David “Fathead” Newman was an acclaimed American jazz and rhythm-and-blues saxophonist who made significant contributions to the world of music during his prolific career. Born on February 24, 1933, in Corsicana, Texas, Newman developed a love for music at an early age, taking up the piano and then the saxophone. He graduated from Jarvis Christian College in 1954 with a degree in music and soon after began to play professionally.
Newman was introduced to the world of music by an early mentor, Buster Smith, a former Charlie Parker sideman. This relationship helped Newman develop his style and skills, setting the stage for a successful career in music. Newman’s first significant gig came in 1952 when he joined the band of rhythm and blues legend Lowell Fulson. During his stint with Fulson, Newman earned his famous nickname “Fathead,” due to an incident involving sheet music that was mistakenly placed on his head.
In 1954, Newman joined Ray Charles’s band, where he became one of Charles’s most trusted and long-standing band members. Newman’s saxophone solos became a defining feature of Charles’s music, best exemplified by the hit “Unchain My Heart.” His collaboration with Ray Charles lasted for over a decade, and it was during this time that he also began to establish himself as a solo artist.
Newman’s solo career took off in 1958 when he released his first album, “Fathead: Ray Charles Presents David Newman.” The album was well-received and set the stage for a successful solo career. Newman went on to release over 30 albums as a bandleader and appeared on countless more as a sideman. His music spanned multiple genres, including jazz, rhythm and blues, and soul.
David “Fathead” Newman was not only a skilled saxophonist but also a versatile musician who could play various instruments. He was adept at playing the flute and was equally proficient on the tenor, alto, and soprano saxophones. His unique style was characterized by a soulful, bluesy tone and a melodic approach to improvisation. He was well-respected among his peers and had a significant influence on generations of saxophonists who followed.
Newman’s illustrious career spanned over five decades, and he continued to perform and record music up until his death on January 20, 2009. Throughout his career, Newman worked with a host of renowned musicians, including Herbie Mann, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, and Eric Clapton, among others. His music and contributions to jazz and rhythm and blues continue to inspire and influence musicians worldwide.
Page last updated 5/22/2023.