Leonard Bowden

1899 - 1989

Leonard Bowden, one of the leading bandleaders and arrangers in St. Louis in the 1930s, was perhaps the single most important figure in the development of the Navy’s musical talent.

In 1919, he organized one of the earliest sanctioned collegiate jazz ensembles, the Tuskegee Institute’s Syncopated Band.

In 1929, he co-founded the Bama State Collegians at Alabama State University with John Tuggle “Fess” Whatley.

After the war, he taught at Prairie View A&M and Florida A&M universities. Like many Black vets, he was disappointed with the world he found upon his discharge:

With all of my experience, there was no job for me coming out of the Navy, and for-how long were we on the air? Two years? Coming off of that WBBM program, where my name was announced weekly coast-to-coast, there was no job for me. That is right! There was no job that I could get. So, I went in to the post office at night on the four o’clock shift, four to twelve-thirty. After I got set in there–when I went to the Post Office–[guess] where they wanted to put me–immediately! Julius Wright and I went in, just I and Julius; and Julius said, “I don’t want that. Fox, are you going to take it?” “No.” The fact that we were musicians, they felt that we would consent to be a source of supply for the government to check up on the musicians who were transporting dope. I refused to take the job. I needed a job, buying a home in Evanston. So, I asked for any kind of job. So they put me down on the platform handling little bags when the guys brought them in. For four years, I was there. After six months, I went to Chicago Conservatory and signed in. That’s how I got my degree, working in the post office. And after I got my degree, I started teaching.

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Sources
Floyd, Samuel A. The Great Lakes Experience, 1942-45. Carbondale, IL: S. Illinois U, 1974.

—. “An Oral History: The Great Lakes Experience.” The Black Experience in Music 11.1: (Spring 1983): 41-61.

Libman, Jeffrey B. The Out-of-School Musical Engagements of Undergraduate Jazz Studies Majors. Diss. Arizona SU, 2014. Web. 6 June 2021.

Alex Albright
June 2021