Lee, Thomas Ball [Sonny] (1904–1975)

By: Dave Oliphant

Type: Biography

Published: December 5, 2006

Updated: September 27, 2015

Trombonist Thomas Ball (Sonny) Lee was born in Huntsville, Texas, on August 26, 1904. He studied at a teachers' college and worked with Texas pianist Peck Kelley in Houston before continuing his studies in St. Louis, where as early as 1925 he worked with Frankie Trumbauer. He also worked with such orchestra leaders as Gene Rodemich, Vincent Lopez, and Paul Specht. From 1932 to 1936 Lee was with the Isham Jones Orchestra, and in 1936 he worked with Artie Shaw and recorded with the Charlie Barnet Orchestra. Also in 1936, Lee recorded with the first band of leader Woody Herman, and among several tunes the trombonist recorded with Herman is his fine outing on "I've Had the Blues So Long." In 1937–38 Lee was with the Bunny Berigan Orchestra, with which in 1937 he recorded "Mahogany Hall Stomp." On this tune, made famous by Louis Armstrong, Lee turns in a superb solo that shows his skilled handling of his instrument, somewhat under the influence of his fellow Texan Jack Teagarden. In 1938 Lee began an association with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra that lasted until 1946. He died on May 17, 1975, in Amarillo.

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 ). An Introduction to Bunny Berigan: His Best Recordings, 1935–1939 (Best of Jazz 4021, 1995). Dave Oliphant, Jazz Mavericks of the Lone Star State (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007).

  • Music
  • Genres (Jazz)

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

Dave Oliphant, “Lee, Thomas Ball [Sonny],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 07, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/lee-thomas-ball-sonny.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 5, 2006
September 27, 2015

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: