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PRICE, SAMMY (1908–1992). Sammy Price, blues and jazz pianist, was born in Honey Grove, Texas, on October 6, 1908. Although Price's style was steeped in the barrelhouse blues tradition, his first musical exposure came from church. After moving to Waco, where his father took a job at Braxo's Bakery, Sammy began cornet lessons at the age of seven under a Professor Cobb. Cobb told Sammy that he had no musical ability and urged him to quit music. But the boy rejected this advice and formed a band with some of his friends.
In 1918 he and his mother and brother moved to Dallas after his father deserted the family. Sammy studied piano under Booker T. Washington's daughter, Portia Pittman. He became engrossed in the new dance craze, the Charleston, and took first prize in a statewide Charleston dance competition. This in turn led to a spot in Alphonso Trent's band as a side dancer. In 1927 Sammy joined the Theater Owners' Booking Association music circuit and toured extensively. In 1930 he moved to musically-fertile Kansas City, where he landed a job as leader of the house band at the Yellow Front Café.
In 1933 Price moved to Chicago and then Detroit, where he performed at the Chequers Barbecue. He moved to New York City in 1937 and played at the Café Society, the Famous Door, and the Downbeat before Decca Records hired him as the house pianist. At Decca he recorded with Trixie Smith and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, among others, and by the early 1940s he was leading his own "Texas Blusicians." After becoming involved in the Philadelphia Jazz Society, he was instrumental in organizing the first African-American jazz festival in Philadelphia.
In 1951 Price returned to Texas, where he started an undertaking company and two nightclubs. After moving back to New York in 1954, he toured Europe with the Blusicians and began a long partnership with trumpet player Henry "Red" Allen. Through the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, he continued recording and touring, both in Europe and in the United States. He also became heavily involved in politics and worked as a campaign supervisor for the Democratic party. He died of a heart attack in New York on April 14, 1992. He was survived by two daughters.
John Chilton, Who's Who of Jazz: Storyville to Swing Street (New York: Da Capo Press, 1985). Leonard G. Feather, The Encyclopedia of Jazz, New Edition (New York: Horizon Press, 1960). Sammy Price, What Do They Want? A Jazz Autobiography (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1990). Ron Wynn et al., eds., All Music Guide to Jazz: The Best CDs, Albums, and Tapes (San Francisco: Miller Freeman, 1994).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Bradley Shreve, "PRICE, SAMMY," accessed July 09, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpr37.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on October 3, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.