Chester Rupe, acclaimed jazz guitarist, was born on February 12, 1928. By the late 1930s his family had moved to Corpus Christi, and Rupe was playing guitar professionally when he was ten years old. He had purchased his first guitar, a Gibson, at a pawnshop and was inspired by jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.
An extraordinarily talented player, Rupe was a member of the United States Air Force orchestra when he was an adult and took part in a government-sponsored tour during the Korean War and performed with such stars as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. In Corpus during the mid-1950s, Rupe teamed with bassist Arley Cooper and pianist Red Camp as a dynamic jazz combo, the Red Camp Trio. In this capacity, Rupe participated in groundbreaking recording sessions in Corpus for Emory Cook of Cook Laboratories, who recorded Camp, Rupe, and Cooper for one of the earliest stereo recordings—Red Camp Upright: Mad Music for Tea-time in Texas. Rupe played on a total of six albums with Camp.
He toured the nation and backed many notable stars. Among the musical groups Rupe performed with in the Coastal Bend area was the Galvan Orchestra at their celebrated Galvan Ballroom in Corpus. He became an instructor at Del Mar College, and he also gave private lessons and mentored young students for some forty years. As a teacher, he was highly-respected and influenced a generation of guitarists. He helped organize the Texas Jazz Festival in Corpus Christi in 1960, and for many years he was a musical fixture at the event.
Rupe died on July 21, 2001. Countless musical colleagues and former students attended his funeral, which included a musical tribute. Trumpeter Eddie Olivares, Sr., described “Chet” Rupe as “one of the most fantastic jazz guitarists to come from South Texas.” He was buried in Rose Hill Memorial Park in Corpus Christi and was survived by two stepsons and four grandchildren. Rupe is honored in the South Texas Music Walk of Fame.