The Music Master : Eddie Wilcox©2004JCMarion


Eddie Wilcox was born near Raleigh, North Carolina in late December of 1907, and was essentially raised by an older sister. It was from her that he first became interested in music, and specifically the piano. He became serious about his music while in his teens, and from high school he attended Fiske University in Tennessee. While playing piano during the summer at the New Jersey shore he met sax player Jimmy Lunceford and from that time on they had a musical partnership. Their big break came in the mid thirties when Wilcox, Lunceford, and other musician friends made a serious attempt to take to the bandstand as a replacement for Duke Ellington at New York's Cotton Club. They auditioned with a Wilcox arrangement of "For Dancers Only" and the Lunceford band got the job. From then on they were a top attraction during the big band years culminating in stealing the show at a band marathon in New York City in 1940 mc'd by Martin Block. During the war the band was based in Los Angeles but returned East in 1946. The following year Lunceford suffered a fatal heart attack and with his passing Wilcox and Joe Thomas kept the band going for another two years. By late 1949 Eddie Wilcox was organizing a small group and made the rounds of the R & B independent labels that had sprung up right after the war.

In late January of 1950 Eddie Wilcox records a two part song with John Leslie called "A Touch Of The Blues - parts one and two" . It is released by RCA Victor on # 22-0064. In October of the year Wilcox teams with singer Bobby Marshall on the Inkspots previous hit ( and soon to be smash for Elvis) of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" and "I Shouldn't Love You" recorded for the Abbey label on # 3019. Late in the year Wilcox and his orchestra record again for Abbey Records. The release on # 3022 pairs "If You Were Only Mine" with vocal by Billy Matthews, and "How About That" with vocal this time by Elmer Crumbly.

In early June of 1951, the Derby Records label signs the Eddie Wilcox Orchestra to a recording contract with that label. Mention is made of the band's extensive Jimmy Lunceford library of arrangements, many written by Wilcox. In August Wilcox has his first release for Derby with the songs "The Masquerade Is Over" and "Shuffle Express" both featuring vocals by Bette McLaurin on Derby # 766. In late September Wilcox and his band record two instrumental numbers for Derby - "The Takeoff" and "The Flight" which are released on # 774. At the same time he teams with Bette McLaurin again on the tunes "Cottage For Sale" and "Crying For You" which are issued on # 775. In November Derby signs a five year contract with Wilcox, naming him musical director for the label. That is in addition to his writing, recording, and arranging chores for the label. His band backs up Bette McLaurin on a cover of Ruth Casey's ballad "Cry", which would soon become a national hit on another cover version by Johnny Ray. The flip side is the pop standard "For All We Know" and is released on Derby # 785. In late December Eddie Wilcox and his orchestra record behind a new vocalist, Sunny Gale. One tune is another Benjamin-Weiss composition called "Wheel Of Fortune" originally recorded by Johnny Hartman for RCA Victor. The Wilcox-Gale version started taking off immediately. The flip side is "You Showed Me The Way" and is on Derby # 787.

In January of 1952, Derby Records reports "Wheel" has sold more than fifty thousand copies in less than two weeks and looks like the biggest record in the label's history. Despite many cover versions of the song, the Derby release of "Wheel" is selling big in the Northeast. In the pop field the song is covered by Kay Starr and Bobby Wayne, and in the R & B field by Helen Humes, The Cardinals, and The Four Flames. In March, another Derby record is selling big which features Bette McLaurin on "I May Hate Myself In The Morning" with an arrangement by Eddie Wilcox. That month he is named A & R head for Derby Records in addition to his other responsibilities at the label. Eddie and his orchestra will appear for a week at Philadelphia's Rendezvous Room with Bette McLaurin and songwriters Benjamin and Weiss. In April Wilcox records with vocalist Jackie Brooks on the songs "Just For Tonight" and "You're Making Me Cry" on # 795. In June Eddie signs Nadine Henry a ballad singer to Derby Records. In August Wilcox heads off to Hollywood to do some writing and arranging for the motion picture people.Late in the year Joe Davis of MGM Records signs Wilcox to a composing deal. From this point on Wilcox does very little recording as he spends most of his time arranging and composing , and performs with small groups (usually piano trios) from time to time in the New York area.

In October of 1953 Eddie Wilcox and his band appear for a week with Bette McLaurin at Detroit's Flame Show Bar. In early 1954 Derby Records moves some unreleased Bette McLaurin sides featuring arrangements by Wilcox to its new Central Records subsidiary label. A new Detroit vocalist Patti Jerome records for the label with Eddie 's band on the tune "Travelin' Light". In October Derby Records files for bankruptcy, and RCA Victor looks to attain the masters from Derby including a number of sides by Wilcox. In February of 1955, Eddie Heller president of Rainbow Records in New York announces the formation of Riviera Records, and names Eddie Wilcox the general manager of the new company. However, nothing much results from the new company and it is soon folded. In September of 1958 Eddie Wilcox forms two new music publishing firms in New York City. In June of 1959 Eddie and Teddy McRae form two record labels to be called Rae-Cox and Enrica. Some of the talent signed to the new labels are Edmund Hall, jazz clarinetist, pianist Linton Garner (brother of Errol), The Sunsets, Serenaders, Carnations, and Patti Russo. The labels release "Gotta Go To School" / "My Girl Flip Flop" by The Serenaders on Rae-Cox # 101, "How Well I Remember" / "Sitting And Crying" by The Sunsets on #102, and "A Letter To You" / "I Wish He'd Notice Me" on # 103. Also "Gimme Gimme Gimme" / "Love Open Up My Heart" by The Carnations on Enrica # 1001, and "A Blessing To You" / "Come On Honey" by The Symphonics on # 1002. Nothing much came of these efforts by Wilcox and his partners as they tried to capture the very crowded teenage record buying public in the late nineteen fifties.

During the nineteen sixties Eddie Wilcox continued to play small clubs in and around New York City, taught arranging at Julliard School, teaching music privately, and as a music arranger for a variety of singers and labels. Wilcox passed away in September of 1968 and the world lost a consummate professional in all aspects of music. Although not a historic influence in the world of Rhythm & Blues during the post war years, his success at Derby Records played a great role in proving that small independent labels could become major players on the national scene in determining the musical direction of the country.

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