Recipients of the: Legacy Award in Music Education
Thomas (Tommie) Stewart
Tommy Stewart is an American trumpet player, arranger, producer, composer and pianist residing in Birmingham, Alabama. He is a member of several active performing groups, including the Magic City Jazz Orchestra, Cleveland Eaton and the Alabama All-Stars, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame Jazz All-Stars, and Ray Reach and Friends. He was a 1988 inductee into the Alabarna Jazz Hall Fame. Tommy is also a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity incorporated.
Fess Whatley trained Stewart, Paul Bascombe, and Sun Ra, (previously known as Herman Blount). Whatley taught music at Industrial High (Parker High) in Birmingham, which at the time was one of the most populated high schools in America, with more than 3,500 students. Alvin "Stump" Robinson, the band director at Washington Jr High School, was also influential in Stewart's development.
Tommy Stewart enrolled at Alabama State College without knowing how he was going to pay tuition. The problem solved itself when he joined the Bama State Collegians, a dance band formed in 1929. At various times the dance band featured Erskine Hawkins, Avery Parrish, Joe Newman, Sam Taylor, Julian Dash, Benny Powell, and Vernall Fournier. Other musicians who attended Bama State are Clarence Carter, Fred Wesley (James Brown's band), and Walter Orange (The Commodores). The Collegians made enough money to pay Stewart's way through college.
While attending Alabama State University, Tommy directed the Bama State Collegians (formerly directed by trumpeter Erskine Hawkins). Later, he studied jazz arranging at the Eastman School of Music. Stewart also studied arranging under John Duncan, a classical composer and teacher at Alabama State University.
He taught high school from 1961 to 1963 at Fayette High School in Fayette County, Alabama. In 1969 he moved to Atlanta, Ga, and taught in Fayetteville, Ga; he also worked for Morris Brown College creating band arrangements. He taught jazz and created more band arrangements at Morehouse College from 1974 to 1985. He also taught "A Survey of Popular Music" at Georgia State University in 1979. In Birmingham, Alabama Tommy also taught band classes at West End High School from 1991-2001.
In 1956 Tommy played with Roy Hamilton. In 1963 Stewart also performed with Willie Hightower, L.C. Cook and Junior Parker during summer vacations. He arranged music for Eula Cooper, The Mighty Hannibal, Sandy Gaye, and Langston-French Duo (Langston is an ex-Pip and Gladys Knight's cousin). Most of these arranging assignments took place on Jessie Jones Tragar Records Label, which was located at 99-112 Hunter St. in Atlanta.
During the '70s, he worked at the Gold Lounge accompanying the likes of Gladys Knight & The Pips and The Tams. In 1971 he went on the road with Johnnie Taylor's show, which also featured Jackie Moore, King Floyd, Z.Z. Hill and the Stylistics, who were hot with "You're a Big Girl Now." He was the chief arranger for a television show in 1972, "Nightlife South," which ran for 25 weeks. The following year he did charts for The Burning of Atlanta LP by The Spirit of Atlanta on Buddah Records. That same year (1973) he connected with GRC/Aware Records and arranged tracks recorded by John Edwards (who later joined the Spinners) and Loleatta Holloway, one of soul's most dynamic voices. Stewart toured as musical director with Johnnie Taylor on his Disco Lady Tour in 1976, and also served as Ted Taylor's musical director. In 1973 Tommy also directed Johnny Taylor's band while they performed on the Midnight Special Show featuring Wolfman Jack. Chuck Berry was the official MC for that show. In the late 70's Tommy teamed with Marlon McNichols, a producer from Detroit, MI, to record some classic Disco music with groups such as Final Approach, Cream De CoCo, Tamiko Jones, Moses Davis, and of course to collaborate on the Tommy Stewart album with the classic rare funky groove hit BUMP & HUSTLE MUSIC. Tommy and Marlin McNichols would fly into Detroit and use the same horn and string players that played on all those great sounding Motown Records on their Atlanta Recordings, bringing together southern funk blended with soft and lush strings and horns.
Tommy also arranged for Luther Ingram in 1977, and the late Johnny Taylor (Ingram's manager and the owner of KoKo Records).Tommy Stewart's name pops up several times in the production and songwriting credits on Martha High's solo album on Salsoul Records. He produced the album and co-wrote every song featured, except for a remake of the Emotions' "Don't Ask My Neighbor," with his two colleagues, Harold Daniels and Julian Chatman The Martha High album was done on spec. High toured with James Brown as a backing vocalist and originally sang with the Four Jewels (who later became the Jewels), but stayed with Brown after the other members left. Brown was going to do the album, but decided to let Stewart do it. Joe Cayre of Salsoul Records wanted a James Brown sound which Stewart obliged by producing the LP in one day. He met High the day of the session. The record doesn't have the typical stringy Salsoul sound because it was recorded in Atlanta, not Philadelphia. Cayre released the album unretouched, from the tape Stewart submitted. It was around this time that he produced Ripple a self-contained band who made a little noise with "The Beat Goes On," and Southside Coalition, made up of some of Stewart's former students from Archer High in Atlanta. Tommy worked with the late Major Lance on two albums, toured with the Tams in 1983, and did arrangements for Serena Johnson's Lack of Communication album. The album's title song was written by Tommy's wife, Francina Stewart. In 1990, he co-founded the African American philharmonic symphony orchestra in Atlanta under co-founder/conductor John Peek. He moved from Atlanta to Birmingham in 1992, where he lived with his wife Francina and daughter Franita.
Upcoming and Recent Programs
A Genealogy Workshop: Useful Records in Overcoming the Challenges of African-American Genealogical Research
The Levi Watkins Learning Center and the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture present a Genealogy Workshop focusing on "Useful Records in Overcoming the Challenges of African-American Genealogical Research."
Saturday, March 11, 2017 10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
The Levi Watkins Learning Center, Archives
Registration: $25 per person
Lift Every Voice:
A newsletter from The National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture at Alabama State University. Fall 2015, Vol. 1, Issue 1.
A Visual Interpretation of African-Americans’ Struggle for Recognition as Human Beings and First-Class Citizens
Commissioned by The National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture at Alabama State University
- National Center Honors Alumnus for Outstanding Years of Service
- Remembering civil rights activist Medgar Evers
- New president brings sense of urgency to Morehouse
- Jeannie Graetz Literacy Program
- Inscription On Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial To Be Removed
- King's Forgotten Manifesto
- Harlem churches see gospel tourist boom on Sundays
- A Plot of Land, a Path to Freedom
- Tourism tax, like all taxes, should have a sunset