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Al Hirt with the Japanese singing twins The Peanuts at the 1966 Grand Gala du Disque in the Netherlands.

Alois Maxwell Hirt (7 November 1922 – 27 April 1999 (aged 76)) was an American trumpeter and bandleader.


Hirt was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of a police officer, and was known as "Al" or "Jumbo".[citation needed] At the age of six, he was given his first trumpet, which had been purchased at a local pawnshop. He would play in the Junior Police Band with the children of Alcide Nunez, and by the age of 16, Hirt was playing professionally, often with his friend Pete Fountain. During this time, he was hired to play at the local horse racing track, beginning a six-decade connection to the sport.

In 1940, Hirt went to Cincinnati, Ohio to study at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music with Dr. Frank Simon (a former soloist with the John Philip Sousa Orchestra). After a stint as a bugler in the United States Army during World War II, Hirt performed with various Swing big bands, including those of Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Ina Ray Hutton.

In 1950, Hirt became first trumpet and soloist with Horace Heidt's Orchestra.

Hirt then returned to New Orleans, working with various Dixieland groups and leading his own bands. Despite Hirt's statement years later "I'm not a jazz trumpeter and never was a jazz trumpeter", he made a few recordings where he demonstrated ability to play in that style during the 1950s, notably with bandleader Monk Hazel and a few other recordings on the local Southland Records label.

Hirt's virtuoso dexterity and fine tone on his instrument soon attracted the attention of national labels. Hirt had 22 different record albums on the Billboard Pop charts in the 1950s and 1960s. The albums Honey In The Horn and Cotton Candy were both in the top 10 best sellers for 1964, the same year Hirt scored a top hit single with his cover of Allen Toussaint's tune Java (Billboard #4), and later won a Grammy award for the same recording.

Hirt's top 40 charted hit single of Sugar Lips in 1964 would be later used as the theme song for the NBC daytime game show Eye Guess, hosted by Bill Cullen and originally airing during the mid-to-late 1960s. Hirt was chosen to record the frenetic theme for the 1960s TV show "The Green Hornet", by famed arranger and composer Billy May. Thematically reminiscent of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee, it showcased Hirt's technical prowess. The recording again gained public attention in 2003 when it was used in the film Kill Bill.

Planting deep roots in his community, in the middle-1950s through the early-1960s, Hirt and his band played nightly at Dan's Pier 600 at the corner of St. Louis and Bourbon Street. The club was owned by his business manager, Dan Levy, Sr. In 1962 Hirt opened his own club on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, which he ran until 1983. He also became a minority owner in the NFL expansion New Orleans Saints in 1967.

Al Hirt also used to frequent local high schools in the late 1960s; he would talk and practice with the kids in the band department.[citation needed]

On 8 February 1970, while performing in a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, Hirt was injured while riding on a float. It is popularly believed that he was struck in the mouth by a thrown piece of concrete or brick. Factual documentation of the details of the incident is sparse, consisting primarily of claims made by Hirt after the incident. Whatever the actual cause of his injuries, Hirt underwent surgery and had to wait a while and then practice slowly to make a return to the club scene. This incident was parodied in a Saturday Night Live skit from their second season Mardi Gras special, the "Let's Hit Al Hirt in the Mouth with a Brick Contest".[1]

In 1987, Hirt played a solo rendition of Ave Maria for Pope John Paul II's visit to New Orleans, a performance Hirt considered one of his most important.

In 1999, Hirt died, aged 76, in New Orleans of liver failure after spending the previous year in a wheelchair due to edema in his leg. Despite the bout with edema, Hirt continued to play in local clubs including Chris Owens Club. Hirt was laid to rest in Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.

Other nicknames included "Al (He's the King!) Hirt", "Sugar Lips" (after one of his most popular pieces), and "The Round Mound of Sound".[citation needed]

Al Hirt had 8 children, 10 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren. In 1990, Al married Beverly Estabrook Essel, a friend of 40 years. According to one trivia source, Hirt had the names of his children engraved on his trumpet.

He is referred to in Lieutenant Hauk's broadcast in the movie "Good Morning Vietnam", along with Stan Getz.

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Limited Discography

  • 30 Greatest Trumpet Hits Of All Time
  • A Living Legend
  • Al (He's The King) Hirt And His Band
  • Al Hirt
  • Al Hirt At The Mardi Gras
  • Al Hirt Blows His Own Horn
  • Al Hirt Plays Bert Kaempfert
  • Beauty And The Beard (with Ann-Margret)
  • Cotton Candy
  • Have A Merry Little Al Hirt
  • Here In My Heart
  • Honey In The Horn
  • Horn A Plenty
  • In Love With You
  • Jumbo's Gumbo
  • Live At Carnegie Hall
  • Le Roi De La Trompette
  • Louisiana Man
  • Music To Watch Girls By
  • Our Man In New Orleans
  • 'Pops' Goes The Trumpet
  • Soul in the horn
  • Struttin' Down Royal Street
  • Sugar Lips
  • Super Jazz
  • Swingin' Dixie! At Dan's Pier 600 AFSD 5877 1959
  • That Honey Horn Sound
  • The Best Of Al Hirt
  • The Best Of Al Hirt Volume 2
  • The Best Of Dixieland Jazz
  • The Greatest Horn In The World
  • The Happy Trumpet
  • The High-flying Trumpet Of Al Hirt
  • The Horn Meets The Hornet
  • They're Playing Our Song
  • This Is Al Hirt
  • Trumpet And Strings


  1. ^ "Season 2 Mardi Gras Special". Retrieved 2008-12-21. 


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