King Oliver

Birth Name:
Joseph Nathan Oliver
Birth Date:
December 19, 1885
Birth Place:
Aben, Louisiana
Death Date:
April 10, 1938
Place of Death:
Savannah, Georgia
Age:
52
Cause of Death:
Arteriosclerosis
Cemetery Name:
Woodlawn Cemetery
Claim to Fame:
Music
A pioneering jazz trumpet and cornet player, songwriter and bandleader Joseph “King” Oliver played an instrumental role in the popularization of jazz outside of New Orleans. Though born in Louisiana, Oliver spent much of his career in Chicago, where he established his legendary King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. Initially, the band included Louis Armstrong, formerly Oliver’s student in New Orleans. Ironically, Armstrong’s success ultimately overshadowed his mentor’s reputation as a jazz pioneer. As both a teacher and a musician, however, Oliver played an important role in the early history of jazz.

A Very Sad Ending …

The end of Joe Oliver’s life was less than happy. His career-long dental problems, likely exacerbated by his habit of sipping sugar water “for energy” during performances, made it increasingly difficult to play the cornet. He lost his life savings in a bank collapse during the Great Depression, and spent the last years of his life touring with bands of increasing obscurity. Things only got worse when Oliver finally landed a long-term contract playing in New York’s Kentucky Club for pretty decent money, but made another bad decision when he passed up the chance to go to the newer Cotton Club because they paid less. Oliver unfortunately failed to take the powerful “Struggle Buggy Radio” broadcasts into account, something that Ellington, and his manager Irving Mills, did not overlook. The result was that Ellington’s fame grew while Oliver’s diminished. Later he was hired by the Savoy Ballroom before Chick Webb took up residence, but was unsatisfied with the pay. He tried to wangle more money out of management, but the end result was that he lost the job. Webb moved in as Oliver finally just gave up and moved back to Savannah, Georgia.

In Savannah Oliver was working in a pool hall trying to make enough money to buy an overcoat so he can get back to New York in the wintertime. But he never makes it. He dies, and there’s no money to bury him. Fortunately Louis Armstrong comes up with enough money to bury him at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City, and he was pretty much forgotten until the hot jazz resurgence some 50 years after his passing.

Cemetery Information:

Final Resting Place:

Woodlawn Cemetery

4199 Webster Avenue

Bronx, New York, 10470

USA

North America

Map:

Map of Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx in New York City
Map of Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx in New York City

Grave Location:

Salvia Plot, Section 195, Range 16

Grave Location Description

Drive to the lower part of the cemetery (C-2 on the official cemetery map) and take Canna Avenue around until it turns into Heliotrope Avenue. Park and walk to the edge of the cemetery. King Oliver is buried in a shared grave and 2nd to the left of one of the large trees across from a red brick building on the other side of the fence.

Grave Location GPS

40.880349723923736, -73.87263773346578

Photos:

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