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Leroy E. Kirkland (February 10, 1904 or 1906 – April 6, 1988) was an American arranger, bandleader, guitarist and songwriter whose career spanned the eras of big band jazz, R&B, rock and roll and soul.
Born in Columbia, South Carolina, in either 1904 or 1906 (sources differ), Kirkland played guitar in southern jazz bands in the 1920s, and after a spell in the army worked as arranger and songwriter for Erskine Hawkins. He joined Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey in the 1940s, and in 1951 began arranging music at Savoy Records in New York. He continued to arrange R&B artists for OKeh Records, Mercury Records and other companies, and worked on rock and roll shows with Alan Freed. He also directed "My Favorite Song" for Ella Fitzgerald on Decca Records (Decca #9-28433). Two of his compositions became popular with jazz musicians: "Charleston Alley" (recorded by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Charlie Barnet, and others) and "Cloudburst" (recorded by Count Basie, The Pointer Sisters, and others).
Some of Kirkland's more successful collaborations were with Screamin' Jay Hawkins ("I Put a Spell on You, "Little Demon","Yellow Coat", etc.) and Big Maybelle (Kirkland co-wrote her biggest hit, "Gabbin' Blues"). In 1956, Kirkland and his session band teamed up with 14-year-old singer Barbie Gaye to record an R&B song, "My Boy Lollypop". When the song was covered eight years later by Jamaican artist Millie Small, the cover version became a worldwide hit. Later at Savoy Records, Kirkland worked with Nappy Brown and Wilbert Harrison. Although behind the scenes for most of his career, Kirkland contributed to the recordings of music legends such as Etta James, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, The Righteous Brothers, The Supremes, Brook Benton and the Five Satins. His work on 1963's #1 hit "Our Day Will Come" by Ruby and the Romantics is among his most successful arrangements.
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