Charles Joseph “Buddy” Bolden was a pivotal player in the late-nineteenth-century development of jazz music. He improvised rhythm and music with his trumpet, creating a stylish blend of rural blues, spiritual spice, and ragtime music with a twist. He was the most known cornetist of his time. He has been dubbed the “Father of Jazz.” Many African-American artists at the time referred to Bolden as the “King” of cornet. He had such musical dexterity that he could turn classic songs on their heads and add new beats with different tempos, giving them a new spin. Listening to his lively music, his followers would easily become enraged and demand for him to perform some of his hit songs, such as ‘Funky Butt.’ However, due to his bad mental health, he led a lonely and dreary life except from his extraordinary gift with the cornet. His band members and others who knew him described him as “strange” and “unfriendly.” He gained a lot of fame and recognition, as well as a lot of money, but most people didn’t know much about him other for his songs and his weakness for women.
Childhood and Adolescence
On September 6, 1877, in New Orleans, Charles Joseph “Buddy” Bolden was born to African-American parents Westmore Bolden and Alice Harrison.
His parents and sister, Cara, made up his family. Buddy was only six years old when his father died in 1883, and they were a tiny happy family until tragedy struck.
Alice began working after taking on the duty of her children. She relocated to ‘385 First Street’ with her children in order to give the best for them.
According to anecdotes about Bolden’s life, he attended the ‘Fisk School for Boys,’ which was known for its harsh rules and excellent musical ability.
His interest and enthusiasm for music most likely began during his scholastic years. He also went to ‘St.John’sBaptist Church’ on Sundays and listened to its passionate choir, which reaffirmed his love of music.
Trying his hand at music took some time for him. Only in 1894 did he begin learning to play the cornet from his next-door neighbor, Manual Hall, who was romantically involved with his mother at the time. Nobody could have predicted that he would one day grow up to be such a sensation, dressed in high-end clothing and a lady’s man!
Buddy Bolden began his career playing the cornet in ‘Papa Jack Laines’ band, as the Cornet King Music bands had grown very popular during his time. However, he didn’t know much about building his own band, so he began his career playing the cornet in ‘Papa Jack Laines’ band.
He played for the band for a few years until forming his own band in the mid-1890s, which included cornet, guitar, bass, clarinets, trombone, and drums.
He learned how to blend instruments in order to liven up performances from other popular bands in order to start his own band. When he figured out how to put his band together, he christened it the ‘Buddy Bolden Band.’
His band performed in Storyville’s shady red-light district. But it didn’t stop him from becoming a success; his band was quickly the buzz of the town.
From 1900 through 1906, he was a huge hit in New Orleans, where he topped all the charts and was dubbed the “King of Cornet.” His cornet could be heard from miles away since he was such a dedicated musician.
Dancing had evolved into a new type of entertainment by that time.
He screamed out funky rhythms of renowned ragtime melodies with his mesmerizing sounds, making them unique and spawning a new dance genre.
Instability of Mind
Regrettably, his success had gone to his head. He was frequently surrounded by women and drank himself to death.
Due to his unhealthy addictions, he was unable to keep up with producing unique and creative music, and he was up against stiff competition from other up-and-coming bands.
His reputation began to dwindle, and in 1906, he became depressed and drank even more heavily.
His final public appearance was with the ‘Eagle Band’ during the ‘Labour Day Parade’ in New Orleans. Instead of attempting to maintain his deteriorating image during the parade, he decided to end it for good.
His life was irrevocably transformed by an incident at the parade. During the march, he began slurring insults at the women in his immediate vicinity, and suddenly he passed out on the ground, froth streaming from his mouth.
He was sent to the asylum right away, where he was declared mentally unfit and diagnosed with schizophrenia, before being labeled with ‘dementia praecox’ for the rest of his life.
He did not stay at the asylum for long, and his paranoia got so severe that he was admitted to the ‘State Insane Asylum’ in Jackson, Louisiana, on June 5, 1907.
Major Projects of Buddy Bolden
Despite all of his hype, the world had only heard about him via firsthand accounts and primary sources. Because his songs had never been recorded, the world will continue to be unaware of his voice and music.
In a conversation with Willy Cornish, his band trombone player, he revealed that the ‘Buddy Bolden’s Band’ had recorded a few of their jazz pieces dubbed ‘Edison Cylinder’ before 1898.
Money had been given to anyone who could find the cylinder, but it seems to have vanished forever, and no one has been able to get their hands on the recording.
However, we do know that ‘Funky Butt,’ afterwards renamed ‘Buddy Bolden’s Blues,’ was one of his most successful compositions.
The song’s lyrics alluded to the blazing heat and whiskey-soaked dancers stomping their feet at the packed ‘Union Sons Hall,’ which was later dubbed the ‘Funky Butt Hall’.
His distinctive beat and inventive use of the trumpet made his followers laugh, and his music hypnotized crowds, lulling them into a trance in which they danced their feet off, propelling him from the appellation “Kid” to “King.”
Personal History and Legacy
Buddy Bolden passed away on November 4, 1931, 25 years after being permanently confined to the State Asylum. His death was caused by severe depression, withdrawal, and acute schizophrenia.
He was interred in New Orleans’ ‘Holt cemetery,’ which was known to be a pauper’s burial. His burial had no epitaph commemorating his contribution to the world of music, hence his location is unknown.
In 1998, a memorial was placed in the Holt cemetery in his honor, decades after his death.
Every amateur musician who plays the trumpet in the hopes of sounding as thrilling as King Bolden has left a legacy.
Jelly Roll Morton recorded his theme song, “Buddy Bolden’s Blues,” for the first time. Duke Ellington paid tribute to the founder of jazz with the song “A Drum is a Woman.”
Sidney Bechet paid tribute to his idol by writing ‘Buddy Bolden Stomp,’ while Hugh Laurie expressed his adoration for the ‘Cornet King’ by writing ‘Let Them Talk.’
His biography has piqued the interest of not only musicians but also authors; his spectacular decline and mental illness at the height of his career constitute a captivating figure in literary fiction.
Novels like ‘Coming through Slaughter,’ ‘Seven Guitars,’ ‘Devil’s Tail,’ and ‘The Sound of Building Coffins’ have fictional characters who are based on Bolden’s life or mention his name.
Apart from the appreciation of some African-Americans of the period and a large fan base in New Orleans, he never received an award.
Though he cemented his place as the father of jazz music, his popularity was fleeting, and he struggled to build on the opulence with which he began his career.
Today, people all across the world recognize him for his amazing brilliance, but no evidence of his work exists.
If he had avoided alcoholism and pursued his lifelong passion for music, the world would have had plenty of recordings and memories to treasure after his death.
Buddy Bolden acquired profound hallucinations and paranoia as a result of schizophrenia; he believed that not only the world, but also his family, was hell-bent on ending his life.
His mother and sister didn’t feel safe around him as a result of his actions. One incidence occurred when he struck his mother in the head, assuming she had poisoned him.