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Maceo Pinkard


Musician Maceo Pinkard (June 27, 1897-July 21, 1962) was born in Bluefield. Educated at Bluefield Colored Institute (now Bluefield State University), Pinkard became one of the most successful songwriters of the 1920s Jazz Era.

After graduation, he toured with his own band and ended up in Omaha, where he published his first song, ‘‘I’m Goin’ Back Home,’’ and founded a theatrical agency. He wrote his first hit, ‘‘Mammy o’ Mine,’’ in 1919 after moving to New York. Three years later, he provided the music for Liza, a pioneering Broadway show with an all-Black cast that introduced a new dance, the Charleston.

Pinkard wrote for show business, with numbers such as ‘‘Here Comes the Show Boat’’ for Show Boat, and for the jazz world, where songs such as ‘‘Them There Eyes,’’ ‘‘I’ll Be a Friend,’’ and ‘‘Sugar’’ were recorded by Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, and Billie Holiday, among others. He helped set up Duke Ellington’s first recording session in 1923. Sometimes Pinkard wrote for the classic female blues singers, turning out the risque ‘‘You Can’t Tell the Difference After Dark’’ for Alberta Hunter. In 1929, he enlisted blues diva Bessie Smith for Pansy, a Black musical comedy that proved to be a Broadway fiasco despite his solid score.

Pinkard was so well-regarded that in 1939 he was one of the composers spotlighted in an all-Black program at the New York World’s Fair. His most famous song, ‘‘Sweet Georgia Brown,’’ became the Harlem Globetrotters’ theme and, in 1976, was heard again on Broadway in the score of Bubbling Brown Sugar.

Pinkard was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2008.

Written by John Douglas