Freddie Mitchell, a prolific saxophonist known for his fiery performances, was born on April 8, 1918, in Tampa, Florida. His musical journey began at a young age when he became a skilled blues pianist. At 13, he moved to New York City, where he started learning clarinet and tenor saxophone, taking inspiration from the legendary Coleman Hawkins.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Mitchell turned professional and joined Benny Carter’s Orchestra in 1940. Within a year, he started performing with Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra at the renowned Roseland Ballroom. Throughout the early 1940s, Mitchell demonstrated his versatility, hopping between the Carter and Henderson bands and playing briefly with notable musicians like Hot Lips Page and Louis Armstrong. He spent four years from 1942 to 1946 with Ovie Alston’s Orchestra and made some records for the Urban label.
In 1949, Mitchell embarked on a solo career and became a contracted artist and in-house bandleader for Derby Records. As a session musician, he was integral to the success of many hits from Atlantic, such as Joe Turner’s “Sweet Sixteen”, Ray Charles’ “It Should’ve Been Me”, Ruth Brown’s “Wild, Wild Young Men”, and LaVern Baker’s “Soul On Fire”. Mitchell’s Derby recording “Moondog Boogie” was used as one of the theme songs by pioneering rock ‘n’ roll disc jockey Alan Freed.
Freddie Mitchell’s musical career took a new turn in the mid-1950s when he joined Alan Freed’s orchestra, where he re-recorded “Moondog Boogie” as “Rock ‘n’ Roll Boogie”. This track was featured in the 1956 film “Rock, Rock, Rock”. However, the 1960s were less kind to Mitchell, leading him to give up his professional life as a musician and become a taxi driver, although he occasionally performed around New York City as “Taxi” Mitchell. Mitchell passed away on June 9, 2010, in Mount Vernon, Westchester, New York.
Mitchell’s legacy lives on through his captivating performances and recordings. His energetic style and significant contributions to the saxophone and blues communities continue to inspire musicians and fans alike. Known for his “white-hot solos”, Mitchell’s music continues to resonate with audiences around the world, a testament to his enduring influence on the genre.