As dancers closed out 1947 swinging to the tunes of the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra in the Ronceverte Armory, they quickly caught their second wind when famed drummer Gene Krupa and his orchestra came to town for a dance in the same venue on June 6, 1948. The Smithsonian Magazine described Krupa as the “first superstar drummer.”
Born in Chicago in 1948, Krupa began playing the saxophone at age 6 but switched to drums because they were the cheapest thing in the music store. A Catholic, he followed his mother’s wishes and attended St. Joseph’s College to study for the priesthood. He abandoned those plans and was soon playing with great band leaders like Eddie Condon and Glenn Miller and alongside musicians like Bix Beiderbecke on Cornet and Coleman Hawkins on Sax.
In 1934, he joined the Benny Goodman band. His skill as a drummer, good looks, and showmanship propelled Krupa to star power. His composition with Goodman of “Sing, Sing, Sing” helped the band become as successful as it did. After a falling-out with Goodman, Krupa formed his own band that had its first performance in 1938 at Atlantic City’s Steel Pier.
While Krupa continued performing, he appeared in several films, and in 1959 the actor Sal Mineo played Krupa in the film, The Gene Krupa Story, with a cameo by his former vocalist, Anita O’Day. Krupa died in 1973 at age 64.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Sources: Smithsonian, New York Times, www.drummerman.net, www.traditional-jazz.com