The Music of Ernie Fields


Introduction to Ernie Fields

Ernie Fields (born Ernest Lawrence Fields in 1904 – died in 1997) was an African-American bandleader. Born in Oklahoma, Fields began his career as a pianist and eventually played the trombone which became his main instrument after graduating from the Tuskegee Institute, then moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. He began to establish and lead a band called the Royal Entertainers from the late 1920s. At first he loathed to travel with his band but eventually he and his group eventually hit the road mostly in the Southwest; he also began his recording career. In 1939, he was discovered by John Hammond who invited him over to New York and record for his Vocation label. Although he didn’t become a jazz star, he continued to work regularly. Fields recorded for smaller labels and reconstructed his sound and style to a smaller band. He also hanged his repertoire from the big band/swing genre to rhythm and blues, a style he would continue to employ throughout the 1950s. This shift to R&B finally worked for him big time, as his version of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” (released on Rendezvous) hit the Top 10 pop chart in 1959, credited to Ernie Fields Orchestra. He retired from performing and recording in the 1960s and died in 1997, aged 92. His son, Ernie Fields Jr. is a saxophonist and also a bandleader. 

Early years

Ernest Lawrence Fields was an African-American trombonist, pianist, arranger and bandleader. Popularly known as Ernie Fields, he was born on August 28, 1904 and raised in Taft, Oklahoma. He first played trombone in the marching band of Tuskegee Institute where he studied to become an electrician. In 1930, he left Taft and moved to Tulsa where he led his own band, the Royal Entertainers. They later changed their name to Territory Big Band. While the orchestra was gaining popularity in the Midwest, they were noticed by legendary producer John Hammond.

Music career

With Hammond’s persuasion, the band flew to New York in 1939 to record for the Vocalion label where they released the minor hit “T-Town Blues.” Although Fields didn’t become a star, he continued to work regularly through the 1940’s. They embarked on a national tour and recorded for small-time record labels. That was also the point when his band gradually shifted their sound from big band and swing repertoire to R&B and became entertainers for the World War II troops.

During the 50’s music scene, Field’s band continued to play swing standards in R&B style. His band consisted of Ernie Freeman (pianist), Rene Hall (guitarist), Plas Johnson (saxophonist), and Earl Palmer (drummer). He signed a contract with the new label Rendezvous Records in Los Angeles, California.  In 1958, they tweaked their genre into instrumental rock n roll, with Rene Hall as the one who introduced the new sound. In 1959, Fields and his band released an R&B version of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.”  “In the Mood” peaked at #4 on the Billboard pop chart and #13 in the UK Singles chart. With the sales of over one million copies, the single gained a gold disc status. The following years, the band went through personnel and band name changes as well such as B. Bumble and the Stingers, The Marketts and The Routers.

By the late 1960’s, Ernie Fields himself retired from the business and returned to his hometown. He died at the age of 92 in May 1997. Fields’ son Eddie Fields Jr., followed his footsteps as a band leader.

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