Huey Long, jazz guitarist, banjoist, and music teacher, was born on April 25, 1904, in Sealy, Texas. He was the son of Robert and Martha Mathenia Long. His early recollections consisted of playing with his siblings when they weren’t picking cotton in the rural area where he lived. Like many other African American families in the region, they were sharecroppers. The 1910 census listed Robert as a farmer in Austin County, and the household included Huey and his four brothers and four sisters. Huey’s first musical influence came from four piano players (including his older brother Sam) and several jazz musicians who performed in the Sealy area. As a youngster, Huey Long learned to play both the guitar and piano by ear. When Long was fourteen, his family moved to another farming area in the Sealy vicinity, where slow blues and the guitar were popular for suppers and all-night dances on weekends. In 1923 he and his brother Sammy moved to Houston, where Huey shined shoes and did odd jobs while learning to play the ukulele.
In 1925 Long got his first professional job playing the banjo in Frank Davis’s Louisiana Jazz Band. In 1926 he moved to Chicago and worked as a busboy and studied music. By 1930 he had joined the musicians’ union, married, and began a family that included four children. He performed with Texas Guinan’s Cuban Orchestra at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. Around that time he switched to guitar and continued to play with a variety of groups. Long was gaining a reputation as a good studio musician and recorded with pianists Richard M. Jones and Lil Armstrong on the Decca label. Around 1942 Long joined the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra and moved to New York City soon after. In New York, Long became a member of Earl “Fatha” Hines Orchestra with Billy Eckstine, Bud Johnson, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Sarah Vaughan. While performing in his own trio with Eddie Brown on bass and C. C. Williams on piano in the Three Dueces Café on 52nd Street, Long met Bill Kenny, the vocalist and leader of the Ink Spots, the internationally-known vocal group that boasted a number of hits. Kenny invited Long to join the group. For a number of months in 1945, Long played guitar and sang as a member of the Ink Spots and recorded some of their songs such as “I’m Gonna Turn Off the Teardrops,” “I’ll Lose a Friend Tomorrow,” and “The Sweetest Dream.” After his stint with the Ink Spots came to an end, Long recorded with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and his Beboppers on the Savoy label in the late 1940s.
In the early 1950s Long toured oversees, including Korea and Japan, and entertained servicemen with the USO during the Korean War. By the mid-1950s he had moved to California and studied music at Los Angeles City College. He moved back to New York in the late 1950s to write and teach music. In the 1960s he formed his own Ink Spots group and performed in California and New York. Long had his own teaching studio in New York City by the 1970s and wrote and arranged songs for chord melody style for the guitar. He also sold a series of music instructional books.
Long eventually returned to Sealy, Texas, to research his family history and write his autobiography. In 1996 he moved to the Heights district in Houston where his daughter Anita founded The Original Huey “Ink Spot” Long Living History Music Museum, which opened on June 19, 2007. Huey Long died in a Houston nursing home on June 10, 2009, shortly after his 105th birthday. He was survived by his daughter (Anita) and two sons (Rene, and Shiloh). On June 19, 2009, a Cultural Exchange & Learning Center was established in his honor in Suva, Fiji Islands, and a memorial service was held. Though Long was noted for his performances and studio work, his greatest love was teaching and writing music, according to his daughter. She commented, “Teaching was truly something that was his passion. He did that with everyone who came in front of him.”