Chief Bey

James Hawthorne Bey (April 17, 1913 – April 8, 2004)[1][2] was an American jazz percussionist and African folklorist. He played under the name of Chief Bey.

Early life

Born James Hawthorne in Yemassee, South Carolina,[1][2] Bey moved with his family to Brooklyn and then to Harlem, where he began playing drums and singing in church choirs. He also served in the Navy during World War II and later attended cosmetology school.[1]

Later life and career

In the 1950s, Bey performed in an international tour of Porgy and Bess starring Leontyne Price and Cab Calloway. He also began a busy recording career, performing on Herbie Mann's At the Village Gate (1961), Art Blakey's The African Beat (1962), Ahmed Abdul-Malik's Sounds of Africa (New Jazz, 1961), as well as albums by Harry Belafonte, Miriam Makeba and Pharoah Sanders, among others. He took his stage name after joining the Moorish Science Temple of America, a Muslim sect. Then he taught the shekere, a West African percussion instrument, at the Griot Institute at Intermediate School 246 in Brooklyn.[1]

Bey died at his home in Brooklyn of stomach cancer at the age of 91.[1][3] His widow, Barbara Kenyatta Bey (born Barbara Ann Coleman in Harlem on June 9, 1944), was a priestess of Yemaja in the Yoruba religion. She collapsed at his funeral and died four days later.[2]


As leader

As sideman

With Art Blakey

With Hamiet Bluiett

With Herbie Mann

With Pharoah Sanders

With Guy Warren

  • The Guy Warren Soundz: Themes for African Drums (RCA-Victor, 1958)


  1. Associated Press. "Chief Bey, 91 Jazz Drummer." The New York Times, April 13, 2004. Retrieved October 28, 2016.
  2. Jenkins, Todd S. "Chief Bey: Master of African drums." Retrieved October 28, 2016.
  3. Carlson, Russell. "Percussionist Chief Bey Dies.", April 15, 2004.
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