Big Joe Turner, the quintessential shouter of the blues, crossed many boundaries with his spirited, free-swinging vocal excursions. He was a king of the jump blues genre, a boogie woogie belter, progenitor of rhythm & blues and rock ‘n’ roll, and a respected performer in jazz circles. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, on May 18, 1911, Joseph Vernon Turner got his start as a singing bartender, teaming with his longtime piano-pounding partner, Pete Johnson. The pair bounded to prominence during the nation’s boogie woogie craze with ‘Roll ‘Em Pete’ and other uptempo stomps and burning blues. Turner’s prolific recording career began in 1938 and peaked during the 1950s with a string of hits on Atlantic including ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll,’ ‘Honey Hush,’ and ‘Flip, Flop and Fly,’ as well as a historic album collaboration with some of the top names in jazz, Boss of the Blues. Known for his ability to improvise phrase after phrase, Turner continued to engage blues, jazz, and oldies audiences with his infectious performances. Many music historians agree with Turner’s assertion that the rock ‘n’ roll he and others sang during the ’50s was basically the same music that he and Pete Johnson were doing back in K.C. decades earlier. The ‘Boss of the Blues’ died in Ingleside, California, on Nov. 24, 1985.
— Jim O’Neal