Sonny Greer

William Alexander "Sonny" Greer (December 13, c. 1895 March 23, 1982) was an American jazz drummer and vocalist, best known for his work with Duke Ellington.

Sonny Greer
Background information
Birth nameWilliam Alexander Greer
Born(1895-12-13)December 13, 1895
Long Branch, New Jersey United States
DiedMarch 23, 1982(1982-03-23) (aged 86)
United States
InstrumentsDrums, chimes, gong, timpani, vibes
Years active1910–1966
Associated actsElmer Snowden, Duke Ellington, Washingtonians


Greer was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, and played with Elmer Snowden's band and the Howard Theatre's orchestra in Washington, D.C., before joining Duke Ellington, whom he met in 1919. He was Ellington's first drummer, playing with his quintet, the Washingtonians, and moving with Ellington into the Cotton Club. As a result of his job as a designer with the Leedy Drum Company of Indiana, Greer was able to build up a huge drum kit worth over a then-considerable $3,000, including chimes, a gong, timpani, and vibes.[1]

Greer was a heavy drinker, as well as a pool-hall hustler (when he needed to retrieve his drums from the pawnbroker), and in 1950 Ellington responded to his drinking and occasional unreliability by taking a second drummer, Butch Ballard, with them on a tour of Scandinavia. This enraged Greer, and the consequent argument led to their permanent estrangement.

Greer continued to play, mainly as a freelance drummer, working with musicians such as Johnny Hodges, Red Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Tyree Glenn, and Brooks Kerr, as well as appearing in films, and briefly leading his own band. Greer featured in the iconic 1958 black-and-white photograph by Art Kane known as "A Great Day in Harlem". He was part of a tribute to Ellington in 1974, which achieved great success throughout the United States.

Greer died in 1982 and is interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.


With Duke Ellington

  • Duke Ellington (RCA Victor, 1957)
  • The Duke in London (Decca, 1957)
  • At the Cotton Club (RCA Camden, 1958)
  • Caravan (RCA Victor, 1958)
  • Jazz Cocktail (Columbia, 1958)
  • Johnny Come Lately (RCA Victor, 1967)

With Johnny Hodges

With others


  1. "Sonny Greer" at Drummerworld.


  • Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather & Brian Priestley. Jazz: The Rough Guide. ISBN 1-85828-528-3
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