Terry Pollard

Today, I learned about another Queen. I was thinking about why most of the women I’m researching are hailed as “Queen of [insert instrument/genre]” (Of course, you also hear “King of…” all the time. It’s not uncommon for any gender, and the title borders on cliche I suppose.) Anyhow, I realized that there’s something special about the Queens you meet in person or discover from history. It seems a fitting title for those women you encounter that embody talent, leadership, generosity of spirit, confidence, willingness to work hard, and all with a certain “regal” air. I feel fortunate enough to have quite a few Queens in my life and now I can add Terry Pollard to the list.

“Queen of the Vibes” and an incredible pianist, Terry Pollard was a child prodigy — learning piano at age 3 and sneaking out of the house at age 14 to play in the jazz clubs in her home town of Detroit. At age 16 or 17, she began her career as a professional musician after making $15 to sit in for the keyboardist who didn’t make it at her nursing school graduation in 1948. After she realized she could make money playing jazz, she began to take it more seriously and started collaborating and recording with other local musicians such as Billy Mitchell. In 1952, she was playing at the Beehive Bar when legendary vibraphonist, Terry Gibbs discovered her. He was “mesmerized” by her playing and asked her to tour with him, which she did for the next eight years, recording five albums with him during that period. [1] She later said that those were some of the best years of her life. She also made television history, being one of the first black female jazz artists to perform on NBC’s Tonight Starring Steve Allen in 1956. There is some great footage of this performance on youtube (see below) in which she plays a gorgeous and swinging piano solo and then trades seamlessly with Gibbs on vibes, both playfully, and with an incredible command over the instrument. It really is a marvelous piece of jazz history to witness.

In 1960, she quit traveling to focus on being a mother, unfortunately, because she was so mistreated and disrespected due to the racism of the time. Not so much, it seems, by her fellow musicians, but by others she encountered while touring. Longtime family friend, Daniel Hosper said, “The downfall of her career was being mistreated on the road: racial slurs, disrespectful medical treatment, not being able to sit with the audience after performing. The climate of racial adversity during her time really robbed her of a national career.” [1]

Her fellow musicians understood her value, though, both as a soloist and rhythm section member and she was sought after by the likes of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dizzy Gillespie. She even played with The Supremes. Again, Hosper talked about Pollard’s incredible musicianship and status in the community in a conversation with his father: “…he explained how everyone requests Terry to play with them because she can swing harder and also has the finesse to phrase her piano-playing with a singer better than anyone else around.” [1]

After settling back down in Detroit, Terry continued working with her own trio and others until 1978 when she tragically had an aneurysm and stroke simultaneously and became paralyzed in her left side. Her son says that she continued to practice with one hand, still playing better than most folks did with two. She played for her visitors and other residents in her nursing home most days ’til the end of her life in 2009. He says she “never cursed or got mad about her condition. She never pitied herself.” Again, family friend Hosper says “Terry showed me a level of unstoppable strength, courage, and faith that continues in my heart to this day.” [1]

Terry’s son, Dennis Michael Weeden and family friend Daniel Hosper “started the Terry Jean Pollard Music Foundation Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to individual development of female students by giving them opportunities to further their musical ambitions. The foundation’s programs will provide instruments and educational materials to inspire students and the community with the legacy of the late, great ‘Queen of the Vibes.’” [1] It sounds like they have a wonderful plan and I’m excited for it to grow and inspire our next generation of jazz musicians!

Here’s a YouTube Playlist of her work — be aware, some of the titles are labeled incorrectly on her solo album.

Terry Pollard with Terry Gibbs

(Re)sources

[1] John Akers. “Reviving a Detroit Legacy: Terry Pollard was Queen of the Vibes.” (Detroit Metro Times. August 3, 2016. https://www.metrotimes.com/detroit/reviving-a-detroit-jazz-legacy-terry-jean-pollard-was-queen-of-the-vibes/Content?oid=2458357).

Aubrey Everett. “Jazz Pianist Terry Pollard Dies at 78.” (JazzTimes. December 22, 2009. https://jazztimes.com/news/jazz-pianist-terry-pollard-dies-at-78/).

Terry Pollard: A Detroit Jazz Legend. Fresh Sound Records. (https://www.freshsoundrecords.com/terry-pollard-albums/6661-a-detroit-jazz-legend.html).

Terry Pollard. (Women in Jazz South Florida. http://wijsf.com/jazzwomen/terrypollard.htm).

Wikipedia contributors, “Terry Pollard,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Terry_Pollard&oldid=878478975 (accessed January 16, 2019).

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