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Donald James

trumpeter, bandleader, arranger, composer, and educator, was born in Shelby, Mississippi, to Shelby J. Wilson, a blacksmith, and Lillian (Nelson) Wilson, a schoolteacher who also taught music. The second of four children, Wilson began taking piano lessons from his mother, an accomplished pianist, at the age of five. His love of music expanded through the spiritual songs heard in church, and by the music he listened to on the radio. Wilson began playing the trumpet while attending Manassa High School in Memphis, Tennessee, where his parents had sent him to live with friends of the family. In 1934 he moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he once again lived with friends of the family. He attended Cass Technical High School, a school that has produced a remarkable number of performing artists, where he played trumpet in the band and studied composition and orchestration.

Between 1934 ...