Biographical / Historical
Maceo Buchannan Jefferson was born on July 14, 1898 in Beaufort, South Carolina to Reverend Paul William Jefferson and Julia Rose Singleton. The oldest of five children, Jefferson showed an early aptitude for both banjo and guitar. He enlisted in the Navy on April 6, 1917 and was released from service on December 24, 1919. According to the 1920 census, Jefferson lived in Portsmouth Monroe Ward, Portsmouth, Virginia as a laborer with the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad. During this time, he played with Gus Perry at the Limelight's Nightclub. Jefferson then moved to Norfolk, Virginia for two years before moving to Washington, DC. As noted in his resume, while in the District of Columbia Jeffersone, he performed with the J. R. Branson Orchestra in a dance hall on U Street and the Roscoe Lee Orchestra at the Better Old Club. He married Riccolin E. Sutherland on October 21, 1922. Jefferson spent another two years in a nightclub in Washington, where he met Duke Ellington and joined his band, the Washingtonians. By early 1923, Jefferson had joined Wilber Sweatman, and worked in a succession of nightclubs and theaters in New York, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. He also accompanied singer Ethel Waters on a recording session for Columbia Records. In 1926, he joined the Lew Leslie Blackbirds Plantation Orchestra and went on a European tour in 1927 with the band and singer Florence Mills. Jefferson joined Leon Abbey's band in 1928, and eventually relocated to Paris, France. During this time, he performed with several jazz bands and musicians including Louis Armstrong before returning to New York where he played in Willie "The Lion" Smith's band and toured with W. C. Handy. The late 1930s and 1940s found him back in France where he married a Parisian woman, Yvonne Josephine Stephanie Runtz, in 1937. Jefferson toured with different bands in France, England, Scotland, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, and Italy until the end of May 1940. In June, he drove a truck for the American Hospital of Paris to the base hospital of Angouleme for which he received no salary. From August to November, Jefferson worked for the American Red Cross as a driver transporting the sick and, injured, and distributing medicine and food. Jefferson resumed his musical career arranging, composing, copying, and playing music from December 1940-December 1941. His career took a dramatic turn when the Nazis, under the Vichy government, imprisoned him, three days after the United States declared war on Germany. Jefferson spent twenty-seven months in prison camp stalag 122 in Compiegne, France and while imprisoned led an orchestra. In 1944, the Nazis released and sent Jefferson back to the United States where he lived in New York before relocating to Bridgeport, Connecticut. In the latter part of his life and musical career, he focused on composition and developing new arrangements for old songs. He never fully regained his health after his time in the concentration camp. Jefferson died on June 15, 1974 in Bridgeport, Connecticut.