The collection documents the life and musical career of Robert "Bobby" Tucker. The collection particularly emphasizes Tucker's close collaboration with Billy Eckstine over a forty-year period from approximately 1949-1990, and includes original orchestrations of arrangements by Tucker and other arrangers, a complete set of commercial recordings by Eckstine for which Tucker served as arranger, and ephemeral material including photographs, concert programs and news clippings.
Scope and Contents:
The collection primarily documents the close collaboration between Tucker and Billy Eckstine over a forty-year period, circa 1949-1990. It articulates the growth and development of a working jazz master—Eckstine—and the diversity of the musical repertoire he performed as he cultivated new audiences throughout his career. The collection includes original orchestrations of arrangements by Tucker and other well regarded arrangers such as Billy Beyers, Quincy Jones, Bob Enevoldsen, Marty Paich, Sammy Nestico, and Artie Butler. All of these materials found their way into Eckstine's recording and concert repertoire, which is evidenced by the approximately twenty cubic feet of sheet music arrangements that form the bulk of the collection. They illustrate the pivotal role Tucker played as the arranger, who interpreted and adapted original compositions to suit Eckstine's vocal style and capabilities, resulting in one of the longest-running successful collaborations in modern American musical history.
In addition, the sheet music contains Tucker's arrangements for Quincy Jones's music score for the 1978 film The Wiz.
The collection is arranged into three series.
Series 1: Professional Materials, 1883-1992, undated
Subseries 1.1: Music Scores, undated
Subseries 1.2: Published Sheet Music, 1883-1992
Series 2: Other Materials, 1940-2007, undated
Series 3: Audiovisual Materials, undated
Biographical / Historical:
Robert Nathaniel "Bobby" Tucker Jr. was born in Morristown, New Jersey, January 8, 1923 and died there on April 12, 2007. He was an accomplished pianist, arranger, and accompanist. He began performing at the age of fourteen and later studied in New York at the Institute of Musical Art. In 1946, he became accompanist to jazz vocalist Mildred Bailey and later that year, to renowned jazz vocalist Billie Holiday, with whom he remained until 1949 and with whom he had a strong and enduring, platonic friendship. Tucker continued to make recordings with Holiday into the 1950s.
Beginning in 1949, Tucker embarked on a lifetime collaboration as accompanist and musical director for the great African American balladeer and recording artist Billy "Mr. B" Eckstine. After leading a highly-acclaimed band from 1944-1947, Eckstine returned to a career as a solo singer, becoming the country's most popular vocalist in 1949-1950 and signing a lucrative five-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Incorporated (MGM). Although his popularity waned after 1951, he continued to play in major nightclubs in the United States and abroad for the next several decades and to release several popular albums. As his piano accompanist for over forty years, Tucker helped build and sustain the singer's career, reinventing Eckstine as the nation's musical tastes changed, and the music industry evolved. During his stint with Eckstine, Tucker worked on concerts—planning, arranging music, transcribing, and transposing works for performances; on recordings—preparing written arrangements, working integrally with recording companies. Engagements included recordings and performances with the Count Basie Orchestra; recordings under the direction of Quincy Jones; performances in Las Vegas; and band tours of Europe, Australia, and Japan.
Tucker was a renowned piano accompanist, and while working for Eckstine he was eagerly sought out by other singers, including Johnny Hartman, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, and Sarah Vaughan. He also collaborated with other jazz accompanists such as Jimmy Jones, Jimmy Rowles, and John Malachi. In his autobiography, Quincy Jones says that Tucker inspired him to begin studying music after they met in Seattle, while Jones was touring with Billie Holiday. Jones attributed all of the success he garnered in his career to the core skills he developed as a result of Tucker's inspiration. Tucker worked with Jones to arrange and conduct the music for the 1978 film The Wiz, which received an Academy Award nomination for best original music score.
Materials in the Archives Center
Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program Collection (AC0808)
Contains an oral history interview with Bobby Tucker, February 27-28, 2004
Donated to the Archives Center in 2008 by Tucker's widow, Irma J. Tucker.
Collection is open for research.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.