Today’s Song of the Day comes courtesy of the Wynton Marsalis-produced soundtrack to Bolden, a film that reimagines the life of the enigmatic and mysterious early jazz figure Charles “Buddy” Bolden. The cornet player, known as the first king of New Orleans music and a father of jazz, was born on this day (September 6) in 1877.
Much of Bolden’s life is shrouded in mystery. Any biographical notes on him are a mix of fact and fiction. The truth, most likely, lies somewhere in between. By the late 1890s, he led the most successful band in New Orleans and quickly became known as King Bolden, the leading figure of the rising New Orleans-style ragtime music that would later be known as jazz. Those who later sang the praises of his musical prowess would emphasize his loudness. At the time, both Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton were both well-known admirers of Bolden’s fiery, acrobatic style.
Bolden’s popularity remained unchallenged in New Orleans right up to the middle of the first decade of the 20th century, when his health suddenly began to deteriorate. In 1906, he began to complain about intense headaches. He soon lost his ability to play and by April of the following year, he was committed to a mental hospital. Though he was temporarily released towards the end of World War I and shortly stayed with his mother and sister Cora in New Orleans, his health had not improved and he was soon brought back to the mental hospital. There he lived until his death on November 4, 1934.
For more on Buddy Bolden, read our “Short History of Buddy Bolden” feature here.