Moffett, Charles (1929–1997)

By: Bradley Shreve

Type: Biography

Published: December 5, 2006

Updated: November 20, 2020

Drummer Charles Moffett, known primarily for his work with fellow Texan Ornette Coleman, was born in Fort Worth on September 11, 1929, the son of Columbus Mark Moffett. His family attended daily services at a church where music was vital and his mother was the pianist. Moffett developed an interest in music that eventually led him to take up the trumpet. At the age of thirteen he played trumpet with Jimmy Witherspoon's band. In high school he joined the marching band, switched to drums, and continued playing on the local music scene.

He met Ornette Coleman during this period, and the two became close friends. After graduation Moffett served in the United States Navy and became an accomplished boxer, but music remained his obsession. Upon being discharged from the navy he entered Huston-Tillotson College in Austin to study music. He graduated in 1953, married (with Coleman presiding as best man), and was hired as a music-education teacher at the public school in Rosenberg, Texas.

Moffett had his first brush with fame when he spent a summer drumming for Little Richard. In 1961, beckoned by Coleman to New York City, he began a successful yet rocky stint on the city's jazz scene. Although Coleman paid his bandmates well, work was sporadic, and Moffett supplemented his income by teaching. Musical differences eventually dissolved the partnership and subsequently led Moffett to Oakland, California, in 1968. After quickly gaining a reputation in Oakland by running a successful music club, he was named the city's music director. Two years later he was appointed principal of an alternative school in Berkeley. He subsequently worked at Berkeley High School. He also organized a band––the Moffettettes––that included his children and several of their schoolmates. The band played throughout California and made several recordings.

In the 1980s Moffett and his family moved back to New York, where he took a job teaching mentally-challenged children. He remained musically active but never reached the prominence of his earlier years. He died in New York City of cancer on February 14, 1997. Moffett was married twice, in 1953 and 1959; he had one child by his first wife and four children by his second wife, Shirley. All five children became musicians.

Down Beat, May 1997. George Coppens, "Charles Moffett," Coda, August 1983. Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler, The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Seventies (New York: Horizon Press, 1976). Bob Rusch, "The Charles Moffett Interview," Cadence, February 1997.


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


  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth

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

Bradley Shreve, “Moffett, Charles,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 27, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 5, 2006
November 20, 2020

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