Buddy Tate, tenor saxophonist, was born George Holmes Tate on February 22, 1913, in Blue Creek Community near Sherman, Texas. Tate, one of the great tenor saxophonists of the Swing Era, began his professional career in the late 1920s playing around the Southwest in bands led by Terrence Holder, Andy Kirk, and Nat Towles. Although he began playing alto saxophone, he quickly developed into a formidable tenor sax player.
For a brief period in 1934 he played with the Count Basie Band, which was still relatively unknown at that time. Although this particular Basie band lasted only a short time, Tate came back to play with Count Basie in 1939 after the sudden death of saxophonist Herschel Evans, a good friend of Tate's. Evans and Tate had played together in Troy Floyd's San Antonio band. Tate later told writer Stanley Dance about a premonition concerning Evans's death. "I dreamed he had died, and that Basie was going to call me. It happened within a week or two. I still have the telegram."
Tate's first recording date with Count Basie came on March 19, 1939, when the orchestra cut an arrangement of "Rock-a-Bye Basie." Tate's favorite recording with Basie was his May 31, 1940, work on "Super Chief." Bringing his own sound to the Basie Orchestra, Tate formed a saxophone duo with Lester Young, which was comparable to the previous Young–Evans team. Tate's style influenced other tenor saxophonists, among them Texan Illinois Jacquet, Sonny Rollins, and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. During his ten years with the Count Basie Band, Tate carried on the fine Texas tenor tradition Basie favored. Some have described the Basie band in these ten years as the greatest jazz band of all time.
By the late 1940s, postwar economic pressures forced Count Basie to make changes in the lineup. Tate decided to leave the band, hoping to tour less and perform closer to his home in New York. He played for bandleader Lucky Millinder, trumpeter Oran "Hot Lips" Page, and in ex-Basie singer Jimmy Rushing's Savoy band in the early 1950s. Eventually Tate secured residency for his own band in 1953 at the Celebrity Club on 125th Street in Harlem, a position he held for twenty-one years. Tate continued to record, toured with swing trumpeter Buck Clayton, and, in 1975, briefly co-directed a band with saxophonist Paul Quinichette at the West End Café in New York. He also led a group at the Rainbow Room with drummer Bobby Rosengarden. In 1981 Tate was seriously scalded in a hotel shower but recovered and soon resumed his performance schedule. He worked with saxophonist Jim Calloway, pianist Jay McShann, vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, a band called the Statesmen of Jazz, and another band with Illinois Jacquet, billed as the Texas Tenors. He was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1988. Tate's final recording appearance came when he was invited to play with saxophone star James Carter on his 1996 CD, Conversin' With the Elders.
Tate spent his retirement years in Massapequa, New York. Just a few weeks before his death, he moved to Phoenix, Arizona, to live with his daughter Georgette. Tate died on February 10, 2001, in Chandler, Arizona. He was survived by two daughters, both of Phoenix, and many grandchildren.