Larkin, Milton, Sr. (1910–1996)

By: Dave Oliphant

Type: Biography

Published: December 5, 2006

Updated: February 19, 2017

Jazz trumpeter and bandleader Milton Larkin, Sr., the son of Milton and Ella Larkin, was born in Navasota, Texas, on October 10, 1910. Larkin was a self-taught trumpet player who, after working with Chester Boone's Band and Giles Mitchell's Birmingham Blue Blowers, formed his own unit in 1936 and opened in Houston at the Aragon Ballroom. In subsequent years Larkin and his band toured the territories and performed in Kansas City, in Chicago at the Rhumboogie nightclub, and in New York at the famed Apollo Theater.

Reportedly the Larkin unit, which has been called "probably the last of the great Texas bands," could stand comparison with such name orchestras as those of Jimmie Lunceford and Cab Calloway. Certainly the Larkin band included top-notch sidemen in tenor saxophonists Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb, who went on to make names for themselves as solo stars with the orchestra of Lionel Hampton. Other vital members of the Larkin band were saxophonist and vocalist Eddie Vinson and two pianist-arranger-composers, "Wild Bill" Davis and Cedric Haywood. Larkin refused to record during the period of his greatest success in the 1930s and early 1940s, because he was unwilling to accept the low wages offered to black musicians by record companies. He served in a military band during World War II.

After recording "Chicken Blues" in 1946 Larkin led small groups that toured the country before landing a residency in 1956 at the Celebrity Club in New York. In 1977 he returned to Houston, where he remained active in the community and gave free performances at senior centers, hospitals, and children's wards. He also inspired the formation of the Milt Larkin Jazz Society, which promoted younger musicians. Larkin's trumpet playing can be heard on a 1947 Arnett Cobb album entitled Flower Garden Blues/Big League Blues, which was reissued on compact disc by Delmark. Larkin died in Houston on August 31, 1996. He was survived by his wife, Catherine (Mouton) Larkin (whom he had married on February 2, 1930), and four children.

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). Barry Kernfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (London: Macmillan, 1988; 2d ed., New York: Grove's Dictionaries, 2002). Milton Larkin Collection, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library. Dave Oliphant, Texan Jazz (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996).


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

Time Periods:

  • Great Depression
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II


  • 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, “Larkin, Milton, Sr.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 24, 2021,

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December 5, 2006
February 19, 2017

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