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Copyright (c) 2016 Peter M. Lefferts

This document is one in a series---"Chronology and Itinerary of the Career of"---devoted to a small number of African American musicians active ca. 1900-1950. They are fallout from my work on a pair of essays, "US Army Black Regimental Bands and The Appointments of Their First Black Bandmasters" (2013) and "Black US Army Bands and Their Bandmasters in World War I" (2012). In all cases I have put into some kind of order a number of biographical research notes, principally drawing upon newspaper and genealogy databases. None of them is any kind of finished, polished document; all represent work in progress, complete with missing data and the occasional typographical error. I invite queries, amplifications, and corrections, which may be directed to The present document is a first draft of July 2016.


WILL VODERY (October 8, 1884 to November 18, 1951) Arranger and orchestrator, composer, conductor; club owner. Celebrated most as a legendary orchestrator and arranger (including a credit as the first black arranger in Hollywood), then next as a bandleader and trainer of choirs, and then as a composer. (Tellingly, he was not a member of ASCAP.) Vodery mostly worked in musical theatre, but he was also a conductor, composer, and arranger of instrumental dance music. Worked with everyone. A protege of Will Marion Cook and Bert Williams. Cook and Vodery were mentors to Ellington. Vodery was mentor to Gershwin and William Grant Still. Tucker rightly calls him "a preeminent African-American musician of his generation" (cit. Tucker dict. art.)

Salem Tutt Whitney writes the following in his "Timely Topics" column, under the heading "Impressions of Musicians" (Chicago Defender, October 11, 1930, p. 5): "Will Vodery heads the list of arrangers. Composer of many beautiful songs and a jolly good fellow. Knows what he knows and is getting $35,000 a year for knowing it." Close friends and associates included Oscar Hammerstein, Noble Sissle, Flo Ziegfeld, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Florence Mills, Jerome Kern, Don Voorhees, Billy Rose, Fannie Brice, etc. (Pittsburgh Courier, December 1, 1951, p. 5)

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