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Big Joe Turner
Big Joe Turner Rock and Roll Revue Apollo Theater 1955.jpg
Big Joe Turner singing at the Apollo Theatre in 1955
Background information
Birth name Joseph Vernon Turner Jr
Also known as The Boss of the Blues
Born (1911-05-18)May 18, 1911
Kansas City, Missouri, US
Died November 24, 1985(1985-11-24) (aged 74)
Los Angeles, California, US
Genres Blues, Rhythm and blues, Jump blues
Instruments Voice
Years active 1920s – 1980s
Labels Atlantic Records, National,
Associated acts Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson

Joseph Vernon "Big Joe" Turner (May 18, 1911 – November 24, 1985) was an American blues singer. His musicals styles were rhythm and blues, blues, jump blues, jazz and even early rock and roll. His strong voice was able to be heard in noisy venues.

Early life

Turner was born in Kansas City, Missouri on May 18, 1911.He first discovered his love for music by when he went to church. He began singing on street corners for money, quitting school at the age of fourteen to begin working in Kansas City's nightclubs, first as a cook, and later as a singing bartender. He became known eventually as "The Singing Barman", and worked in such venues as The Kingfish Club and The Sunset, where he and his piano playing partner Pete Johnson became resident performers.


Turner's career started in the late 1920s when he worked as bartender and singer in different Kansas City night clubs. In the early 1930s he met the piano player Pete Johnson and they started playing together. The partnership lasted till the late 1940s. Together they played in John Hammond's famous From Spiritual to Swing concert in 1938. There they met Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons. The four often played in the Café Society and went on tour. In the 1940s he sang and recorded on the West coast. When singing with the Count Basie Big Band he was heard by the bosses of Atlantic Records and they signed with him. The time with Atlantic was Turner's most successful, having a lot of hit singles like "Honey Hush" and "T.V. Mama." But he is most famous as an early pioneer of rock and roll music in the 1950s although he was then in his 40s.

Later career

One of his most famous songs during this time was called "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and has been recorded by many other famous musicians including: Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino and The Beatles. During the '70s and '80s, Turner recorded for Norman Granz's jazz-oriented Pablo label. He toured and recorded till his death in 1985.


On November 24, 1985, Turner died after having a heart attack in his Inglewood, California home. He was 74 years old.


In 1983 Turner was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Two years after his death Big Joe Turner was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Most famous recordings

  • "Roll 'Em Pete" (1938) Used for the million-dollar first scene in Spike Lee's movie, Malcolm X
  • "Chains Of Love" (1951) (this was Turner's first million seller. The song was written by 'Nugetre' (words) and Van "Piano Man" Walls (music))
  • "Honey Hush" (1953)
  • "Shake, Rattle and Roll" (1954) Inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001
  • "Flip Flop and Fly" (1955)
  • "Cherry Red" (1956)
  • "Corrine, Corrina" (1956)
  • "Wee Baby Blues" (1956) (a song Turner had been singing since his first days as musician)
  • "Love Roller Coaster" (1956), with new lyrics to the Kansas City classic, "Morning Glory".

Tracks marked as were million selling discs.


There are a lot of compilitions who gave an overview of his music:

  • Flip, Flop & Fly Pablo Recordings with the Count Basie Orchestra
  • Tell Me Pretty Baby Arhoolie Recordings from the late 1940s with Pete Johnson Orchestra
  • Joe Turner's Blues Topaz Jazz Recordings from 1938 till 1946
  • Patcha, Patcha, All Night Long Pablo Recordings with Jimmy Witherspoon
  • Let´s Boogie All Night Long Vagabond Records With the German boogie pianist Axel Zwingenberger
  • Shout, Rattle and Roll Proper 4 Cd box with recordings from the 1940s till the early 1950s
  • The Rhythm & Blues Years Atlantic Records Recordings from the 1950s
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