Buffalo in the ’50s: Basie, Gillespie, Billie Holiday headline Kleinhans show

By Steve Cichon

What a night for music in Buffalo on a November night 65 years ago at Kleinhans.

WWOL’s Joe Rico brought some of the biggest names in jazz for one night only in what promised to be “the biggest jazz concert in Buffalo history.”


The show featured Count Basie, Billie Holliday and Dizzy Gillespie. For the uninitiated, Basie was “a primary shaper of the big-band sound that characterized mid-20th century popular music.”

Frank Sinatra called Billie Holiday, “unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing (through the ’40s and ’50s.)”

Known in pop culture as much for his giant inflated cheeks as his music, Dizzy Gillespie is remembered as one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time.

The running-out-of-space add-on to the program was Buddy Rich — whose drumming prowess extended inside and outside the jazz world. He was named by Rolling Stone magazine as the 15th greatest drummer of all-time.


Legendary Buffalo jazz DJ Rico used “Port of Rico,” with Basie on the organ, as one of his theme songs throughout his long Buffalo radio career.

Illinois Jacquet Port Of Rico 1952

Rico was the son of Emelino “Papa” Rico, whose “Neapolitan Serenade” broadcast for five decades from Buffalo’s West Side.

More: Buffalo in the ’50s: West Side Italian radio with Mama and Papa Rico


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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon is a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. writing about the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The storyteller and historian has written six books, worn bow ties since the 80s, and is the News Director at WECK Radio. A 25 year Buffalo media veteran, Steve's contributed more than 1400 Buffalo History stories to The Buffalo News, worked at WIVB-TV, Empire Sports Network, and spent ten years as a newsman and News Director at WBEN Radio. He's also put his communication skills to work as an adjunct professor, a producer of PBS documentaries, and even run for Erie County Clerk. Steve's Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.