Throughout history, there have been but a handful of jazz musicians who can claim to have broken the mold to become a household name.
John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie was one of them.
The South Carolina native was born Oct. 21, 1917 in Cheraw, the youngest of nine children. From an early age he showed signs of musical genius: he started playing the piano at age 4 and taught himself how to play the trombone and trumpet by age 12.
Gillespie would rise to fame in the ‘40s, known in the jazz community as the “bebop” era, reinventing the sound of jazz with such groundbreaking artists as Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. He later would be instrumental in forging the sounds of then-unknowns Miles Davis and Max Roach.
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“I always try to teach by example and not force my ideas on a young musician,” Gillespie was quoted as saying. “One of the reasons we’re here is to be a part of this process of exchange.”
In 1990, Gillespie received the National Medal of the Arts, the highest award for an American artist, and was honored by the Kennedy Center for his contributions to the performing arts.
Gillespie died Jan. 6, 1993 and was buried in Queens, N.Y.. A park in Cheraw has memorialized the jazz great since 2003, with a historical marker and sculpture and benches that symbolize his life.