Andy Kirk and the Clouds of Joy became the second all black band to achieve national recognition, following the infamous Bennie Moten Band, from the ‘Paris of the Plains,’ otherwise know as Kansas City. Andy Kirk’s well-rounded charismatic attitude shaped his path to becoming one of the most successful black bandleaders for his time. The Clouds of Joy only lasted through the 40’s but Andy Kirk’s successful leadership skills allowed the Clouds of Joy to sell over a millions messages across the country.Andy Kirk Portrait

Andy Kirk was born in the rough streets of Newport, Kentucky on May 28th, 1898. At the Age of three his mother died. Soon after his father abandoned him and he was forced to move to Denver and live with his relatives. These early scars in his life created the skin he need to become a successful bandleader. In denver he learned to sing and play piano after school, but in 1917 he found his true passion after he bought his first tenor saxophone. In only a year 1918, he began playing with the George Morrison Orchestra. The George Morrison Orchestra was based in Denver, but later on branched out to the Kansas City territories. This well-rounded band played, classical pop and and Spiritual Music. Andy blew the cold hard brass of the tuba and saxophone. Years went by before Andy felt it was time to leave the band in hopes of finding a new sound. So in 1925 he Joined Terence Holders Black Clouds of Joy.

The band worked steadily into the  years of the late twenties. Holder was a hustler, and from a business standpoint they didn’t want to jeopardize the band because their band leader was distracted. In order to keep the band going Kirk agreed, as the senior member and the one most responsible to become its leader in January 1929. Not liking the the racial innuendo Andy Kirk changed the name to the Clouds of Joy.  The Clouds of Joy was  the second black band to achieve national recognition after Bennie Moten’s Band.

They were getting very popular locally and there was plenty of work around. They weren’t concerned with what other bands got because they were more commercial and did a lot of things that other jazz bands like Bennie Moten’s weren’t doing. Kirk tended to a commercial style, jazz but with a smoother, softer impact and less complicated arrangements. (Listen to- Walkin’ & Swingin’ )In 1929 the Clouds Of Joy came back to the bustling Jazz metropolis, Kansas City. They made a big hit after debuting at the Pla-Mor Ballroom. One of their largest hits was Untill The Real Thing Comes Along, which was originally sung by Pha Terrell. This song got a million hits in no time, and quickly became the band’s theme song. In light of their succession the band recorded, 50 sides with Brunswick Records. However, the band was missing something new; a pop, a swing and move. The best players men in the new Kirk band were the trumpeters Prince and Lawson, clarinetist Harrington, violinist Williams and drummer McNeil, along with Mary Lou who did not become regular with the band until 1931.  She joined the band when she was only 19 and was revered for her meticulous craft and modernist touch. Mary Lou Williams was immortalized in the band’s 1936 recording, The Lady Who Swings the Band. (Listen to- Big Time Crip )


Clouds of Joy only lasted through the 40’s but Andy Kirk’s successful leadership skills allowed the Clouds of Joy to sell over millions of records across the country. They played from state to state, and city to city creating some of most well structured, swinging songs of their time. Some say, The  Clouds Of Joy would have never been as successful if it were not for Andy Kirk. roots12










1.Library , UMKC . “Musicians Local 627.” Musicians Local 627. (accessed April 22, 2014).

2.Lee, Amy. “Club Kaycee — Kansas City Jazz History — Kirk, Andy.” Club Kaycee — Kansas City Jazz History — Kirk, Andy. (accessed April 22, 2014).

3. Library , UMKC . “Musical Kansas City: Andy Kirk and Mary Lou Williams.” Musical Kansas City: Andy Kirk and Mary Lou Williams. (accessed April 22, 2014).

4. Andy Kirk, “Red Hot Jazz.” Musical Kansas City: Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy. (accessed April 22, 2014).