January 26, 2017

Bill Doggett

Bill Doggett

Celebrating the Centenninal of a 1950s Jazz Legend,
the “Honkey Tonk” Organist Bill Dogget

By Bill Doggett II

February 16, 2016 marked what would have been the 100th birthday of Philadelphia musical legend, Bill Doggett, one of the most important African American R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll hit makers of the early Rock ‘n’ Roll era.

Born in North Philadelphia in 1916, Bill Doggett is remembered for his mega gold record “Honky Tonk” Parts 1 and 2 released in the Autumn of 1956.

“Honky Tonk” Parts 1 and 2 was the first R&B instrumental to take the country by storm, selling over four million copies, and was the first rhythm and blues instrumental to cross over into the mainstream Billboard charts ranking side by side with Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” and “Love Me Tender” in the Fall
of 1956.

Celebrating its 60th anniversary September – December 2016, 1956’s “Honky Tonk” Parts 1 and 2, recorded by Syd Nathan’s King Records, is one of the signature achievements among the many of hit records made by King Records, and is one of the enduring R&B shuffle blues standards of the rhythm and blues era of American music.

From 1948-1958, King Records was known as The Motown of 1950s R&B with the additional distinction of being America’s first integrated record company during the height of the segregation era. Nathan not only integrated his record company with African American workers from the community in which his business was located, but also hired the first African American A&R executive, Henry Glover.

“Honky Tonk” peaked for three weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and was the biggest R&B hit of 1956–1957, spending 13 non-consecutive weeks at the top of the charts. Billboard magazine statistics for Top Jukebox hits in September 1956 placed “Honky Tonk” as the #2 hit in American Juke Boxes and the #1 R&B hit played by R&B disc jockeys.

Doggett also recorded a number of other leading chart-making hits for King Records including “Ram Bush Shush,” “Blip Blop,” “Peacock Alley,” “High Heels,” “Hippy Dippy,” “Rainbow Riot,” “Smokie,” “Soft,” “Leaps and Bounds” and “Monster Party.”

Bill Doggett’s story is also a story about the glory days of 1940s Harlem and the Savoy Ballroom.

Before his 1956 mega hit, he emerged into renown at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom in 1939 as a jazz pianist, arranger and composer for The Lucky Millinder Orchestra.

Doggett performed a role identical to that which neighboring Pittsburgh jazz pianist, arranger and composer, Billy Strayhorn performed for The Duke Ellington Orchestra. In this regard, Doggett composed “Savoy” which was one of his earliest fully credited recordings for The Lucky Millinder Orchestra.

In the mid 1940s, Doggett, a Decca Records artist, enlarged his sphere and became the arranger and pianist for both The Ink Spots and Ella Fitzgerald. Doggett was Fitzgerald’s music director during the mid-1940s, recording many sessions with her for Decca Records, including her 1951 hit, “Smooth Sailing,” in which he is featured on the organ, and also her 1962 iconic “stereo demonstration record” for Norman Granz which features all Bill Doggett arrangements and a swinging All Star Band which he conducted.

From 1947-1951, Doggett starred as pianist with Louis Jordan’s legendary band before creating his own combo and signing with King Records in 1952.

Inspired by his jazz organ mentor, Wild Bill Davis, from their early Louis Jordan association, Doggett was one of the most important and critical pioneers of R&B and jazz organ during the 1950s opening the doors for all jazz organists and jazz organ combos who followed.

We honor my uncle, jazz organ pioneer, Bill Doggett on the occasion of his Centennial.


Bill Doggett II is the nephew, namesake and youngest son of Bill’s younger brother, Reverend John N. Doggett Jr. Contac: Centennial Website:


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