Art and Culture
Rock Falls , IL

 Rock Falls IL Native | Musical Legend

Louie Bellson was born in Rock Falls in 1924 and started playing drums at age three. Louie has been described by Duke Ellington as “not only the world’s greatest drummer...(but also) the world’s greatest musician.” At 15, he pioneered the double bass drum set-up. At 17, he triumphed over 40,000 drummers to win the Gene Krupa drumming contest. Louie went on to become a great American jazz drummer, composer, arranger, bandleader, and educator, and Louie is credited with pioneering the use of two bass drums. Louie was an internationally acclaimed artist who performed in most of the major capitals around the world.  Bellson had the second highest number of appearances at the White House (only Bob Hope had more)

“To me, Louie is just one of the nicest guys I have every known. His playing is absolutely on top – on top of everything! He is just so nice! He’s a sweetheart. Louie Bellson is a beautiful artist.” -- Count Basie

“Louie is a superb artist. There’s so much hyperbole you can use but he’s just one of the top drummers… percussionists in the world. And one other thing about Louie: he is a sweet, nice man. There are no pretensions about Louie, and I like that!” -- Johnny Carson 

“When you say ‘working with the tops,’ that’s what it is to me working with Louie. He’s an all-around well-loved musician. To me, he’s just like one of the family.” -- Ella Fitzgerald

"Louie Bellson – the only man I know who, when he plays by himself, sounds like a symphony orchestra.” -- Sammy Davis, Jr.

Louie became well known for conducting drum and band clinics at high schools, colleges and music stores. In between these clinics, Louie continued to record and compose, resulting in more than 200 albums and more than 300 compositions. In 1985, Northern Illinois University awarded Louis Bellson with a Doctorate of Humane Letters. He was also inducted into Guitar Center's Rock Walk in Hollywood on December 4th 1999.

He performed with such greats as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Woody Herman, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Louie Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, James Brown, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Joe Williams, Wayne Newton and Bellson’s late wife Pearl Bailey. He served as musical director for his late wife both on her TV show, ABC’s The Pearl Bailey Show, and on the numerous tours they performed together.

As a prolific creator of music, both written and improvised, his more than 1,000 compositions and arrangements embrace jazz, swing, romantic orchestral suites, symphonic works and ballet. As an author, he has published more than a dozen books on drums and percussion. He received the prestigious American Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1994. Also, he is a six-time Grammy nominee.

 In 1998, Louie Bellson was hailed (along with Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones and Max Roach) as one of four “Living Legends of Music” when he received the American Drummers Achievement Award from the Zildjian Company. Bellson holds four honorary doctorates, the latest from DePaul University in 2001. In 2003, a historical land-marker was dedicated at his July 6, 1924 birth house in Rock Falls, Illinois, thus inaugurating their annual celebration in his honor.

In March 2007, Bellson and 35 other jazz greats received the Living Jazz Legends Award from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. In June 2007, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers inducted Bellson as a Living Legend in the ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame ceremony, Jazz at the Lincoln Center, New York City.

At age 84, Bellson passed away Feb 2009 in Los Angeles from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was buried in Moline, Illinois, his boyhood home. In March, 2009, Illinois State Rep. Mike Boland passed a Resolution (HR0169) to honor Louie Bellson's memory in the Illinois House of Representatives. In Oct 2009, U.S. Congresswoman Diane Watson (D-L.A.) also sponsored a Resolution.

In May, 2010, a memorial headstone was unveiled and dedicated at his Moline, Illinois gravesite. It was designed by his widow whose purpose was to provide a place not only for Americans, but for citizens of the World to pay respects, express pride in our heritage, reflect, and be inspired to live a life of excellence and humility.

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Additional Info

  • What To Do: Art and Culture
  • City: Rock Falls
  • State: IL
  • Postcode: 61071
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