Belford C. "Sinky" Hendricks: A Musician's Musician

Stanley Warren


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 100, Issue 2, pp 186-196

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Belford C. "Sinky" Hendricks

A Musician's Musician


Great music often draws on diverse sources and great musicians typically defy categorization. The men and women who redefine the form and content of the musical genre in which they work often live "before their time" and are recognized only at the end of a long career or after death.

Scores of well–known Indiana musicians have made significant contributions to the world of music. Fans of jazz will recognize the names of Wilbur and Sidney DeParis, horn players from Crawfordsvflle; Speed Webb, band leader from Peru; and Sid Catlett, drummer from Evansville. Indianapolis was home to saxophone player Beryl Steiner, trombonist J.J. Johnson, pianist and vocalist Russell Smith, orchestra leader Reginald DuValle, singer and vaudevillian Noble Sissle, pianist Carl Perkins, bassist Leroy Vinnegar, brothers Wes, Monk, and Buddy Montgomery, and the members of the Ink Spots.1

Far less known to jazz lovers is the name of Belford C. "Sinky" Hendricks, composer, arranger, pianist, and conductor from Evansville, Indiana. Yet it would be difficult to find an adult who lived during the 1950s or the 1960s who has not hummed a tune written or arranged by Hendricks.

  • Stanley Warren is Dean Emeritus of Education, DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana.
  • 1 On jazz in Indiana and Indianapolis, see Duncan Schiedt, The Jazz State of Indiana (Pittsboro, Ind., 1977); David Baker, "Jazz," in Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, eds. David J. Bodenhamer and Robert G. Barrows (Bloomington, Ind., 1994).

Belford Hendricks and an Early Band Courtesy Jeffrey Bibbs, Sr.

Why then, is he still relatively unknown? One reason is that Hendricks often worked behind the scenes as arranger or conductor. But just as important, much of the music that he wrote and arranged defies easy categorization. As a promotional piece released for the Mercury Records album Belford Hendricks and Orchestra said of him: "He's at ease in many musical settings." With a background in jazz and the blues, he could perform and write swing music for the big–band sound of the Count Basie Orchestra, but he could also create a lush, pop sound for singers such as Dinah Washington and Nat King Cole.

As a music lover, I was surprised that I had never heard of Hendricks until a casual conversation I had with his nephew, Jeffrey Bibbs, Sr. This soon led to longer, more serious talks with Bibbs and his mother, Belford's sister Dorothy Hendricks Bibbs. As a result of those conversations, I began to organize the materials and stories that Jeffrey and his mother provided to me.2 Below I offer a brief biographical sketch of Hendricks, an account of some of his most important collaborations, some resources for

  • 2 Dorothy Hendricks Bibbs, interview with author, Indianapolis, May 12, 2001; Jeffrey Bibbs, Sr., interview with author, Indianapolis, May 8, 2001.
further research into his life and work, and a selected discography for those who would like to hear some of the music Hendricks helped to create.


Hendricks was born in Evansville, Indiana, in 1909 to parents Frank and Melissa. In 1924, at age 15, he graduated from the town's segregated Douglass High School and enrolled at the Indiana State Teacher's College in Terre Haute. In 1920s Indiana, state schools were the only higher education open to most black students. As a non–scholarship student from a family of modest means, Hendricks was unable to live the life of a traditional four–year student. He worked nights and weekends and had to sit out some semesters for lack of funds. Whenever possible, Hendricks made money playing piano with local groups in Evansville and Terre Haute. He also found it necessary, however, to supplement that income by teaming with his friend Walter Bean to work for his meals at the Elks Lodge and Mother Eaton's Restaurant in Evansville, as well as the Terre Haute House in his college town.3

In the early 1930s Hendricks began to spread his musical wings. He played with the Paul Stewart band in Terre Haute. In his hometown, he played for white audiences at the New Yorker club and at the McCurdy Hotel, where he also worked as a bus boy. Hendricks also played in black Evansville clubs such as the Shangri–La and the Casablanca. In 1935, he finally graduated from college with majors in science and music. Fellow students remembered Belford for a song—"Zoom, Zoom"—which was always on the tip of his tongue.4

After college, Hendricks left Indiana to enroll in an adult education program at New York University. He also studied the organ at Columbia University, took private lessons from A. Jack Thomas in harmony, arranging, and composition, and further studied composition under Rudolph Schramm. During these years he married Mayetta Bean, a sister of his

  • 3 Dorothy Bibbs interview; Walter Bean, interview with author, Indianapolis, May 18, 2001. On blacks in 1920s Evansville, see Darrel Bigham, We Ask Only a Fair Trial: A History of the Black Community of Evansville, Indiana (Bloomington, Ind., 1987); in Indiana in general see Emma Lou Thornbrough with Lana Ruegamer, Indiana Blacks in the Twentieth Century (Bloomington, Ind., 2000), chap. 3.
  • 4 Lemeir C. Price, "Our Black History: Belford "Sinky" Hendricks," News 4 You, February 1992, 22–23; Sharon L Glick, Office of Registration and Records, Indiana State University, letter to author, May 5, 2003.
college friend Walter. The difficulties of supporting a family during the Depression, coupled with the many hours Hendricks spent pursuing his educational and professional goals, put a strain on the marriage; the couple remained together for more than a decade, then separated.5

Belford's service in the Army during World War II brought him opportunities to meet and perform with artists who visited military camps to entertain the troops. His contacts with the musicians he accompanied— among them, singer and actress Lena Home—proved to be of great value in his later career.6

After the war Hendricks and his wife resettled in Evansville. The city hosted an active music scene during the late 1940s, and Hendricks was a major contributor. His piano playing graced the stages of several clubs and hotel lounges, but he could switch to another instrument when necessary. Walter Bean later recalled that "He … could play just about any instrument." Hendricks also developed a reputation by playing on local radio shows, including "The Breakfast Club" and "Toast and Coffee."7

For all of this exposure, however, Hendricks was forced to supplement his income by working as a mail carrier. Engagements were too inconsistent, and pay from musical work was never enough to support himself and his family. Belford and Mayetta divorced in the late 1940s. Seeking new opportunities, Belford moved to New York City in 1950 to pursue his musical career.8

Hendricks discovered that he was already known to many musicians in the city by word of mouth, despite his relatively anonymous midwestern career. Through early connections, Hendricks was able to secure a spot on the Arthur Godfrey talent show, a launching board for many entertainment careers. But luck deserted Hendricks when he reached the studio. He was told that his chosen and well–rehearsed selection was too similar to that of another contestant and that he would have to perform another piece of music. Under pressure, Hendricks played well but did not win the competition.9

Such ill luck did not last long, however. Shortly after his arrival in

  • 5 "Resume of Belford C. Hendricks," copy in possession of Dorothy Bibbs; Dorothy Bibbs interview; Walter Bean interview.
  • 6 Magazine, 58, August 21, 1980, 58.
  • 7 Walter Bean interview; Price, "Our Black History," 22.
  • 8 Walter Bean interview.
  • 9 Jeffrey Bibbs interview; Jacquelin Bibbs, interview with author, Indianapolis, May 8, 2001.

Hendricks as a Mail Carrier in 1940s Evansville Courtesy Jeffrey Bibbs, Sr.

the city, Hendricks began to associate with many noted musicians whom he had previously only dreamed of meeting. Remembering those years, he later said, "I knew I was that good, but not that lucky."10 One of the most important of these early associations, and one which (according to his nephew) taught Hendricks much of what he learned about the music business, was with the Count Basie Orchestra. Hendricks was a close friend of a regular member of the group and sat in for him during vacations and illnesses. Thus Hendricks was able to play with the orchestra on several occasions, and his working relationship with Basie led to a writing collaboration between the two men, the result of which was the 1954 album King of Swing.11

  • 10 On the history of jazz in New York City, see S. B. Charters and L. Kunstadt, Jazz: A History of the New York Scene (New York, 1984). For biographical information on the musicians mentioned here and elsewhere in this article, see The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, ed. Barry Kernfeld (2nd ed., London, 2002); or online, Groe Music Online, ed. L. Macy, http://www.grovemusic.com.
  • 11 Jeffrey Bibbs interview; Walter Bean interview.

As Hendricks's career continued, he was increasingly called on for his breadth of expertise as a composer, arranger, and conductor. He became such a prolific composer and arranger that he often used pen–names to avoid competition among his own tunes. The name he used most often was Bill Henry, but he also used variations such as Belford Cabell Hendricks, Sinky Hendricks, and Belford Clifford Hendricks.

Perhaps the most significant of Hendricks's collaborations was with a rising young singer named Dinah Washington, whom he met shortly after arriving in New York. In 1958, after recording with several musical groups, Washington chose Hendricks and his orchestra to accompany her on a new album, All of Me. The collaboration was so successful that Washington and Hendricks worked together extensively in 1959, and by 1960 he became her full–time arranger and composer. Two songs in particular that Hendricks arranged for Washington—"It's Just a Matter of Time" and "What a Difference a Day Makes"—became signature tunes for the vocalist. Backed by Hendricks's arranging and conducting, Washington—already known as the "Queen of the Blues" and often compared to the legendary Billie Holiday—crossed over onto the popular music charts, a move that increased her fame and her earning power.12

Washington's success with Hendricks's arrangements points to a key feature of his style: he was what today would be called a crossover artist, not only because his talents were wide–ranging and his musical styles capable of such variation, but because his work lacked a specific racial identification at a time when music was still often marketed to racially distinct audiences. Another artist who benefited greatly from this aspect of Hendricks's style was vocalist Brook Benton. Benton, with his soothing and easily recognizable voice and a suave manner that captivated audiences, was particularly successful at capturing the emotion in Hendricks's music and used it–for example, with the Hendricks–Otis–Benton song "It's Just a Matter of Time"—to cross from the rhythm and blues to the popular music charts. Sung by black and white performers, purchased on albums, performed in clubs, the music Hendricks wrote and arranged crossed the barriers of a segregated society.

Hendricks continued to write music throughout his career, but by the late 1950s his reputation as an arranger began to compete with his status as a composer. Hendricks also tried his hand at producing an album,

  • 12 Jim Haskins, Queen of the Blues: A Biography of DinahWashington (New York, 1987), 221–24.

Hendricks in New York City, 1950s Courtesy Jeffrey Bibbs, Sr.

which entailed making all of the musical arrangements, producing the recording, and promoting the completed album. Sometimes he also conducted the orchestra or played the piano part. One of his most successful productions was the 1959 Sarah Vaughn album Broken Hearted Melodies.

Among Hendricks's other successful collaborations was his work with Nat King Cole. The two men met in the mid–1950s; in 1958 Cole garnered a hit recording with "Looking Back," a song composed by Hendricks, Clyde Otis, and Brook Benton. The Hendricks orchestra accompanied Cole on several occasions, and Hendricks arranged such popular records as "Dear Lonely Hearts," "Ramblin' Rose," and "When You're Smiling."

Hendricks's personal life also improved with his move to New York. In the early 1950s, he married Emma Clayton, of New Harmony, Indiana. They remained together until Belford's death in 1977. Belford Hendricks enjoyed a long and productive career. His name has been largely forgotten, but his music still lives in the voices of artists who sang and played his songs.


In addition to the songs and artists mentioned above, Hendricks wrote or arranged many other songs and worked with other well–known jazz and pop musicians.

Among the songs Hendricks wrote or co–wrote are: "Looking Back" and "Nothing in the World Could Make Me Love You Like I Do" (recorded by Nat King Cole); "Call Me" (Johnny Mathis; Frank Sinatra); "Devoted" and "This Bitter Earth" (Dinah Washington); "Can't You Just See Me" (Aretha Franklin); "It's Just a Matter of Time" (Brook Benton); "First Star I See Tonight" (Patti Page); "I'm Too Far Gone to Turn Around" (Bobby Blue Band); "Because of Everything" (Timi Yuro); "Merry–Go–Round" (Al Martino); and "The Mixed Up Cup" (Clyde McPhatter).

Hendricks's most frequent collaborator was Clyde Otis, director of music at Mercury Records. Other frequent coworkers were band leaders Jimmie Lunceford and Sy Oliver, and vocalists Benton, Washington, and Ivory Joe Hunter. Hendricks arranged songs for many famous singers. Among his hits as an arranger are: "Our Waltz" (Sarah Vaughn); "A Mother's Love" and "Runnin' Out of Fools" (Aretha Franklin); and "I Want to Thank You Pretty Baby," "Kiddio," "Fools Rush In," and "Boll Weevil" (Brook Benton). However, Hendricks's crossover skills, which worked to the benefit of these and many other artists, often led to his own later lack of recognition. A 1995 remixed CD of eight Benton tunes, for example, includes five of Hendricks's arrangements. The liner notes, however, give not a single credit to Hendricks for his arrangements; they also list Benton as the sole author of the popular song, "It's Just a Matter of Time," when the piece was actually cowritten by Benton, Hendricks, and Otis.13

The musical charts of the 1950s and 1960s, however, offer ample evidence of Hendricks's wide influence on the music of his time. His collaborations with Dinah Washington were particularly successful in this regard. The song "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)," featuring a vocal duet with Benton, earned over $1 million and reached number one on the Rhythm and Blues chart and number five on the pop chart in 1960. During the same year "A Rockin' Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall In Love)" also reached number one on the R & B chart and number seven on the pop chart. "What a Difference a Day Makes," arranged by Hendricks

  • 12 Hits, Brook Benton, vocalist (King Records, KSD 1430, 1995).
and written by Washington, was number four on the R & B chart in 1959 and number eight on the pop chart during the same year.14 "It's Just a Matter of Time," co–written by Hendricks and Otis, became a standard, reaching number three on the 1959 pop chart. Years later the same song hit number one on the country music charts twice, with renditions by Sonny James in 1970 and Randy Travis in 1984.15

Hendricks was so highly regarded by many in the jazz and pop music world that he was even called upon to remake one artist's singing style. Music critic John Chintala relates the story of how Al Martino, a successful recording artist from the 1950s onward, wanted to change his voice to sing in a quieter and more restrained way. On the recommendation of Nat Cole, Martino worked with Belford Hendricks. From their collaboration, and with a musical arrangement by Hendricks, Martino recorded "I Love You Because," which rose to number three on the Billboard popular music chart in 1963.16

Musicians today continue to hold Hendricks's work in high regard. I interviewed Alonzo "Pookie" Johnson, well–known saxophonist with Jimmy Coe, Wes Montgomery, and the Ink Spots. After he reviewed Hendricks's record of accomplishment, he was impressed by both the breadth and depth of his work. He contended that, having written and arranged music for so many top–level performers, Hendricks must be considered one of the best in his field.17

After an interview with Jimmy Coe, composer, arranger, saxophonist, and band leader, I was even more convinced that Hendricks was indeed a significant contributor to the worlds of jazz, rhythm and blues, and popular music.18 Coe, who played with the Jay McShann and Tiny Bradshaw orchestras and had his own big band for many years, also played in groups behind Aretha Franklin, Al Hibbler, Roy Hamilton, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and other well–known musicians. After reviewing Hendricks's full discography, he commented succinctly, "I have to take my hat off to

  • 14 See the entry for Washington as an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; http://www. rockhall.com/hof/inductee.asp?id=207.
  • 15 See http://musiclab.co.jp/billboard/at/nolhc/top40hits_1959.html. The Travis version stayed on top of the charts for 15 weeks and the James version for 13 weeks; see http://www.radiomoi.com: *8080/rm/info/?showkey=tracks&track_id=31690 [for James id=26503).
  • 16 John Chintala, "Al Martino: A Vocalist with Style", http://www.almartino.com/article01.html; http://musiclab.co.jp/billboard/at/nolhc/top40hits_1963.html.
  • 17 Alonzo Johnson, telephone interviews with author, May 15, 21, 2003.
  • 18 Coe passed away in March 2004 while this article was being prepared for publication.
him. He was a busy young man. This is great stuff." Coe explained the difficulty of creating a body of work as substantial and of as high a quality as that which Hendricks left behind. He added that one also had to consider the chances of having so much music performed by so many great talents: "We must remember, there are many good songs that never see the light of day."19


Hendricks composed over 100 songs during his lifetime and arranged scores of tunes for orchestras, small groups, and individual performers. More than half of the songs were co–written; some appeared under his pseudonym, Bill Henry.

Very little has been written about Hendricks. Most standard music encyclopedias, whether about popular music, blues, or jazz, yield little or no information on his life and career. Much, however, has been written about many of the musicians with whom he was affiliated. Searching the biographies and autobiographies of these individuals will yield useful results.20

Other information can be found in the archives of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College–Chicago, the Hudson Bay Music Company, Mercury Records, Eden Music Corporation, Iza Music Corporation, Alley Music Corporation, Tito Music Corporation, Clyde Otis Music Corporation, the Archives of African–American Music and Culture at Indiana University Bloomington, and other organizations to which those who recorded Hendricks's tunes were under contract.

Several internet sources are useful when seeking information about a particular song or musician. See, for example:

  • American Popular Music from 1950: http://kclibrary.nhmccd.edu/
  • Music–3.html Artist Direct: http://www.artistdirect.com

    • 19 Jimmy Coe, interview with author, Indianapolis, June 12, 2003.
    • 20 Among these are band leaders Clyde Otis, Jimmy Lunceford, Sy Oliver, Count Basie, and Eddie Haywood; composers Johnny Mercer, Richard Rodgers, and Irving Berlin; singers Brook Benton, Van McCoy, Timi Yuro, Johnny Mathis, Aretha Franklin, Dinah Washington, Patti Page, Bobby Blue Bland, Nat Cole, Al Martino, Clyde McPhatter, Sarah Vaughn, B. B. King, the Four Freshmen, Julie London, June Valli, Joe Medlin, Johnny Oliver, Arlene DiMarco, Melvin Moore, and Carmen McRae.
  • Jazz Discography Project: http://www.jazzdisco.org
  • Radio MOI (Music on the Internet): http://www.radiomoi.com
  • RockNWorld Top 100: http://www.rocknworld.com
  • Verve Music Group: http://www.vervemusicgroup.com

Not to be overlooked are the thousands of senior musicians whose wealth of information just awaits someone to ask the right questions and make a record of their knowledge.

The following compact discs provide a sample of Hendricks's work. Some are reissues of original albums; others are new compilations.

  • Greatest Hits, Brook Benton, vocalist (King Records KSDC 1430, 1995)
  • Songs I Love to Sing, Brook Benton, vocalist (1960; Verve Records B000075502,2003)
  • The Two of Us, Brook Benton and Dinah Washington, vocalists (1960; Polygram Records #526467, 1995)
  • Ultimate Dinah Washington, Dinah Washington, vocalist (Verve Records 3145390532, 1997)
  • What a Diff'rence a Day Makes, Dinah Washington, vocalist (1959; Polygram Records #543300, 2000)

Hendricks's songs have survived because his music was not faddish; it did not cater to the moment. When Johnny Mathis or Frank Sinatra sings, "Call me, don't be afraid to just call me,"; when Dinah Washington sings, "What a difference a day makes, twenty–four little hours"—we feel that they are headed for a place we all know. Our hearts and minds are engaged by the music. Perhaps one day Belford Hendricks will receive the recognition he deserves for music which has become an intrinsic part of so many people's lives.