Erskine Hawkins

Dublin Core


Erskine Hawkins


Birmningham, Jefferson County, Big Band music, trumpet, Alabama State Teachers College,Fess Whatley, Ensley, Tuxedo Junction, Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, Alabama Music Hall of Fame

Watch and Listen:
"After Hours"
"Tuxedo Junction"
"Tippin' In"


Erskine Hawkins (July 26, 1914 - November 11, 1993)

When philanthropists donate money to various organizations, schools and charities, most often the result is either a building named in in their honor, or a scholarship, or even a seat on a board of directors. Alabama industrialist Erskine Ramsay took this one step further, by opening savings accounts for families who would name their newborn sons after him. And while most of children did not achieve any amount of celebrity, one did, as a bandleader and trumpeter whose contemporaries included Louis Armstrong. Erskine Ramsay Hawkins was born on July 26, 1914, in Birmingham, Alabama. Erskine early on demonstrated musical proficiency. As a student at the Tuggle Institute, a private African-American boys school in Birmingham, Erskine learned to play the drums, trombone and saxophone. But it was the trumpet that would eventually elevate Hawkins to the heights he eventually reached. Under the tutelage of famed director J.T. “Fess” Whatley, Erskine not only learned how to master the trumpet, but how to read music, as well. After graduating from Tuggle, Hawkins attended the Alabama State Teachers College in Montgomery, Alabama, on an athletic scholarship. Soon, Erskine was spending more time on the stage than on the ballfield. Leading first, the ‘Bama State Revelers, then the ‘Bama State Collegians, Erskine started to show the ability to reach notes on the trumpet thought too high to reach. This ability later led his being called “The Twentieth Century Gabriel.” As the band became more and more popular, causing the group, all students at the college, to miss more classes than they attended, they all soon left school to pursue their musical careers full-time. Leaving Alabama, “Erskine Hawkins and his ‘Bama State Collegians” soon found themselves as one of the house bands at the famed Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Famed as the place where the “Lindy Hop” was developed, the Savoy was one of the premier venues for music during and after the Harlem Renaissance. It was here that Erskine and the band, now simply called “Erskine Hawkins and His Orchestra” signed with RCA Victor and began cutting records on their Bluebird label. It was also here that Erskine co-wrote what would become his signature song, “Tuxedo Junction.” The title of the songs refers to an area in the Ensley neighborhood of Erskine’s hometown of Birmingham. Tuxedo Park was an area where the lines of the Wylam and Pratt City streetcars crossed, and where a jazz and dance club was located, hence, “Tuxedo Junction.” While Hawkins’ version reached #7 on the National Hit Parade in 1939, it is Glenn Miller’s #1 1940 rendition that most are familiar with. While Erskine penned other songs, like “Don’t Cry Baby” (#11 – Pop, 1943) “After Hours” (#3 R&B – 1946) and “Tippin’ In” (#1 R&B -1945) which were hits, “Tuxedo Junction” is his most famous. Often, when playing the Savoy, the band would sign off with that song to keep the crowds dancing as the next band came to the stage. By the 1950s, the Savoy had closed and Erskine, due to rising costs, had downsized his orchestra, although he would reunite the orchestra on special occasions. During the 1960s, he was a frequent player at the Embers Club in New York City, and, from 1967 to 1993, was the bandleader in the nightclub in The Concord Resort Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, New York, located in the Catskills of New York, about two hours upstate from New York City. Among the many honors that Erskine Hawkins received during his lifetime is an honorary doctorate in music from Alabama State Teachers College in 1947, was one of the first inductees into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1978, and a Lifework Award and induction into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1989. Also, the park that inspired the name of Tuxedo Junction was renamed Erskine Hawkins Park in his honor. On November 11, 1993, Erskine Hawkins passed away in Willingboro, New Jersey.


John Griffin, University of North Alabama


Alabama Music Hall of Fame: Erskine Hawkins Accessed December 4, 2016
Erskine Hawkins Accessed December 4, 2016
Erskine Hawkins Accessed December 4, 2016
Erskine Hawkins Accessed December 4, 2016
Obituary: Erskine Hawkins Accessed December 4, 2016

All images courtesy of Mr. George Lair and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, unless otherwise noted.


Alabama Cultural Resource Survey




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