Billy Eckstine’s smooth baritone voice and distinctive vibrato broke down barriers throughout the 1940′s as a singer of ballads and a bandleader of the swing era. The Billy Eckstine Orchestra was the first bop big-band, and its leader reflected bop innovations by stretching his vocal harmonics into his normal ballads.
Eckstine, popularly known as Mr. B, put together a group of the most talented young players he encountered, and the roster would read like an account of the performers who would dominate jazz over the next two decades. Among those who passed through Eckstine’s band were Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon, and Art Blakey. he Billy Eckstine Orchestra was the first bop big-band, and its leader reflected bop innovations by stretching his vocal harmonics into his normal ballads.
By the time he reached his peak popularity in 1950, he rivaled Frank Sinatra as the country’s most popular vocalist. Although he was known most often as “Mr. B.” Billy Eckstine was a smooth singer also noted as a premier jazz bandleader in the 1940s, gathering many of the performers in the innovative bebop style into a unique large band.
Eckstine’s initial intention was simply to gather a backing group for his own vocal numbers, but he had the experience and insight to realize the unique opportunities his ensemble offered. Many of them had participated in the formation of the radical new style that became known as bebop. Eckstine was able to adapt this sound to a big-band format and is generally credited with forming the first bebop big band.
Eckstine’s vocal style inspired many famous jazz singers including Sarah Vaughn, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole and Joe Williams.
“There was no band that sounded like Billy Eckstine’s. Our attack was strong, and we were playing bebop, the modern style. No other band like this existed in the world.”