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John Henry Hammond II I1910 – 1987
John Henry Hammond II was an American record producer, civil rights activist and music critic from the 1930's to the early 1980's. In his service as a talent scout Hammond became one of the most influential figures in 20th-century popular music.  

He is the father of famous blues musician John P. Hammond.

Hammond was instrumental in sparking or furthering numerous musical careers, including those of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Charlie Christian, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Teddy Wilson, Big Joe Turner, Pete Seeger, Babatunde Olatunji, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Freddie Green, Leonard Cohen, Arthur Russell, Jim Copp, Asha Puthli, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Mike Bloomfield. He is also largely responsible for the revival of Delta Blues artist Robert Johnson's music.

Hammond was born in New York, christened John Henry Hammond Jr. although both his father and grandfather shared the same name. He was the youngest child and the only son of John Henry Hammond and Emily Vanderbilt Sloane. His mother was one of three daughters of William Douglas Sloane and Emily Thorn Vanderbilt, and a granddaughter of William Henry Vanderbilt.

Despite the family fortune from his mother's side of the family which included wealth from the W. & J. Sloane chain his father worked to provide for his family and maintain the family fortune. He worked as a banker, lawyer, and as a railroad executive.

Hammond showed interest in music from an early age. At four he began studying the piano only to switch to the violin at age eight. He was steered toward classical music by his mother but was more interested in the music sung and played by the servants, many of whom were African Americans. He was known to go down to his basement to listen to the upbeat music in the servants' quarters. He loved Sir Harry Lauder's 'Roamin' in the Gloamin'.

While he was in the basement the rest of his family in the greater part of the five-story mansion would listen to the great opera tenor Enrico Caruso, as well as to standard classics by Beethoven, Brahms, and Mozart.

Hammond notes that the first jazz music that he heard was in London in 1923 on a trip with his family. He heard a band called The Georgians, a white Dixieland jazz group and saw an African American show called From Dixie to Broadway, that featured Sidney Bechet. This trip changed the way that he thought about music. Upon his return to the United States, Hammond searched for records by black musicians but could not find them in the greater Manhattan area. He learned that African American music was sold in different stores, so he began to search for this music in Harlem.

In 1925 Hammond graduated from the elementary institution St. Bernard's School at the age of 14. He persuaded his family to allow him to attend Hotchkiss School due to its liberal curriculum. Hammond's love for music flourished. However, he felt limited within the confines of a boarding school. Hammond succeeded in convincing the headmaster to allow him to go into the city every other weekend, a rare privilege, so that he could take music lessons from Ronald Murat. However, the headmaster was not aware that outside his formal lessons Hammond would go up in to Harlem to hear jazz. During this time he said that he heard Bessie Smith perform at The Harlem Alhambra but her biographer disagrees about those dates.

The summer after graduating from Hotchkiss in 1929 Hammond went to work for a newspaper in Maine, the Portland Evening News. Its editor Ernest Gruening was also a Hotchkiss alumni from the class of 1903 who was interested in social issues and social justice.

In the fall of 1929 Hammond entered Yale University as a member of the class of 1933. He studied the violin and later viola. He felt a disconnect with his fellow students at Yale and felt that he was already well acquainted with the professional world. He made frequent trips into New York City and wrote regularly for trade magazines. In the fall semester of 1930 Hammond had to withdraw due to a recurring case of jaundice. Hammond had no desire to a repeat a semester which contributed to his dissatisfaction with the university lifestyle. Much to the disappointment of his father in 1931, another Yale alumni, he dropped out of school for a career in the music industry, first becoming the U.S. correspondent for Melody Maker.

In 1931 Hammond funded the recording of pianist Garland Wilson marking the beginning of a long string of artistic successes as record producer. He moved to Greenwich Village where he claimed to have engaged in a bohemian lifestyle and worked for an integrated music world. He set up one of the first regular live jazz programs and wrote regularly about the racial divide. As he wrote in his memoirs, "I heard no color in the music. To bring recognition to the Negro's supremacy in jazz was the most effective and constructive form of social protest I could think of." This pre-occupation with social issues was to continue, and in 1941 he was one of the founders of the Council on African Affairs.

By 1932–33 through his involvement in the UK music paper Melody Maker Hammond arranged for the faltering US Columbia label to provide recordings for the UK Columbia label, mostly using the specially created Columbia W-265000 matrix series. Hammond recorded Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Joe Venuti, Benny Goodman and other jazz performers during a time when the economy was bad enough during the Great Depression that many of them would not have otherwise had the opportunity to enter a studio and play real jazz.

In 1934, Hammond is known to have introduced Benny Goodman to Fletcher Henderson. It is said that Hammond convinced the musicians to 'swing' the current jazz hits so that they could play in a free manner like the original New Orleans Jazz.

Hammond always strived for racial integration within the musical scene. For this purpose he frequently visited musicians in Harlem in order to connect with musicians in their own area. While initially his own race proved a problem in connecting with this community he formed relationships with various musicians that allowed him to surpass this barrier. His friendship with Benny Carter gave him a status that allowed him to enter this musical community.

He played a role in organizing Benny Goodman's band and in persuading him to hire black musicians such as Charlie ChristianTeddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. In 1933 he heard the seventeen-year-old Billie Holiday perform in Harlem and arranged for her recording debut on a Benny Goodman session. Four years later he heard the Count Basie Orchestra broadcasting from Kansas City and brought it to New York, where it began to receive national attention.

In 1938 Hammond organized the first From Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall, presenting a broad programme of blues, jazz and gospel artists including Ida Cox, Big Joe Turner, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade "Lux" Lewis, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Count Basie Orchestra, Sidney Bechet, Sonny Terry, James P. Johnson, and Big Bill Broonzy (who took the place of the murdered Robert Johnson). He coordinated a second From Spirituals to Swing concert in 1939.

After serving in the military during World War II Hammond felt unmoved by the Bebop jazz scene of the mid-1940s. Rejoining Columbia Records in the late 1950s he signed Pete Seeger and Babatunde Olatunji to the label and discovered Aretha Franklin, then an eighteen-year-old gospel singer.

In 1961 he heard the folk singer Bob Dylan playing harmonica on a session for Carolyn Hester; he signed him to Columbia and kept him on the label despite the protests of executives who referred to Dylan as 'Hammond's folly'. He produced Dylan's early recordings, .Blowin' in the Wind. and .A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall..

"What I wanted to do with Bobby was just to get him to sound in the studio as natural, just as he was in person and have that extraordinary personality come through. After all he's not a great harmonica player, he's not a great guitar player and he's not a great singer, he just happens to be an original. And I just wanted to have that originality come through."
John Hammond on Bob Dylan,

Hammond oversaw the highly influential posthumous reissues of Robert Johnson's recorded work (produced by Frank Driggs), convincing Columbia Records to issue the album King of the Delta Blues Singers in 1961. Musicians Hammond signed to the label included Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen.

Hammond retired from Columbia in 1975 but continued to scout for talent. In 1983 he brought guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan to Columbia and was credited as executive producer on his debut album.

Hammond recognized jazz music to have originated as an African-American musical genre. When Hammond entered the jazz community integration had not yet begun. Black and white musicians rarely played together and often the prestigious locations permitted only white audiences.

Hammond remembers that before the 1920s black musicians could always find jobs, even if they were low paying. After the instatement of Local 802, a union of professional musicians within New York City, Hammond saw more white people receiving jobs than black people. However this did not stop the African-American musicians. Through burlesque and record making these musicians continued to be a presence.

1933 was a defining year for Hammond. He remembers this year being extraordinary due to his establishment of relationships with British record companies. Hammond was able to secure contracts for various musicians. He was an attractive producer to these companies because he did not desire a profit for himself.

In 1933 he helped Benny Goodman receive a record deal with Columbia Records, which at the time was only known as English Columbia. During this time Goodman was in need of a big break, as he was getting a reputation as being difficult to work with. Hammond proposed that Goodman produce a multi-racial record; however Goodman believed this route would hurt his own musical reputation.

In this year Hammond broke out of the traditional role of a producer and became a talent scout after hearing Billie Holiday. He remarks that he was astounded to discover that she was the daughter of Clarence Holiday from Fletcher Henderson's band. That same year, he was able to get her involved in the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Hammond attributes fate to his finding of Holiday. After hearing her sing for the first time he wrote, "She weighs over 200 pounds, she is incredibly beautiful and sings as well as anybody I have ever heard."

Later in 1933 he heard Teddy Wilson, a jazz pianist on the Chicago radio. While he did not discover him he was able to provide significant opportunities for him, even some collaborations with Billie Holiday.

Record integration became an important component of jazz music. Starting in 1935 musicians began to record in mixed-race groups. While some of this integration had already taken place Hammond remembers it as being hidden. However in 1935 the Goodman Trio began recording. In 1936, the group appeared in a live concert at the Chicago Hot Jazz Society. Hammond fondly remembers this as an innovative moment in jazz history.

"John's Idea", originally titled "I May Be Wrong It's John's Idea", is a tribute to John Hammond written by Count Basie.

Hammond received a Grammy Trustees Award for being credited with co-producing a Bessie Smith reissue in 1971 and in 1986 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Hammond's son, John P. Hammond became an American Blues musician.

Hammond was one of the first men to racially integrate the American music industry. Before the Civil Rights Act passed Tom Wilson, an African American, replaced Hammond as Bob Dylan's record producer.

In December 2015 Guinness featured John Hammond in its UK advertising campaign.

Prince's song "Avalanche" mentions Hammond in the lyric "Mr. John Hammond with his pen in hand, sayin' ' Sign your kingdom over to me and be known throughout the land! '.

* Also see :- Louis Armstrong Biography
* Also see :- Dave Brubeck Biography
* Also see :- Nica de Koenigswarter Biography
* Also see :- 52nd Street
* Also see :- Tin Pan Alley
Also see :- The History Of Jazz

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