Ward Pinkett

William Ward Pinkett, Jr. (April 29, 1906—March 15, 1937) was an American jazz trumpeter and scat vocalist active during the Harlem Renaissance. A respected sideman recognized as a "hot" trumpet and with a versatile ear, he played and recorded with some of the greatest jazzmen of the era, including King Oliver, Jimmy Johnson, Chick Webb and Jelly Roll Morton. His career was cut short by alcoholism.

Ward Pinkett
Pinkett in 1933
Background information
Birth nameWilliam Ward Pinkett, Jr.
Born(1906-04-29)April 29, 1906
Newport News, Virginia, U.S.
DiedMarch 15, 1937(1937-03-15) (aged 30)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musician, vocalist
Years active1924–1935

Early life

Born into a musical family, Pinkett was the eldest of four children born to William Ward Pinckett and Mary Louise nee Carr of Newport News, Virginia. His father, a prosperous tailor and land owner, was an amateur cornet player who formed the Newport News Brass Band around 1900, playing for social clubs and funerals in the area. His mother played piano, often accompanying his father in the home, and his sister, Loretta Gillis (1913-1998), played saxophone in several local jazz bands.[1]

Encouraged by his father, he started learning cornet at an early age and began playing trumpet at ten. He followed his father by enrolling in the Hampton University, where he played in the school band.[2] There he met and received trumpet lessons from Harry R. Cooper, who was attending Hampton's architectural school.[3] Before graduating, Pinkett was recruited by William A. Sykes, music director of the Haven Conservatory of Music of Meridian, Mississippi, to attend the private institute, along with several of his school friends,[4] including trumpeter Harold F. Whittington, who also became a professional jazz musician.[5]

Pinkett did not finish his studies at the academy. He joined Roy F. Johnson's Happy Pals, a well-known jazz orchestra from Richmond, Virginia. From there he went to the White Brothers Orchestra, a similar territory band from Washington, D.C., that played in the area bounded by Pittsburgh, New York, and its home base.[6]


In January 1926, 19-year-old Pinkett joined Charlie Johnson's Original Paradise Band at Smalls Paradise in Harlem, Manhattan.[7] In the summer of 1926 he switched to the 10-piece Willie Gant's Paradise Ramblers, who took over from Johnson as Smalls' house band from May 1926 to 1927.[8] Jazz writer Albert McCarthy reported that Pinkett recorded three sides with Gant's band in the mid-1920s, based on an interview with Harry Cooper conducted by Charles Delaunay.[9] Gant himself reported that he cut some sides during the period he led the Smalls Paradise band, but none of his recordings have been found.[10] In July 1926 Pinkett recorded three songs with a band fronted by Tommy Morris, which are his earliest surviving recordings. Later that year he was with Billy Fowler's Society Orchestra and then James Hogan's band at the Joyland on 4th Ave. and 14th St.[11]

In 1927 he joined banjoist Henri Saparo’s Orchestra at the Bamboo Inn on Seventh Avenue and 139th Street. A fire closed the club down in June, and the club reopened in the fall. Saparo continued as bandleader with Langston Curl on trumpet, but after Saparo left in early 1928 pianist Joe Steele took over the band and soon replaced Curl with Pinkett. [12]

From 1928 to 1930, he recorded with Jelly Roll Morton. During his career, Pinkett also recorded with James P. Johnson, Bubber Miley, King Oliver, and Clarence Williams. He performed at the Tap Room in 1935 with Bernard Addison and Albert Nicholas. Alcoholism and pneumonia contributed his death at the age of thirty.[13] He is buried in Pleasant Shade Cemetery in Hampton City, Virginia.[14]



  1. Spencer & Gillis 1998, p. A10.
  2. Spencer & Gillis 1998, p. A10.
  3. Kragting, Jr. 1990, p. 124.
  4. Spencer & Gillis 1998, p. A10; Piano 1924, p. 20.
  5. Williams 1941, p. 39.
  6. Spencer & Gillis 1998, p. A10.
  7. Chilton 1985, p. 261.
  8. Lipskin & Kunstadt 1960, p. 4.
  9. McCarthy 1946a, p. 25
  10. Lipskin & Kunstadt 1960, p. 4.
  11. McCarthy 1946b, p. 24; Chilton 1985, p. 261.
  12. Hennessey 1973, p. 283-5; McCarthy 1983, p. 51, 61.
  13. Yanow, Scott. "Ward Pinkett". AllMusic. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  14. Find A Grave


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