Bunny Berigan (Rowland Bernard Berigan) (November 2, 1908 - June 2, 1942) was one of the greatest trumpeters of the world of jazz. His range, virtuosity, and tone set standards by which all other white trumpeters were judged.
Born in Fox Lake, Wisconsin, Berigan was a musical prodigy, having learned the violin and trumpet at an early age. By his late teens, he was playing in local orchestras. He auditioned for the Hal Kemp orchestra in 1928 or 29, and was rejected for reasons unknown, allegedly having to do with his uncertain tone. Any deficiencies were apparently gone in about a year when Kemp hired Berigan in mid-1930. Bunny's forst solos on record are with Kemp. He sailed to England with Kemp on tour later that year.
Returning in 1931, Berigan, along with trumpet virtuoso Manny Klein, quickly became one of the most sought-after studio musicians of the era, playing for, in addition to Kemp, Fred Rich, Freddy Martin and Ben Selvin. His first vocal, "At Your Command", was recorded with Rich that year.
From late 1932 through 1933, Berigan was employed by Paul Whiteman and in 9134 by Abe Lyman.
He continued freelancing in the recording and radio studios, most notably with the Dorsey Brothers, and Glenn Miller (on Miller's first date as leader in 1935). Berigan was also in Benny Goodman's band when it made the now-famous rags-to-riches tour that ended up with the success at the Palomar Ballroom.
Berigan then spent some time with Tommy Dorsey's orchestra, culminating with a spectacular solo on Dorsey's "Marie". Around this time, 1936, he recorded, under his own name, what was to become his theme song, "I Can't Get Started" with a stunning display of trumpet (and singing)that would forever be his trademark. If Bunny were ever asked, he would readily admit that Louis Armstrong was his model.
Before long, Bunny got the itch to lead his own band, and did so for about three years. Although he made some great records, his band wasn't a financial success, and Berigan wasn't blessed with the greatest business sense. The headaches of leading a band began to take a toll on Berigan, who, for his entire career was well-known in musicians' circles as a very heavy drinker.
It became necessary for Berigan to declare bankruptcy in 1940, and he then rejoined Tommy Dorsey's band for a brief time.
After leaving Dorsey, he again formed a small group, playing mainly one-night engagements. The grind was too much for him by this time. During one such tour, Berigan was hospitalized in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the spring of 1942, suffering from pneumonia. Doctors also determined that Bunny was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver and advised him to stop drinking and not resume playing the trumpet.
He did neither, returned to New York City, and suffered a massive hemorrhage on May 30, 1942. Bunny died several days later in a hospital at the age of 33.
Bunny Berigan left behind his wife, Donna, and two young daughters.