Birmingham Jazz: Photo Collection


Birmingham Jazz: Photo Collection


For many years, Birmingham, Alabama, was home to a unique, influential -- and for the most part unsung -- jazz tradition, one rooted largely in the band rooms of the city's segregated Black schools. This collection of photos documents some of that history's key players, places, and themes. 

For a fuller history of this important and long overlooked cultural scene, please see SMRC director Burgin Mathews's book, Magic City: How the Birmingham Jazz Tradition Shaped the Sound of America (University of North Carolina Press, 2023). Our archive contains many materials collected by Mathews during his research. In addition to these photos, be sure to browse our collection of Birmingham blues and jazz audio recordings, the Frank "Doc" Adams oral history collection, and our compilation of newspaper advertisements from the Birmingham jazz community. Additional artifacts reflecting the city's jazz legacy can be found in our In Memoriam collection and our collection of  Pamphlets and Programs


Recordings, images, text, and all other materials in the Southern Music Research Center's digital archive are made available here for educational and research purposes only.

Please contact for all usage requests. Reproduction of some materials may be restricted or available at a small processing charge.



Collection Items

John T. "Fess" Whatley
John T. “Fess” Whatley (1885 – 1972), Birmingham’s legendary “Maker of Musicians,” 1968. From 1917 into the 1950s, Whatley’s music program at Industrial / Parker High School produced numerous professional musicians, many of whom performed in the…

Industrial High School Band, 1920s
Bandleader John T. "Fess" Whatley stands at far left in the center row. Many of Whatley's students would go on to professional careers as jazz musicians.

Industrial High School Band, 1930-1931
Industrial High School Band, 1930-1931. Band director John T. “Fess” Whatley at far right.

Industrial High School Printing Department Card
Industrial High School Printing Department, undated business card. Best remembered for his profound musical influence, “Fess” Whatley officially worked at Industrial / Parker High School not as bandmaster but as printing instructor. For years, his…

"Fess" Whatley and Black AFM Delegates, 1937
John T. “Fess” Whatley with other Black delegates to the 42nd annual convention of the American Federations of Musicians, Louisville, Kentucky, 1937. Barred from participating in Birmingham’s white musicians’ union, Whatley co-founded Local 733 for…

Advertisement for Fess Whately's Saxo-Society Orchestra
Advertisement for Fess Whately's Saxo-Society Orchestra of Industrial High School, circa 1930: "A Neat Appearing Group of Men that Will Grace Any Function."

Fess Whatley’s Sax-o-Society Orchestra, 1940s
Fess Whatley’s Sax-o-Society Orchestra, c. 1940s.

John T. "Fess" Whatley, 1968
John T. “Fess” Whatley (1885 – 1972), Birmingham’s legendary “Maker of Musicians,” 1968. From 1917 into the 1950s, Whatley’s music program at Industrial / Parker High School produced numerous professional musicians, many of whom performed in the…

Lincoln School Band, 1930s
Lincoln School Band, 1930s. Band director William Wise Handy, nephew of W. C. Handy, is at far left, in black. Frank Adams is in the front row, third student from left, with clarinet.

Industrial High School Postcard
Postcard for Birmingham, Alabama's Industrial High School, postmarked 1941. Under the direction of John T. "Fess" Whatley, Industrial (later renamed Parker) High School's instrumental music program produced numerous professional musicians who would…

Masonic Temple Postcard
Postcard for the Colored Masonic Temple on Birmingham's Fourth Avenue North, opened in 1924 by the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free & Accepted Masons of Alabama. A centerpiece for Black social, cultural, and political life in Birmingham…

Erskine Hawkins
Erskine Hawkins (1914 – 1993), publicity photo, c. 1939. The Erskine Hawkins Orchestra, begun at Alabama State Teachers’ College as the ‘Bama State Collegians, developed into one of Black America’s leading dance bands. Nearly all the band’s members…

Erskine Hawkins
Erskine Hawkins publicity photo, 1940s

Erskine Hawkins Orchestra (Autographed Photo, Circa 1940)
The Erskine Hawkins Orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom, publicity photo, circa 1940, signed by members of the band.

Note the addendum, "DEAD," next to the signature of trumpeter Marcellus Green. Green's 1942 automobile death was widely mourned in…

Paul Bascomb
Best known for his work with the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra, tenor saxophonist Paul Bascomb (1912-1986) performed throughout his career with his own bands as well as with the C. S. Belton Orchestra, a popular southern territory band, and with the…

J. B. Sims
J. B. “Jay” Sims. As a student at Alabama State, Sims served as the original singer and emcee of the ‘Bama State Collegians, performing in the frenetic “wildman” style of Cab Calloway; after graduation, he returned to his hometown of Birmingham,…

Avery Parrish
Pianist / composer / arranger Avery Parrish (1917-1959), creator of the jazz and blues piano standard "After Hours," first recorded with the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra in 1940.

Wilbur "Dud" Bascomb
Wilbur “Dud” Bascomb (1916-1972), trumpeter with the ‘Bama State Collegians / Erskine Hawkins Orchestra. Bascomb's solo on the 1939 Erskine Hawkins hit "Tuxedo Junction" was closely studied and faithfully reproduced by a generation of up-and-coming…

Paul Bascomb Photo Postcard
Paul Bascomb postcard, stamped 1965. Caption on back of card: “PAUL BASCOMB … Born in Birmingham, Ala. Attended Alabama State College and originated the ‘Bama State Collegians’ Band and the famous Erskine Hawkins Band. His brother, Dud Bascomb, is a…

Jimmy Mitchell, Saxophonist and Singer
Jimmy Mitchell (aka Jimmy Mitchelle), saxophonist and vocalist with with the ‘Bama State Collegians / Erskine Hawkins Orchestra. 1940s Publicity photo.
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