Archie, Ernest Alvin, Jr. [Tom Archia] (1919–1977)

By: Dave Oliphant

Type: Biography

Published: November 21, 2006

Updated: August 25, 2016

Jazz saxophonist Ernest Alvin Archie Jr., known as Tom Archia, was born in Groveton, Texas, on November 26, 1919, the son of Ernest and Henrietta (McDade) Archie, Sr. His father modified his last name to Archia. Ernest Jr.'s parents were both schoolteachers, and while he was still a child the family moved to Rockdale and then to Houston and lived in the city's Fifth Ward. He took violin lessons, but was playing tenor saxophone by the time he was a teenager. At some point early in his musical career Archia adopted the nickname Tom, and he was billed as "Texas Tom" for a time. He graduated from Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University) in 1939 and taught school in East Texas in 1939–40.

In 1940 Archia joined the Milt Larkin band and played in Houston with tenorists Arnett Cobb and Illinois Jacquet, with whom he had played in the school orchestra at Phyllis Wheatley High School. He continued with Larkin at the Rhumboogie Club in Chicago in 1942–43 and in the mid-1940s recorded with trumpet star Roy Eldridge. Archia lived in Los Angeles during part of 1945 and played in Howard McGhee's combo but was back in Chicago in 1946. He made a name for himself primarily during tenor battles with Gene Ammons and Claude McLin in Chicago between 1946 and 1950. In 1947–48 he formed part of fellow Texan Oran (Hot Lips) Page's band, and during this same period Archia was recorded by the Aristocrat label (including under the name of Tom Archia and His All Stars); the Classics Jazz label reissued this recording on compact disc in 2001 in its Blues & Rhythm Series.

Archia's style is in a bluesy R&B vein, which has been called a familiar sound even if his name is not familiar to most listeners. He was known as "the Devil" because he could "play the hell out of his horn." The Classics CD describes his recording as "the real deal street wailing and jive." According to The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Archia's style, "influenced by Lester Young, was characterized by a sense of youthful exuberance and a set of personalized licks that had a discernible influence on Ammons."

Archia was in a common-law marriage from 1949 to about 1960 with Freda Kelln, with whom he had three children. He remained active in Chicago until 1967 when he returned to Texas and settled in Houston. He continued to perform in that city in the 1970s. He died of cancer in Houston on January 16, 1977. He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Hempstead, Texas.

The Chronological Tom Archia, 1947–1948 (Classics Jazz 5006, 2001). Barry Kernfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (London: Macmillan, 1988; 2d ed., New York: Grove's Dictionaries, 2002). Robert L. Campbell, Leonard J. Bükowski, & Armin Buttner, "The Tom Archia Discography," (, accessed August 24, 2011.

  • Music
  • Genres (Jazz)
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
Time Periods:
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • East Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • Houston

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

Dave Oliphant, “Archie, Ernest Alvin, Jr. [Tom Archia],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022,

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November 21, 2006
August 25, 2016

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