John Birks Gillespie

John Birks Gillespie, commonly known as "Dizzy" Gillespie, was born October 21, 1917, in Cheraw, Chesterfield County, South Carolina. Taking after his father, Dizzy began showing musical talent early in his life. He began learning piano at home and took up brass in elementary school. He displayed enough talent to earn a high school scholarship at Laurinburg Industrial Institute in North Carolina.

By 19 years of age he was already playing trumpet with the Teddy Hill Orchestra, with which he recorded with and toured Europe with. He went on to play with Mercer Ellington and Cab Calloway and worked with Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Carter, Charlie Barnet, Earl Hines and others.

With Charlie Parker, Dizzy developed a new type of jazz that became known as be-bop, which reached its height of popularity during the mid 1940's. He went on to combine his jazz style with Latin music and continued experimenting within his own bands, as well as other larger bands. He was known as one of the most innovative writers, arrangers, and musicians of his time, and was one of the most well-known and recognizable personages in jazz music. He was also the first black musician sponsored by the U.S. State Department for a good-will tour of Greece, the Middle East, and South America.

Dizzy is shown here in a photo by William P. Gottlieb in New York in 1947, before he developed his noted trumpet with the bell extended at a 45 degree angle upward. Dizzy died January 06, 1993, in Englewood, New Jersey.