Friday, February 25, 2011

"Setting the Record Straight"

This is a reprint of my shorter article from 2005 on the birthdate of Jazz Great William "Chick" Webb! I noticed that I have been credited with the discovery of Webb's correct birthdate. Although I did look up census records and feel that I did discover his true birthdate, the credit really belongs to my father jazz writer George A. Borgman who made me aware of the issue and at whose behest I did the searching. My father, who was working on a Chick Webb book at the time, always felt that there was something remiss about Webb's birthdate, mainly because there were so many discrepancies, but also in his feeling that he was just a little too young to be running his own band when he started out in New York.

Being a drummer myself, I really wanted to know which year was the correct year of jazz drummer Chick Webb’s birth. It has been variously recorded as being 1896, 1902, 1907 and 1909. The birthdate of February 10, 1909 is the most often used today since it is on his 1939 death certificate. However, “1909” appears to have been written over “1907” so that date seemed uncertain too.

Using information on his parents William and Marie (Johnson) Webb and his place of birth and possible birth years I searched the 1910 and 1920 U. S. census records.

In the 1910 Maryland census for Baltimore the only people who fit the information were William H. Webb [38] and his wife Marie (25) and a young William aged 5. (Supervisor's District No. 3, Enumeration District No. 53, Sheet No. 4 B.)

In 1920, only Marie and her son William Webb were listed in the Baltimore census. However, this time it was taken in January so William had not yet had his 15th birthday on February 10th and is listed as being 14. (Supervisor's District No. 3, Enumeration District No. 80, Sheet No. 14 A census.)

I believe that this settles the discrepancies in Webb’s birth year and proves that the 100th anniversary of his birth was February 10, 2005 which sadly went by without any notice.

END NOTE: When my father laid aside his Chick Webb project, I decided to release the discovery of Webb's actual birthdate. Here is a link to my original September 18, 2005 article SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT. Since to my knowledge no one has been able to disprove it, I assume, that it still stands. One correction, after looking at the whole census pages again, the Webbs didn't live on Jefferson Street but another street. EB