1927 - 1998
Jimmy McPhail, a commanding presence among D.C.'s huge roster of very talented vocalists, is better known among jazz fans than R&B and rock 'n' roll aficionados. However, over his multi-decade career he performed in many musical settings. Born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, in 1927, he was brought to Washington as an infant. In high school, he became a founding member of The Armstrong Four, a vocal group patterned after The Ink Spots and The Mills Brothers. He graduated from Armstrong in 1946. By then the quartet had already been featured in local theatrical productions and appeared on Jackson Lowe's Sunday afternoon talent contests that were broadcast on radio via WWDC FM.
After attending Shaw College in Raleigh, N.C., McPhail returned to Washington where Jackson Lowe was able to place him as guest vocalist with the Duke Ellington band for an appearance at the Howard Theatre in September 1950. This led to a lifelong association with Ellington's band. Thanks to Lowe, McPhail recorded for RCA Victor in September 1951. "That's How Much I Love You," "Bouquet of Roses," and "You Brought Me Love" are among the ten titles he cut for RCA. None sold particularly well, but he continued to sing for Ellington on tour and at local nightclubs.
In 1959, McPhail purchased the former Melody Inn at 1122 Bladensburg Road, NE, and renamed it "Jimmy McPhail's Gold Room." The club became a magnet for jazz and R&B talent and remained active through the late 1980s. Ellington called on him for the "Concert of Sacred Music" project, which was recorded in December 1965. Through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, McPhail was a favorite son of the Duke Ellington Society, and he continued to play international festivals as well as small jazz gigs around D.C., including some at The Departmental Progressive Club of Alexandria, Virginia.
In between his music engagements, McPhail also had a 25-year career with the D.C. Public schools, teaching at Eliot Junior High School for the entirety of his career in education.
He died at age 71, on March 16, 1998, of a heart ailment.
“I'd spend it all for candy and give it all to you cause that's how much I love you baby”
- That's how much