Biographical / Historical
Robert Nathaniel "Bobby" Tucker Jr. was born in Morristown, New Jersey, January 8, 1923 and died there on April 12, 2007. He was an accomplished pianist, arranger, and accompanist. He began performing at the age of fourteen and later studied in New York at the Institute of Musical Art. In 1946, he became accompanist to jazz vocalist Mildred Bailey and later that year, to renowned jazz vocalist Billie Holiday, with whom he remained until 1949 and with whom he had a strong and enduring, platonic friendship. Tucker continued to make recordings with Holiday into the 1950s.
Beginning in 1949, Tucker embarked on a lifetime collaboration as accompanist and musical director for the great African American balladeer and recording artist Billy "Mr. B" Eckstine. After leading a highly-acclaimed band from 1944-1947, Eckstine returned to a career as a solo singer, becoming the country's most popular vocalist in 1949-1950 and signing a lucrative five-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Incorporated (MGM). Although his popularity waned after 1951, he continued to play in major nightclubs in the United States and abroad for the next several decades and to release several popular albums. As his piano accompanist for over forty years, Tucker helped build and sustain the singer's career, reinventing Eckstine as the nation's musical tastes changed, and the music industry evolved. During his stint with Eckstine, Tucker worked on concerts—planning, arranging music, transcribing, and transposing works for performances; on recordings—preparing written arrangements, working integrally with recording companies. Engagements included recordings and performances with the Count Basie Orchestra; recordings under the direction of Quincy Jones; performances in Las Vegas; and band tours of Europe, Australia, and Japan.
Tucker was a renowned piano accompanist, and while working for Eckstine he was eagerly sought out by other singers, including Johnny Hartman, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, and Sarah Vaughan. He also collaborated with other jazz accompanists such as Jimmy Jones, Jimmy Rowles, and John Malachi. In his autobiography, Quincy Jones says that Tucker inspired him to begin studying music after they met in Seattle, while Jones was touring with Billie Holiday. Jones attributed all of the success he garnered in his career to the core skills he developed as a result of Tucker's inspiration. Tucker worked with Jones to arrange and conduct the music for the 1978 film The Wiz, which received an Academy Award nomination for best original music score.