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TRENT, ALPHONSO E.

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TRENT, ALPHONSO E. (1905–1959). Alphonso E. Trent, jazz bandleader, was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas, on October 24, 1905. He was the son of Edward O. and Hattie S. Trent. Trent was one of the great Texan jazz legends of the 1920s. Influenced as a child by the music of Fletcher Henderson and W.C. Handy, he formed his first band in 1923. Soon, however, he moved to Little Rock to study music at Shorter College. With this grounding, he landed a job in Eugene Crook's Synco Six, an experience that encouraged him to form another group of his own.

After moving to Texas, his new ensemble, which included Herbert “Peanuts” Holland, Terrence Holder, Leo “Snub” Mosely, James Jeter, and John Fielding, became the first African-American band to play weekly at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas. Some people did not look favorably upon a black band that played for a white audience, and soon the band received threats from the Ku Klux Klan, but Trent and company persevered and became one of the most well-known acts in Dallas. Though much of their popularity was attributed to their fine jazz technique, weekly radio broadcasts by WFAA from the hotel also increased their influence and expanded their popularity in the surrounding area. During this time he married Essie Mae Grissom of Dallas. The band made several recordings in 1928 and again in 1930 and 1933.

Alphonso Trent Orchestra

The Alphonso Trent Orchestra was the first African-American house band at the
Adolphus Hotel in Dallas in the 1920s and 1930s.
Duncan Schiedt Collection.

Trent temporarily retired in the early 1930s, but his band continued under his name. After he returned to music, the group toured the Southwest. During this period Trent met and took under his wing the young Charlie Christian, who later carved his own niche as one of the great jazz guitarists. Although Trent's band played widely in the Southwest, it had more limited touring of the East Coast, where big national acts garnered much of their support, although the band did play the Savoy Ballroom in New York City. The band toured Europe, but Trent himself was not able to tour because of his father's illness and death. Nevertheless, the band's perceived regional nature limited its reputation.

Eventually, Trent retired from touring and moved back to Fort Smith to care for his elderly mother. He established a liquor store and was successful in real estate. He died in Fort Smith on October 14, 1959, and was buried in Oak Cemetery.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

John Chilton, Who's Who of Jazz: Storyville to Swing Street 4th ed. (New York: Da Capo Press, 1985). Leonard G. Feather, The Encyclopedia of Jazz (New York: Bonanza, 1960). Fitzjarrald, Sarah, “Alphonso Trent, One of the Best,” The Journal of the Fort Smith Historical Society, Vol. 8, No. 1 (April 1984).  Colin Larkin, ed., Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 3d ed. (New York: Muze, 1998). Dave Oliphant, Texan Jazz (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996).

Bradley Shreve

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Bradley Shreve, "TRENT, ALPHONSO E.," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ftrsh), accessed July 13, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on April 24, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.