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Biography

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Overview (3)

Born in Bronx, New York, USA
Died in California, USA
Birth NameHarry Raab

Mini Bio (1)

Harry Gibson (born 1915, died 1991) was rocking and rolling 20 years before Elvis. His wild singing style and rocking piano playing were so far ahead of his time, his contemporaries were astonished. His 15 minutes of fame were during the mid-40s, after which he drifted into obscurity, only to be rediscovered several times during the 1970s, 80s, and now.

He was a genius at the piano, master of boogie woogie, Dixieland, bop, blues, classical, ragtime, stride, Bach, and styles to which he may have been the only adherent. He sang of subjects that got his records banned from radio stations...drugs, adultery, drinking, murder, and frantic freaks, so he never got famous, but he maintained a cult of devout followers. All of his recordings were his own compositions, and they were mostly unusual and brilliant songs. We are now building a database of his song lyrics here.

Harry started playing piano as a child in the Bronx and Harlem, New York City, in the 1920s, and was soon playing boogie piano and talking jive. During prohibition he already knew most of the songs of his favorite jazz pianists, and was invited into black speakeasies in Harlem as a teenager to play piano. After repeal, he was regularly playing at Harlem nightclubs throughout the 30s. In 1939 Fats Waller saw him at a club there, and Harry was playing so many Waller songs that he took Harry as his intermission pianist on Swing Street, (52nd St between 5th and 7th Aves, also known as the Apple). Billed as Harry Raab before then, on Swing Street he took his show-biz name "Gibson" off a gin bottle. But Harry Gibson still needed a nick name. At the time, jazz musicians stopped using the words "hep" and "hepcat" (too many squares were using those words) and started saying "hip" instead. So Gibson coined the word "hipster" and started addressing his audience that way. "Gather 'round, all you hipsters," he would say from the piano. Fellow musicians picked up on the new word and began to kid him about it, calling him the Hipster. The name stuck, especially after he wrote the song "Handsome Harry, The Hipster," in the early 40s, and recorded it in 1944.

From 1939 to 1945 he worked full-time on "Swing Street." At the same time he studied at Julliard, the prestigious music school, and became a fellow in their graduate school. His only album from these early years is 1944's "Boogie Woogie in Blue," a record album of 4 records (8 sides), of boogie, blues, and jive. This album got him exposure and an invitation to Hollywood, where he recorded 4 more sides for Musicraft, in 1946, including his notorious piece about the Murphy family. That year he also did the movie "Junior Prom," and a play with Mae West. After 1947, he dropped off the face of the earth, until popping up in the 1980's as the leader in a rock and roll band called "The Rock Boogie Blues Jammers," (also, "The Bop Boogie Blues Jammers"), still calling himself The Hipster. What he did between 1946 and the 1980's is a mystery, but it may have involved a monkey on the back of a buzzard. He did jail time on drug charges in the 40s, and when rock and roll came in the 50s, nobody wanted to hear jazz musicians, so he drove a taxi and became a recluse. By all accounts he was burned out by the 60s and 70s, but his comeback started in the mid 80s, as an eccentric white-haired, gravel-voiced man playing hard rock, boogie woogie, and ragtime, in modern rock bands made up of musicians 40 and 50 years his junior. The two albums he recorded in the late 80s are gems, and highly unusual. His shtick in later years was to sing comical songs praising drug use, almost as if he were the musical Cheech and Chong. For example, a song he recorded in 1989 about a little grass shack in Hawaii made of Maui Wowie, that can be smoked as needed, replanted from the seeds, and rebuilt from the stems and leaves. Unlike his 1940s contemporaries, who continued to play the same music for decades, (if they survived), Harry changed to fit the times, which is why he was the Hipster.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Morgan Wright (me)

Spouse (1)

Florence (1936 - ?) (divorced) (4 children)

Trivia (1)

In 1949,'50 and '51, Harry played in and around the Miami, Miami Beach area. He drove and sometime slept in an old "wooden-body" station wagon, that were popular after the War. He was very popular with the "Hip" U. of Miami vets from WW II, who made the trip to Miami Beach nightly to catch his act. Many times he was invited out to the University area for private Fraternity parties .

Personal Quotes (1)

I'm famous for singing wild jazz tunes and playing wild rocking piano and really tearing up the joint, I was practically the first person to ever do that shit. Then came rock and roll and they all did that shit, but nobody did that stuff before me."

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