Lucky MillinderLucky Millinder had a great stage presence, a good ear for a hot tune, and a knack of making chart topping records. He made those talents go a long way because he didn’t sing or play an instrument, and he couldn’t read music. As a band-leader, however, he put together The Lucky Millinder Orchestra that took ‘big-band swing’ firmly in the direction of Jump-Blues in the early 40s, and paved the way for R&B with his many smash hit dance records.

Lucius Millinder was born in Anniston AL in 1900, and his family moved to Chicago when he was a child. His interest in music and his engaging manner led him to several jobs as MC on the club scene, and ‘Lucky’ took over direction of the Mills Blue Rhythm Band in 1934. He worked with Bill Doggett’s band in 1938 and formed The Lucky Millinder Orchestra two years later, appearing in the film ‘Paradise in Harlem’ with the Blues Diva Mamie Smith.

Lucky had a good ear for musicians, recruiting Dizzy Gillespie, Sam ‘the Man’ Taylor and Bull Moose Jackson, and a knack of knowing what would excite the audience. The Harlem clubs where the band made its reputation were jumping to the sound of up-tempo dance music as the swing era drew to a close. Lucky got a record deal with Decca in 1942, and in the next three years the band had four No.1 hits and many more records in the charts. ‘Who Threw the Whisky in the Well’ was probably the biggest seller, featuring the young Wynonie Harris on vocals.

Lucky and Sister Rosetta Tharpe sing ‘Shout, Sister, Shout’;


By the end of the 40s, the trend towards smaller groups forced Lucky to pare down the band, but somehow he could not find the same vitality that exuded from the full Orchestra, despite having the  superb talents of Ruth Brown and Sister Rosetta Tharpe out front. They continued to record until 1952, when Lucky dissolved the band and took up a job as a DJ on a New York radio station. He passed away in 1966.