Champion Jack Dupree was the embodiment of the New Orleans blues and boogie woogie pianist, a barrelhouse “professor”. His father was from the Belgian Congo and his mother was part African American and Cherokee. He was orphaned at the age of two, and sent to the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs (also the alma mater of Louis Armstrong). He taught himself piano there and later apprenticed with Tuts Washington and Willie Hall, whom he called his ‘father’ and from whom he learned “Junker’s Blues”. He was also “spy boy” for the Yellow Pochahantas tribe of Mardi Gras Indiansand soon began playing in barrelhouses and other drinking establishments. As a young man he began his life of travelling, living in Chicago, where he worked with Georgia Tom, and in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he met Scrapper Blackwell and Leroy Carr. Whilst he was always playing piano, he also worked as a cook, and in Detroit he met Joe Louis, who encouraged him to become a boxer. He ultimately fought in 107 bouts, winning Golden Gloves and other championships and picking up the nickname ‘Champion Jack’, which he used the rest of his life. He returned to Chicago at the age of 30 and joined a circle of recording artists, including Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red, who introduced him to the record producer Lester Melrose, who claimed composer credit and publishing on many of Dupree’s songs. Dupree’s career was interrupted by military service in World War II. He was a cook in the United States Navy and spent two years as a Japanese prisoner of war. His biggest commercial success was “Walkin’ the Blues”, which he recorded as a duet with Teddy McRae. This led to several national tours, and eventually to a European tour. Dupree moved to Europe in 1960, first settling in Switzerland and then Denmark, England, Sweden and, finally, Germany During the 1970s and 1980s he lived at Ovenden, in Halifax, England where a bronze plaque has been commissioned in his memory. Details of his time in Yorkshire, including the reminiscences of his family, are to be found at [www.smalltownsaturdaynight.co.uk] and in the book of the same name . A piano used by Dupree was recently re-discovered by pianist Matthew Bourne at Calderdale College in Halifax.Dupree continued to record in Europe (with Kenn Lending Band, Louisiana Red and Axel Zwingenberger) and also made many live appearances there, also still working as a cook specializing in New Orleans cuisine. He returned to the United States from time to time and appeared at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Dupree died on January 21, 1992 in Hanover, Germany of cancer.
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