedia, ”the first African American to attend the Peabody Conservatory of Music . . . .” He moved to New York to attend Julliard, and while there began his professional piano career. James Gavin in Intimate Nights writes that Larkins was the “leader of the Blue Angel [nightclub in New York] house trio for several years–Ellis Larkins has a light, airy, instantly recognizable touch . . . ” (376). He played at jazz clubs, jazz festivals and as a studio sessions player. He was a recording artist for several decades, and was most active from the 1940s through the 1970s. He passed away in 2002.
Some of his notable albums include:
- Blues in the Night: The Melodies of Harold Arlen (1952)
- Perfume and Rain (1954)
- Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me: In An Ellington Mood (1955)
- The Soft Touch (1957)
- Blue and Sentimental (1958)
You can find more information about Ellis Larkins on Wikipedia and NPR Jazz Profiles. He was a guest on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz on NPR, and you can hear the entire interview for free online. More biographical information is given in the New York Times and a biography with a fuller discography is available to AllMusic. Several of his piano stylings are also featured on You Tube.
Here is Ellis Larkins playing “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be, ” with music by Mercer Ellington and lyrics by Ted Parsons:
Are you familiar with the recordings of Ellis Larkins? Did you ever have the pleasure of seeing him perform live? Let us know in the comments below–we love to hear from you!
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Till next time,
Weekly Post Lineup At McElrath Cabaret:
Tuesdays: Cabaret Tip Tuesday
Wednesdays: Ask A Cabaret Question
Fridays: Cabaret Through Time