He was known as "Mister Five-By-Five" -- an affectionate reference to his height and girth -- a blues shouter who defined and then transcended the form. The owner of a booming voice that radiated sheer joy in whatever material he sang,
could swing with anyone and dominate even the loudest of big bands.
band from 1935 to 1950, yet unlike many band singers closely associated with one organization, he was able to carry on afterwards with a series of solo recordings that further enhanced his reputation as a first-class jazz singer.
Raised in a musical family, learning violin, piano and music theory in his youth, Rushing
began performing in nightspots after a move to California in the mid-'20s. He joined Walter Page's Blue Devils
in 1927, then toured with Bennie Moten
from 1929 until the leader's death in 1935, going over to Basie
when the latter picked up the pieces of the Moten
band. The unquenchably swinging Basie
rhythm section was a perfect match for Rushing
, making their earliest showing together on a 1936 recording of "Boogie Woogie" that stamped not only Rushing
's presence onto the national scene but also that of Lester Young
's recordings with Basie
are scattered liberally throughout several reissues on Decca, Columbia and RCA. While with Basie
, he also appeared in several film shorts and features.
After the Basie
ensemble broke up in 1950, a victim of hard times for big bands, Rushing
briefly retired, then formed his own septet. He started a series of solo albums for Vanguard in the mid-'50s, then turned in several distinguished recordings for Columbia in league with such luminaries as Dave Brubeck
, Coleman Hawkins
and Benny Goodman
, the latter of whom he appeared with at the Brussels World's Fair in 1958 as immortalized in "Brussels Blues." He also recorded with Basie
alumni such as Buck Clayton
and Jo Jones
, as well as with the Duke Ellington band
on Jazz Party
. He appeared on TV in The Sound of Jazz in 1957, was featured in Jon Hendricks
' The Evolution of the Blues
, and also had a singing and acting role in the 1969 film The Learning Tree.