Oral History Center - UC Berkeley Library

Earl Watkins: Jazz Drummer and Union Official

Watkins, Earl
Crawford, Caroline
Earl Watkins: Jazz Drummer and Union Official
Jazz drummer Earl Watkins was born and raised in San Francisco in the 1920s. He became a professional at 17, and after serving in the navy he joined the African American branch of the musicians union and performed in the dozens of clubs in San Francisco’s "Harlem of the West," the Fillmore District. Watkins was influenced by Gene Krupa and Max Roach, whom he heard perform here with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in the early 1940s. After redevelopment closed down the Fillmore, Watkins was in the house bands at the famous Blackhawk Club and the Downbeat Club, where he backed Billie Holiday. From 1955 to 1963 he performed and toured with Earl "Fatha" Hines, whom he calls "jazz royalty." Watkins worked to break the color barrier in music and housing in the Bay Area, serving for more than 20 years on the board of directors of the musicians union after unions merged in 1960. He performed until his death at the age of 87 in 2007. In his obituary in the English newspaper The Guardian he is described as "a key figure in the San Francisco Bay Area jazz scene." Caroline Crawford directs the jazz project, which includes the oral histories of Dave Brubeck, John Handy, Allen Smith and others.
Subject area(s):
Arts and Letters
Interview date(s):
Arts and Letters - Individual Interviews
Oskicat record:
Watkins, Earl. "Earl Watkins: Jazz Drummer and Union Official." Interview by Caroline Crawford in 2003. Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2011.