My friend Ken Anderson has been on me for some time about Sam Wooding, who for a time taught band at Wilmington's Howard High School in the 1940s. Before desegregation began its long process of integrating Wilmington's public schools, Howard High School was the all Black high school in northern New Castle county. Howard High School produced a number of well known and talented musicians, the major figures being Clifford Brown, Lem Winchester and Gerald Price. Clifford Brown had gone to Howard High School in the 1940s and he and my friend, Ken Anderson, were in the Howard High School band together and Sam Wooding was their band teacher. Ken was given the tuba to play and strongly suggests that Wooding may have given Clifford Brown the trumpet. However, Brownie had already adopted the trumpet on his own after giving the trombone a whirl, and probably picked up his first chops under Wooding's tutelage. So who was Sam Wooding?
Sam Wooding was born in Philadelphia on June 17, 1895. In the 1920s he formed a jazz band, performed some vaudeville gigs as well as a few venues in Harlem, notably at Small's Paradise. Soon he realized he could make more money for himself and his band, The Chocolate Dandies, by touring Europe during the 1920s. Among the early jazz greats in The Chocolate Dandies were Doc Cheatham, Tommy Ladnier and Gene Sedric. He recorded some sides for Parlophone and Pathé, and performed in clubs throughout Europe. One song he recorded, "J'ai Deux Amours," was heard by Josephine Baker, who made it one of her signature songs. There is also strong conjecture that the German composer Kurt Weill was influenced by Sam Wooding. The music Weill composed for The Three Penny Opera and other collaborations with Bertolt Brecht contains musical forms reminiscent to those heard from Wooding's arrangements.
In 1927, Wooding and The Chocolate Dandies toured South America and had some momentous gigs in Buenos Aires. One could contend that their influence there had some affect upon Argentina's tango musicians because tango music later merged with big band music, particularly during the Peronist era. Wooding's Chocolate Dandies returned to Europe for a spell in the late 1920s into the early 1930s, but the rise of Nazism eventually drove them out of Europe. The band eventually disbanded after returning to the United States in 1932, but not after reforming for a few years during which Sidney Bechet was a member.
Sam Wooding returned to school after leaving the music industry. He earned a Master's Degree from the University of Pennsylvania, which eventually brought him to a teaching position at Howard High School in Wilmington sometime after 1942 by best estimation. He evidently remained at Howard through at least the late 1940s, leaving his mark upon some later notable musicians like Clifford Brown, which is where we began.
Sam Wooding moved in and out of the music industry afterwards until he died on August 1, 1985.