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Elmer Snowden

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Elmer Snowden, born in Baltimore October 9, 1900, was a banjo player of the jazz age. He also played guitar and, in the early stages of his career, all the reed instruments. He contributed greatly to jazz in its early days as both a player and a bandleader, and is responsible for launching the careers of many top musicians. However, Snowden himself has been largely overlooked in jazz history.

Snowden is remembered today mainly as the original leader of the Washingtonians, a group he brought to New York City from the capital in 1923. Unable to get a booking, Snowden sent for Duke Ellington, who was with the group when it recorded three test sides for Victor that remain unissued and are, presumably, lost. Ellington eventually took over leadership of the band,[1] which contained the nucleus of what later became his famous orchestra. Snowden was a renowned band leader – Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford, Bubber Miley, “Tricky Sam” Nanton, Frankie Newton, Benny Carter, Rex Stewart, Roy Eldridge and Chick Webb are among the musicians who worked in his various bands.

Very active in the 1920s as an agent and musician, Snowden at one time had five bands playing under his name in New York, one of which was led by pianist Cliff Jackson. Unfortunately, most of his bands were not recorded, but a Snowden band that included Eldridge, Al Sears, Dicky Wells and Sid Catlett appeared in a 1932 film, Smash Your Baggage.

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