James Andrew Rushing (August 26, 1901 – June 8, 1972), known as
Jimmy Rushing, was an American blues shouter and swing
jazz singer from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, best known as the featured
vocalist of Count Basie's Orchestra from 1935 to 1948.
Rushing was known as "Mr. Five by Five" and was the subject of an
eponymous 1942 popular song that was a hit for Harry James and others.
He joined Walter Page's Blue Devils in 1927, then joined Bennie Moten's
band in 1929. He stayed with the successor Count Basie band when Moten
died in 1935.
Life and career
Rushing was born into a family with musical talent and
accomplishments. His father, Andrew Rushing, was a trumpeter and his
mother and brother were singers. Rushing toured the Mid-West and
California as an itinerant blues singer in 1923 and 1924 before moving
to Los Angeles, California, where he sang with Jelly Roll Morton.
Rushing sang with Billy King before moving on to Page's Blue Devils in
1927. He, along with other members of the Blue Devils, defected to the
Bennie Moten band in 1929.
Moten died in 1935, and Rushing joined Count Basie for what would be a
13-year vocation. Due to his tutelage under his mentor Moten, Rushing
was a proponent of the Kansas City jump blues tradition, best evinced by
his performances of "Sent For You Yesterday" and "Boogie
Woogie" for the Count Basie Orchestra. After leaving Basie, his
recording career soared, as a solo artist and a singer with other bands.
When the Basie band broke up in 1950 he briefly retired, then formed his
own group. He also made a guest appearance with Duke Ellington for the
1959 album Jazz Party.
His build earned him a nickname and a signature song, "Mr. Five by Five"
("he's five feet tall and he's five feet wide"). His best known
recordings are probably "Going to Chicago" with Basie, and "Harvard
Blues", with a famous saxophone solo by Don Byas.
Rushing was a powerful singer who had a range from baritone to tenor. He
could project his voice so that it soared over the horn and reed
sections in a big-band setting. Basie claimed that Rushing "never had an
equal" as a blues vocalist. George Frazier, author of Harvard Blues,
called Rushing's distinctive voice "a magnificent gargle".
After he became ill with leukemia in 1971, Rushing's performing career
ended. He died on June 8, 1972, in New York, and was buried at the Maple
Grove Cemetery, Kew Gardens, in Queens, New York.