August 26, 1905 – May 11, 1997
Ernie Fields was an African American trombonist, pianist, arranger and bandleader. After graduating from high school, he went to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He credited Walter “Foots” Thomas, a young Muskogee man, with influencing him to become a professional musician. He soon formed a college band, playing gigs in Tuskegee and surrounding little Macon County towns. Later he recorded several hits: “T-Town Blues,” “Butch’s Blues,” “Lard Stomp” and others during the 30s and 40s. His Tulsa-based orchestra was formed in the mid-thirties and made its debut at New York's famed Apollo Theatre in 1939.
He first earned nationwide recognition as “The Gentleman of Swing,” and later as “Mr. In the Mood.” His band, “America’s Sweetest Swing Band,” was catapulted into national prominence when it placed high in Cash Box Magazine’s 1959 poll for Best Pop Orchestra in the U.S., following an appearance of the band on the Dick Clark Show. His R&B version of “In the Mood” topped the Billboard and Cashbox charts in 1959-60 and earned Fields a gold record.
Texas-born but Oklahoma-raised, Fields toured across the United States for over 30 years. In the book Big Band Blues, author Albert McCarthy notes Fields’ recordings “suggest that the band possessed the potential for a greater success than it ever achieved.” Jazz scholar Gunther Schuller said in his book The Swing Era, “In terms of medium-tempo relaxed swing and, in general a wonderful sense of rhythmic well being, the band was heard to match, let alone beat.”