Black History Month Profile: Kenny Dorham’s Backyard

KUTX’s Black History Month is supported by Austin Public Health, committing to health equity.

Kenny Dorham’s Backyard was named after the legendary jazz trumpeter, singer, and composer.   Dorham was born McKinley Howard “Kenny” Dorham in Fairfield, Texas. He switched from piano to trumpet during his time at all-black L.C. Anderson High School that was located on the  Eastside of Austin. Dorham became a popular bebop trumpeter and played with many bands including Lionel Hampton, Billy Eckstine, and Dizzy Gillespie just to name a few. 

He also played on many of the late-’40’s and early-’50s Thelonious Monk sessions. In addition to that, he lead his own group called jazz prophets. He later released 2 Horns/2 Rhythm featuring performances with Ernie Henry which was recorded in 1957.  In 1960, he released his studio album Quiet Kenny.  In the early seventies, Dorham suffered from kidney disease, which he died from at the age of 48.

In the early 2000’s Kenny Dorham’s Backyard was established. The outdoor music venue is illuminated by string lights with Afro-centric murals around the property paying tribute to some of the musical greats such as Black Austin pianists: Ernie Mae Miller and Margaret Wright.

Kenny Dorham’s Backyard is located in the heart of the historic East End cultural district. The location is just down the street from Kenny Dorham’s last home in Austin. The venue is home 

to the Austin Jazz and Arts Fest, East End Summer Music Series, SoulFest, and the Backyard Blues Series with the bulk of the live music programming honoring the traditional African American music community.

Longtime music community advocate bassist and curator  Harold McMillan, who’s operated the outdoor venue for 14 years, is working with the city on plans to establish the Kenny Dorham Center, a music-centric arts hub.

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