Al Hirt

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Alois Maxwell "Al" Hirt (November 7, 1922 – April 27, 1999) was an American trumpeter and bandleader.[1] He is best remembered for his million-selling recordings of "Java" and the accompanying album Honey in the Horn (1963), and for the theme music to The Green Hornet. His nicknames included "Jumbo" and "The Round Mound of Sound".[1] Colin Escott, an author of musician biographies, wrote that RCA Victor Records, for which Hirt had recorded most of his best-selling recordings and for which he had spent much of his professional recording career, had dubbed him with another moniker: "The King." Hirt was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in November 2009.

Hirt was born in New Orleans, Louisiana,[1] the son of a police officer. At the age of six, he was given his first trumpet, which had been purchased at a local pawnshop. He played in the Junior Police Band with friend Roy Fernandez, the son of Alcide Nunez; by the age of 16, Hirt was playing professionally, often with his friend Pete Fountain, while attending Jesuit High School. During this time, he was hired to play at the local horse racing track, beginning a six-decade connection to the sport.

In 1940, Hirt went to Cincinnati, Ohio, to study at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music with Dr. Frank Simon (a former soloist with the John Philip Sousa Orchestra). After a stint as a bugler in the United States Army during World War II, Hirt performed with various swing big bands, including those of Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Ina Ray Hutton.

In 1950, Hirt became first trumpet and featured soloist with Horace Heidt's Orchestra. After spending several years on the road with Heidt, Hirt returned to New Orleans working with various Dixieland groups and leading his own bands. Despite Hirt's statement years later "I'm not a jazz trumpeter and never was a jazz trumpeter", he made a few recordings where he demonstrated his ability to play in that style, during the 1950s with bandleader Monk Hazel, and a few other recordings on the local Southland Records label.

Hirt's virtuoso dexterity and fine tone on his instrument soon attracted the attention of major record labels and he signed with RCA Victor. Hirt posted twenty-two albums on the Billboard charts in the 1950s and 1960s. The albums Honey in the Horn and Cotton Candy were both in the Top 10 best sellers for 1964, the same year Hirt scored a hit single with his cover of Allen Toussaint's tune "Java" (Billboard No. 4), and later won a Grammy Award for the same recording. Both Honey in the Horn and "Java" sold over one million copies, and were awarded gold discs.[2]

Hirt's Top 40 charted hit "Sugar Lips" in 1964 would be later used as the theme song for the NBC daytime game show Eye Guess, hosted by Bill Cullen and originally airing from January 1966 to September 1969.