John T. "Fess" Whatley


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 bands of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, and other leading acts of the swing era. Other Whatley-trained musicians became bandmasters in local schools, directed the music programs of HBCUs, performed in U. S. military bands, or worked as professional session musicians and arrangers. Whatley's own bands -- his Jazz Demons, Vibra-Cathedral Orchestra, and Sax-o-Society Orchestra -- dominated the local dance scene from the 1920s through the 1940s.

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“John T. "Fess" Whatley,” Southern Music Research Center, accessed May 25, 2024,