This is the third of four weekly articles — to commemorate historic local residents and Black History Month — written for the News Journal by Shelby Boatman, Executive Director of the Clinton County History Center.
Clarence Jones was born in Wilmington on August 15, 1889. Growing up, his mother, Carrie Jones Peebles, taught him how to master the piano from lessons.
He left his hometown in Clinton County and headed for the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music where he published his first tune “Lightning Rag” in 1908.
A few years later, Jones found his way to Chicago where jazz was beginning to take off. There he worked on compositions for the McKinley Music Company and created piano rolls for the Imperial Roll Co.
Eventually he moved his family to New York, where he worked as an arranger, composer and pianist. During his career, Jones met jazz artist greats Louis Armstrong and J. Wright Smith and worked for recording studios such as Paramount as backup for Monette Mooe and Ollie Powers.
His popular nickname was the “Sultan of Syncopation.”
Clarence returned to Wilmington on a few occasions and played concerts at Wilmington High School.
His best-known composition is “One Wonderful Night”, written as a promotional song for one of Hollywood’s popular silent movies.
The legacy he composed as a jazz artist and African American still trumpets on as a result of his pioneering unique sound and loving education his mother provided.
Jones died in 1949 in New York, but he is buried in Wilmington’s own Sugar Grove Cemetery.
His headstone reads, “Clarence M. Jones, one of the first and greatest jazz piano musicians.”
For more information on this topic please contact the History Center at 937-382-4684 or visit us online at www.clintoncountyhistory.org .