Keyes, Joe (ca. 1907–1950)

By: Dave Oliphant

Type: Biography

Published: December 5, 2006

Updated: April 11, 2017

Jazz trumpeter Joe Keyes was born in Houston around 1907. Around 1928 Keyes began playing with Houston bands, including Johnson's Joymakers. In 1930 he was with Gene Coy's Black Aces from Amarillo and during that summer with Jap Allen's Kansas City unit, which accompanied Houston blues singer Victoria Spivey. In 1931 Keyes played with singer Blanche Calloway before joining forces with the Kansas City band of Bennie Moten in 1932, in time for Moten's historic RCA Victor recording session that produced some of the most notable sides issued by any Swing Era band. After Moten's death in 1934 Keyes became a member of the Count Basie orchestra, and was included on the group's early recordings in 1936–37. After leaving Basie in 1937 Keyes was with the band of fellow Texan Hot Lips Page, and in 1940 with two other fellow Texans, guitarist Eddie Durham and reedman Buster Smith, with whom he had worked as a sideman both in the Moten and Basie bands.

Although rarely a soloist, Keyes was present on a number of seminal recordings. He can be heard most fully on a recording of "I Want a Little Girl," made in 1940 with Durham and Smith. In 1941 Keyes was briefly with the bands of Fletcher Henderson and Fats Waller. In 1943 he worked with Claude Hopkins's Wildcats Band, but in his last years Keyes played very little due to a drinking problem. On November 6, 1950, his body was found floating in the Harlem River in New York City. His death was attributed to drowning, although some evidence suggested foul play.

John Chilton, Who's Who of Jazz: Storyville to Swing Street (London: Bloomsbury Book Shop, 1970; American ed., New York and Philadelphia: Chilton, 1972; 4th ed., New York: Da Capo Press, 1985) . Dave Oliphant, Texan Jazz (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996).


  • Music
  • Genres (Jazz)
  • Peoples
  • African Americans

Time Periods:

  • Great Depression


  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

Dave Oliphant, “Keyes, Joe,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 24, 2021,

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December 5, 2006
April 11, 2017

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