Grady Tate: voice and drums

The birthday of the drummer and singer Grady Tate, who died in 2017, will mark the ninetieth time on January 14th.

A gentleman through and through

If you search the Internet for photos of the Afro-American drummer and singer Grady Tate, you will hardly find a picture on which Tate does not look like a peeled egg. The musician, who died in 2017, was a gentleman through and through and, with his habitus and diction, could play the role of a nobleman and castle owner at any time.

The multi-talented Grady had actually studied acting and had given speech lessons. And received degrees in English and Psychology from North Carolina Central University. January 14th marks the 90th anniversary of his birthday.

„I played, I enjoyed, I laughed, and I played some more.”

Born in Durham, North Carolina, his musical career initially focused entirely on his voice. He has been singing since he was four, but gave up singing for several years after his voice broke. During his military service he was active again musically, both as a singer and as a drummer. As a drummer he finally became internationally known.

Grady Tate is considered one of the most recorded drummers in music history with more than 4,000 recording sessions. When asked about this unbelievable number in an interview, he replied succinctly: “I played, I enjoyed, I laughed, and I played some more.” He played, enjoyed, laughed and played the next session. To come back to the comparison of nobility. That reminds me a lot of the quote from Gaius Julius Caesar: Veni, vidi, vici. I came, saw, won. Everything about his career seems so effortless, but although Tate comes from a fairly middle-class, middle-class background, growing up as a child and teenager in the southern states was no easy exercise in the 1930s and 1940s.

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There was later a vocal statement from Tate: “You want to shout and sing / Come on and do your thing / Oh, be black, Baby be black”, he sang to a funky beat in “Be Black”, his contribution to 1969 Black Panthers Be Proud campaign.

The “Drummer’s Drummer”

Grady Tate was not known to a larger public because he mainly worked as a studio musician. However, he is still known today as “Drummer’s Drummer” by his fellow drummers. In adversarial terms, his style can be described as “spectacularly unspectacular”. With his playing he conjured up an incredibly swinging and inspiring rhythm carpet. Like a fluffy and warm blanket in which the soloists and vocalists could wrap themselves up and relax and call up their best performances.

The bassist Christian McBride once said in an interview that Grady’s absence always struck him more than his presence. Because then the groove and the good mood suddenly disappeared. In the studio and on stage, Tate worked with arranger Quincy Jones, organist Jimmy Smith and pianist Oscar Peterson, Wes Montgomery and singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin.

Grammy nomination for a singer

Grady particularly enjoyed playing music with vocalist Peggy Lee. And it was Lee who encouraged the man with the velvety baritone voice to intensify his career as a singer. In this role, Tate recorded several albums and received a Grammy nomination for it. Especially in his later years he sat less and less behind the drum set and preferred to stand in front of a vocal microphone. He died on October 8, 2017 at the age of 85 with his family in New York. Although he struggled with dementia at the very end: This is what a happy life looks like.

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