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Blind Willie Dunn

Eddie Lang, b. Salvatore Massaro on October 25, 1902 in Philadelphia, PA, d. March 26, 1933 in New York City, NY, was a musician regarded as the father of jazz guitar. He displaced the banjo with the guitar and made it a worthy solo and band instrument. Lang was born Salvatore Massaro in Philadelphia, the son of an Italian-American instrument maker. He learned violin at the age of seven, soon adding guitar and banjo. Within a year he was playing all three professionally and in public. In the early 1920s he played with Vic D'Ipplito, Bert Estlow, Charlie Kerr, Bill Lustin's Scranton Sirens, and Red McKenzie's Mound City Blue Blowers. During the 1920s he recorded and performed on radio, often with violinist Joe Venuti, a friend since both were children; with Jean Goldkette, Roger Wolfe Kahn , Adrian Rollini, Frankie Trumbauer, Paul Whiteman; and with guitarists Lonnie Johnson, Carl Kress, and Dick McDonough. Lang used the pseudonym Blind Willie Dunn to hide his race when he played at venues with Johnson, a black blues musician. In 1929, Lang joined Paul Whiteman's Orchestra. The following year he recorded the song "Georgia on My Mind" with Hoagy Carmichael, Joe Venuti, and Bix Beiderbecke. He became a regular in Bing Crosby's orchestra in 1932. He also appeared briefly in two movies: King of Jazz (1930) and The Big Broadcast (1932). In 1933, at the age of thirty, Lang died following a tonsillectomy. Bing Crosby had urged Lang to have the operation so he could have speaking parts in Crosby's movies. Lang's voice was chronically hoarse. The cause of his death is uncertain. Author James Sallis claims that Lang developed an embolism while under anesthetic and never regained consciousness.


Blind Willie Dunn Biography by Craig Harris

Influential jazz guitar pioneer Eddie Lang (born Salvatore Massaro) adapted the alias Blind Willie Dunn for a series of recordings that he made as a member of the Gin Bottle Four in 1928 and 1929. An all-star group that also included blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson, cornet player King Oliver, and, occasionally, Hoagy Carmichael on percussion and vocals, the Gin Bottle Four served as one of the first interracial jazz bands to record.

First using the pseudonym for a recording session, with pianist Frank Signorelli and chimes player Justin Ring, in 1928, Lang revived the Blind Willie Dunn persona the following year, cutting such classic tunes as "Blue Guitars," "A Handful of Riffs," "Midnight Call Blues," "Jet Black Blues," and "Hot Fingers."

The three recording sessions with the Gin Bottle Four represented only a small slice of South Philadelphia-born Lang's brief but prolific career. It's estimated that he worked with more than 400 musicians before dying prematurely after losing too much blood following a routine tonsillectomy at the age of 30. In addition to playing on groundbreaking recordings with jazz violinist Joe Venuti, a childhood friend, he rarely passed up an invitation to play. Seemingly colorblind, he worked with white musicians including Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards, Ruth Etting, Paul Whiteman, Bix Beiderbecke, Benny Goodman, and Bing Crosby, as well as with such African-American artists as Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Clarence Williams, Victoria Spivey, and Ray Charles.