The Rex Stewart Papers consist of book manuscripts, scrapbooks, photographs, correspondence, genealogical records, newsclippings, periodicals, and ephemera materials that document the life and career of Rex Stewart, as well as the history of jazz from the perspective of one who witnessed first-hand the genre's "golden era". The collection is organized into four series: Series 1: Book Manuscripts, circa 1950-1972; Series 2: Scrapbooks and Photo Albums, c.1930-1959; Series 3: Photographs, c.1875 and circa 1920-1967; and Series 4: Memorabilia, 1880-1905 and 1924-1988.
Of particular interest are the book manuscripts that were produced from the 1950's until Stewart's death in 1967. These document Stewart's impressions of and interactions with such jazz legends as Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington. Interesting photographic images include "A Great Day in Harlem", taken in 1958, portraits and candid shots of Rex Stewart, Duke Ellington, Benny Carter and others jazz greats, photographs autographed by Rex Stewart, a portrait of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra at Danceland, tintypes of Stewart's family, a photo album and scrapbook documenting Stewart's 1948 tour in Berlin, Germany, and a photo album containing candid photographs of Ellington and Stewart's family. Other materials of interest include Stewart's cabaret card from 1959-1962 and some Stewart family genealogy records from 1880 to 1905.
Overall, the Rex Stewart Papers exist as a unique look into the creative process and life of a leading jazz figure of the 1930's through the 1960's. Stewart's colorful and poetic writing allows the reader to experience first-hand the excitement and honesty of jazz.
the collection is arranged into four series.
Biographical / Historical:
Rex William Stewart Jr.(1907-1967) was born in Philadelphia on February 22, 1907. He received musical inspiration from his parents, who played piano and sang in both religious and social settings, and from his maternal grandmother, Angelina Denby Johnson, who wrote poetry and hymns. Stewart took up the cornet as a teenager, playing in several small time bands in Washington D.C. and New York. His first big break came in 1926 when he was invited to join the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra as a replacement for Louis Armstrong. However, he did not become a regular member of the orchestra until 1928. Stewart remained with Fletcher Henderson until 1933 when he unsuccessfully tried to form his own band. In 1934, he worked briefly for Louis Russell before being invited to join the Duke Ellington Orchestra. As Ellington's lead cornetist, Stewart became widely known for his Aunique conversational style of playing and experimentation with half-valve effects. He also co-composed several numbers with Ellington including "Boy Meets Horn" and "Morning Glory". In addition, Stewart led small-group recording sessions during the late thirties with Ellington and his fellow sidemen, including Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney.
Rex Stewart left Ellington's orchestra in 1945 and briefly played with Jazz at the Philharmonic. He toured Europe as a soloist and leader of several bands between 1947 and 1951. It was also during this period that Stewart began to lecture and write about jazz. In the fifties and sixties, he entered into semi-retirement in order to concentrate on his writing. Stewart continued to perform periodically with numerous small jazz ensembles on the festival circuit. He was instrumental in the organization and recording of the Fletcher Henderson Reunion band in 1958 and 1959. Stewart died on September 7, 1967 in Los Angeles. A collection of his essays, Jazz Masters of the 30's, was published posthumously in 1972 by Macmillan Publishing Company.
Materials in the Archives Center
Anne Kennedy Collection, 1959-1967 (AC 506)
Duke Ellington Collection, 1927-1982 (AC 301)
Mrs. Claire Gordon, Stewart's companion, co-writer, and recipient of his estate, donated the Rex Stewart Papers to the National Museum of American History on January 3, 1992 and July 18, 1994.
Collection is open for research.
Reproduction fees for commercial use. All rights transferred to Museum in Deed of Gift.