Charles D. (Charlie) Barnet, jazz saxophonist and band leader best known for his 1939 hit recording of "Cherokee," has died. He was 77.
Barnet died Tuesday of pneumonia in Scripps Medical Center in La Jolla. Friends said he had been ill for some time.
Born in New York to a wealthy family that urged him to become a lawyer, Barnet was leading his own band on a transatlantic liner by the time he was 16.
By 1932, he had gained prominence in jazz circles by directing a band at New York's Paramount Hotel.
From the outset of his career, Barnet sought good musicians regardless of race. He was the first to take an all-white band to Harlem's famed Apollo Theatre in 1933. But he was also one of the first white band leaders to feature black stars. Among them were Lena Horne, Trummy Young, Peanuts Holland and Oscar Pettiford.
A versatile instrumentalist, Barnet was described by Los Angeles Times jazz critic Leonard Feather as "a volatile tenor stylist and Hodges-influenced alto man (who) also played soprano sax leading the reed section."
Barnet formed several jazz bands, both small and large, over the years, and remained a popular performer at such arenas as Disneyland and Las Vegas well into the 1970s.
Marriage put Barnet in the headlines even more often than his music. He wed and fled 10 wives, including several young actresses and secretaries.
The short-lived unions were usually colorful. His ninth wife, actress Rita Merritt, once summoned police when she believed Barnet had tried to kill himself because their reconciliation was not working out. She said he had swallowed 21 tablets of a drug prescribed for her.
"I just put them in the side of my mouth to scare her," Barnet told the investigating officers. "Then I went outside and spit them out."
He often joked that most of his marriages didn't count because they ended with annulment rather than divorce.
Barnet is survived by his 11th wife, Betty, with whom he had lived quietly in Palm Springs.
JAZZ PIONEER: Times jazz critic Leonard Feather remembers Barnet as a pioneer. F7