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Trumpeter Chris Griffin Dies

Trumpter Chris Griffin, who earned the nickname “Steel Lips” for his powerful and impressive playing, died June 18 at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Conn. at age 89. The cause was melanoma, according to his fiancée, fellow trumpeter Louise Baranger.

Griffin, along with fellow horn players Harry James and Ziggy Elman, was best known for his work in Benny Goodman’s Big Band. Dizzy Gillespie deemed the trio to be “the greatest trumpet section of all time.”

Born on Oct. 31, 1915 in Binghamton, N.Y., Griffin began his musical career as a pianist at age five before switching to horn when he was 12. His interest in music, however, was lukewarm until a neighbor suggested starting a band together. From then on, Griffin spent most of his days on stage – that is, if he wasn’t recording in the studio with anyone from Charlie Parker to Louis Armstrong.

Most of Griffin’s studio and performance time was spent with Goodman and his orchestra, of which he was a member from 1936 to 1939. After leaving Goodman’s orchestra, Griffin spent some time playing lead trumpet in television orchestras, including The Ed Sullivan Show and The Jackie Gleason Show.

In the 1960s, Griffin changed his pace and decided to open a trumpet school with fellow horn player Pee Wee Irwin. In his final years, he dictated his memoirs, Sitting in with Chris Griffin.

His wife, Helen, died in 2000, and he later became engaged to Baranger.

Originally Published