Blue Notes

Barrie Hall Jr., TSU And Duke Ellington Alum, Dies At 61

UPDATED at 4:49 p.m. with more information.

Barrie Lee Hall Jr., whom Duke Ellington plucked out of Texas Southern University to join his orchestra and later became its leader, passed away Monday at age 61.

The cause was complications from diabetes, Hall's wife Lula told Billie Duncan of the Billie Duncan Company.

"He was known as perhaps the greatest plunger player of all time, and his trumpet style was both intelligent and passionate," Duncan said via email.

Hall was born in Mansfield, La., and attended Crispus Attucks middle school and Worthing High School in Houston. His high school band director, Sammy D. Harris, "pointed a few of us in the direction of jazz," Hall wrote in the biography on his Web site.

While at TSU, Hall studied piano and trumpet and won a few soloist awards in various big-band festivals and competitions. Houston saxophone legend Arnett Cobb took Hall to see Ellington and introduced the two. Ellington, Hall wrote, "How come you're not playing in my band?"

Hall joined the Ellington Orchestra in June 1973. Duke Ellington died in 1974, at which point his son Mercer took over leadership until his death in 1996, at which point Hall took over for a year and occasionally relieving current conductor Paul Mercer Ellington.

Also a composer and arranger, Hall was still a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the time of his death. He had also been music director at Liberty Baptist Church for the past five years, his Web site said.

"I love working in the church. It brings out of me my essence," he wrote. "I use the music to gladden the spirit of people. I have always wanted to work in the church and like magic I have ended up there."

Hall is survived by his wife and childhood sweetheart, Lula, and four sisters. This year's Trinity Jazz Festival, scheduled for this weekend at Trinity Episcopal Church (1015 Holman), will be dedicated to Hall's memory, Duncan said.

We were married for 41 years, and we knew each other for 45 years," Lula Hall told Duncan. "We met in the marching band in high school. And he was with me until the end, in my arms. Death did us part."

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