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BIOGRAPHY

Bobby Christian

Bobby Christian, born Sylvester Christian on October 20, 1911 in Chicago, Illinois, was an American drummer, percussionist, arranger, composer and educator.

At the age of six, Bobby received his first drum kit and later went on to study for two decades with famed percussion educator Roy Knapp. At the age of fourteen, Christian quit school to join Chicago bandleader Louie Panico, spending the next five years playing at the local Canton Tea Gardens.

In 1930, Christian began a two-year tour with singer Sophie Tucker, then returned to Chicago to sign on with violinist Eddie Varzo. Christian gained national recognition in 1938 after joining the famed Paul Whiteman band, working as a drummer and arranger. Worn out from the road, Christian returned to Chicago in 1940 and remained there for the next ten years. He joined Roy Shield's NBC radio orchestra, worked with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Fritz Reiner, conductor) and played on countless advertising sessions known as jingles. In 1944, Bobby founded the Bobby Christian School of Percussion, which counted among its students future drumming greats Cozy Cole and Lou Singer. In 1950, Christian relocated to New York City where he rejoined Whiteman for the ABC television program Tales of Tomorrow. In 1955, he joined the legendary Arturo Toscannini's NBC Symphony of the Air, touring the Far East with the orchestra before again resettling in Chicago in 1956.

Besides leading and performing with his own dance band, Christian joined Dick Schory's Percussion Pops Orchestra — showcasing his unique one-man-band abilities. According to fellow percussionist Duanne Thamm, "[Christian] played 'Sabre Dance' sitting down, two right mallets on the xylophone, left hand playing two timpani, bass drum with the right foot and bells in front of the xylophone. He brought the house down!" Under Schory's leadership, Christian cut a series of LPs for RCA's Stereo Action imprint, among them 1958's Music for Bang, Baa-Room and Harp, 1960's Music to Break Any Mood, and 1962's Holiday for Percussion, earning the nickname "Mr. Percussion" for his virtuosity. The moniker also served as the title of his first headlining effort for Mercury, a 1963 full-length highlighted by an ethereal version of "Cherokee" featuring wife Vernyle's wordless vocal effects. Even better is the remarkable Audio Fidelity release Strings for a Space Age, a classic of the outer space exotica subgenre. Following a series of LPs including Percussion in Velvet, Vibe-Brations, and In Action, Christian's recording career ended in the early '70s, and in the decades to follow, he channeled his energies into teaching, offering private lessons in addition to hosting clinics for aspiring musicians both at home and abroad. Christian also wrote a series of instructional books and even produced a how-to video, Bobby Christian's Tricks of the Trade. In 1989, Christian was inducted into the Percussion Arts Society's Hall of Fame. 

Bobby Christian died unexpectedly on December 31, 1991; he was 80 years old.

Bobby Christian

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