Calvin Edwin Newborn, phenomenal jazz and blues guitarist, son of bandleader Phineas Newborn, Sr. and Mama Rose Newborn, brother of pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr., passed away at his home in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday, December 1st, from respiratory failure. He was 85. The Whiteville, Tenn. native lived and played in Memphis for much of his life, when not on the road, but moved to Jacksonville in 1999.
The Newborn family band, led by drummer Phineas, Sr., was renowned in the Mid-South and beyond in the 1940s and 50s, and gave the brothers, Phineas, Jr. and Calvin, their first experience on stage. Beyond that and early work on his brother's solo albums, Calvin went on to work with many legendary artists: Earl Hines, Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Forrest, Wild Bill Davis, Al Grey, Freddie Roach, Booker Little, George Coleman, Frank Strozier, Louis Smith, Sun Ra, Ray Charles, Count Basie, Hank Crawford, and David "Fathead" Newman.
For many years, he could be heard regularly in Memphis, often with Herman Green's Green Machine. He was a teacher and mentor to countless local musicians.
The back cover of the album New Born: a musical giant has moved on.
His daughter, Jadene King, spoke to the Flyer Sunday about his recent life in Florida. “It's been an extremely tough time because it was not expected,” she noted. “He had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from the years and years and years of smoking and drinking, and just living the jazz life, but he'd been sober and clean for over 35 years, and he was doing very, very well. Just in the end of October, the beginning of November, his oxygen levels just weren't what they needed to be, but it wasn't anything that impacted him. He just went from not having oxygen to wearing a little Inogen [portable oxygen] machine. And then toward the end of the month, that stopped giving him the levels that needed, and here we are.”
Now, she faces the daunting task of honoring his memory. “I'm trying to go through a million pictures to try and get the program printed. 'Cos I really want it to be something that's like a tribute," she said. "I want it to be like a keepsake for everyone. So I'm gonna take a lot of time, to make sure I can list every award daddy's received — oh my God! —and which ones I really need to highlight. And then all of these millions of pictures of his life, trying to figure out which ones are the best. I know in the past, when I've had to do anything on daddy, I would usually go to daddy. He was an amazing historian, and his mind was extremely sharp and keen up to the day he left, so I have never had to research or do anything, I just asked daddy. And he was a living, breathing book, on his and my uncle Phineas' life. But I will do my best. I'll probably have to pull out As Quiet As It's Kept!, his book, and then Robert Gordon did a book, Memphis Rent Party, where he did a really good job of pulling in information about daddy.”
Listen to this performance of "A Frame for the Blues" as played by Calvin Newborn, Herman Green, Tony Thomas, and Tom Lonardo, at the Levitt Shell in 2010:
The following services are scheduled in Jacksonville, Florida: Wake: Friday, Dec. 7, 5-7 pm, Phillips Mortuary (4815 Avenue B);
Memorial Service: The Citadel Church (1057 Arlington Road), Saturday, Dec. 8, 11 am.
Florist: Spencer's Designer Florist
Look for the Memphis Flyer's special tribute to Calvin Newborn's life in two weeks.