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Woody Herman’s Birthday, Family, Bio

Woody Herman: The Prolific Saxophonist from Milwaukee, WIWoody Herman, a renowned saxophonist, is celebrated for his musical genius and contributions to the world of jazz. Born in Milwaukee, WI on May 16, 1913, he left an indelible mark on the industry with his distinctive sound and innovative approach.

In this article, we will delve into the life and career of Woody Herman, exploring his journey before gaining fame, and shedding light on his significant achievements.

About Woody Herman

1. Early Life and Influences

– Born on May 16, 1913, in Milwaukee, WI, Woody Herman showed an affinity for music from a young age.

Raised in a musically inclined family, he was exposed to various genres, with jazz becoming his primary passion. – Inspired by the big band sounds of Count Basie and Duke Ellington, Woody Herman dedicated himself to mastering the saxophone.

He would spend hours practicing, honing his skills and developing his unique style. 2.

Career Beginnings

– Woody Herman’s journey in the music industry began in the 1930s when he joined various regional bands. His talent quickly garnered attention, and it wasn’t long before he found himself performing alongside established musicians.

– In 1936, Woody Herman formed his first successful big band, known as the Woody Herman Orchestra. This marked the beginning of his rise to fame and solidified his position as a respected figure in the jazz scene.

3. The Woody Herman Orchestra

– Known for its exceptional musicianship and innovative arrangements, the Woody Herman Orchestra captivated audiences with its energetic performances.

It seamlessly blended swing, bebop, and other emerging jazz styles, pushing the boundaries of the genre. – Some of the notable musicians who passed through the ranks of the Woody Herman Orchestra include Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, and Gene Krupa.

Their contributions to the band’s sound further solidified its reputation as one of the most influential groups of its time.

Before Fame

1. Early Struggles

– Like many artists, Woody Herman faced numerous obstacles on his path to success.

Financial difficulties and limited opportunities plagued him during his formative years, forcing him to take on odd jobs to make ends meet. – Despite these challenges, Woody Herman remained dedicated to his craft, continuously seeking opportunities to showcase his talent.

These early struggles only fueled his determination to succeed and left him with a deep appreciation for the opportunities that would come his way. 2.

Breakthrough and Recognition

– Woody Herman’s breakthrough came in 1939 with the release of the hit song “Woodchopper’s Ball.” The song’s infectious swing rhythm and Woody Herman’s dynamic saxophone playing launched him into the spotlight, earning him national recognition. – This breakthrough marked a turning point in Woody Herman’s career, opening doors to opportunities that had previously seemed unattainable.

He embarked on national tours and began recording albums, further solidifying his position as a prominent jazz musician. 3.

Legacy and Influence

– Woody Herman’s innovative sound and leadership style left an enduring impact on the jazz community. His ability to bridge the gap between traditional swing and modern bebop influenced countless musicians who followed in his footsteps.

– His dedication to fostering young talent through his band led to the formation of numerous other successful jazz musicians. Woody Herman’s commitment to musical education and mentorship echoes in the jazz world to this day.


Woody Herman’s remarkable journey from a young saxophonist in Milwaukee, WI to a jazz icon is a testament to his unwavering passion and talent. His contributions to the genre continue to inspire and influence generations of musicians, making him one of the most prolific figures in jazz history.

Through his music and leadership, Woody Herman forever changed the landscape of jazz, leaving a lasting legacy that will resonate for years to come.


Woody Herman, known for his incredible talent and contributions to the jazz world, had several interesting trivia facts associated with his life and career. Let’s take a closer look at some intriguing details about this legendary saxophonist.

1. Nicknamed “The Herd”

Woody Herman earned the nickname “The Herd” due to the distinct sound and cohesive nature of his big band.

With tight arrangements and precise ensemble playing, the Woody Herman Orchestra became renowned for their ability to perform as a unified force, much like a herd. The moniker stuck, becoming a beloved nickname for both Herman and his band.

2. Invention of the “Four Brothers” Sound

Woody Herman is credited with inventing the groundbreaking jazz style known as the “Four Brothers” sound.

This unique approach featured a saxophone section consisting of four tenor saxophones, arranged by renowned composer and arranger Jimmy Giuffre. The distinctive harmonies and intricate voicings created by the Four Brothers section became a signature sound for the Woody Herman Orchestra, setting them apart from other big bands at the time.

3. Collaboration with Igor Stravinsky

In 1945, Woody Herman had the rare opportunity to collaborate with renowned composer Igor Stravinsky.

The two joined forces to perform a jazz arrangement of Stravinsky’s classical composition, “Ebony Concerto.” This groundbreaking collaboration showcased Woody Herman’s versatility as an artist and his willingness to push the boundaries of musical genres. 4.

Grammy Award Winner

Woody Herman’s exceptional musicality and contributions to jazz earned him multiple accolades throughout his career. In 1983, he was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing his significant impact on the world of music.

This prestigious honor solidified his status as one of the most influential figures in jazz history.

Family Life

While Woody Herman dedicated much of his life to his musical career, he also had a significant personal life. Let’s delve into his family life and the people who played crucial roles in shaping the man behind the saxophone.

1. First Marriage and Children

In 1936, Woody Herman married Charlotte Neste, and the couple had two children together, a son named Woody Herman Jr., and a daughter named Donna Herman.

Despite the demands of his career, Herman remained a devoted husband and father, cherishing the times he could spend with his family. 2.

Second Marriage

After his first marriage ended in divorce, Woody Herman later tied the knot with Sharon McKinney. They had one child, a daughter named Lisa Herman, who would go on to become a talented singer-songwriter in her own right.

Sharon played a significant role in Woody Herman’s life, providing support and companionship throughout their marriage. 3.

A Musical Dynasty

Woody Herman’s passion for music extended to his children and their subsequent careers. His son, Woody Herman Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps as a musician, becoming a respected jazz drummer.

Donna Herman also inherited her father’s musical talents, working as a jazz vocalist. 4.

The Herman Band Tradition

Woody Herman’s commitment to fostering young talent extended beyond his family. It became a tradition within the Woody Herman Orchestra to invite upcoming musicians to join the band, granting them an opportunity to shine and grow under his mentorship.

This practice ensured a steady stream of talented musicians passed through the ranks of the Woody Herman Orchestra, creating a vibrant musical legacy. 5.

Woody Herman’s Later Years

Towards the end of his life, Woody Herman faced declining health, battling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Despite these challenges, he continued to perform and lead his orchestra until his passing on October 29, 1987, in Los Angeles, California.

His legacy lives on through his children, the musicians he mentored, and the lasting impact he made on the jazz community. In


Woody Herman’s life was not solely defined by his musical accomplishments.

His family played an important role, providing the love and support that helped him navigate the highs and lows of his career. Additionally, the fascinating trivia associated with his life showcases his innovative spirit and boundless creativity.

Woody Herman will forever be remembered as a jazz legend, a family man, and a musical pioneer who left an indelible mark on the world of music.

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