Jimmy Rushing was best-known by his stage name “Mister Five by Five.” He was an American blues shouter, balladeer, and swing jazz singer from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was also the featured vocalist of Count Basie’s Orchestra from 1935 to 1948.
Rushing was born into a family with musical talent and various accomplishments. His father was a trumpeter and his mother and uncle were singers. He studied music theory with Zelia N. Breaux at Oklahoma City’s Douglass High School and was unusual among his musical contemporaries for having attended college, at Wilberforce University.
Discovered in the early 1920s, while he toured the west coast, Rushing landed gigs with the infamous Jelly Roll Morton. He later shared the stage with Page’s Blue Devils and the Bennie Moten band in 1929. Count Basie claimed that Rushing “never had an equal” as a blues vocalist, though Rushing really thought of himself as a ballad singer. Rushing was a powerful singer who had a range from baritone to tenor. He could project his voice so that it soared over the horn and reed sections in a big-band setting.
In 1957, Rushing appeared in the television special Sound of Jazz, singing one of his signature songs “I Left My Baby” backed by many of his former Basie band compatriots. In 1958, he was among the musicians included in an Esquire magazine photo by Art Kane, later memorialized in the documentary film, “A Great Day in Harlem.”
The legacy Rushing left behind in songs included “Sent for You Yesterday” and “Boogie Woogie,” favored soulful works among generations of blues and jazz lovers. During his career, Rushing was honored with many awards by music critics, including four-time Best Male Singer in the Critic’s Poll of Melody Maker, and four-time Best Male Singer in the International Critic’s Poll of Down Beat. His 1970 album, “The You And Me That Used To Be,” was named Jazz Album of the Year by Down Beat.