John Kirby Home

Historical Significance

Jazz great John Kirby (1908-1952) was raised in this house by the Reverend Washington Johnson. Johnson's daughter, Mary, taught Kirby to play the piano, and Powell W. Gibson, principal of Douglas School, taught him to play the trombone. In 1926, Kirby moved to Baltimore, where he took up playing the tuba as well as bass. He then moved to New York, where, in the 1930's, he played with Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson's band. Eventually Kirby formed his own band, which opened at the Onyx Club on West 52nd Street. The John Kirby Sextet, known as "The Onyx Club Boys" (usually including Kirby on bass, Charlie Shavers on trumpet, Buster Bailey on clarinet, Russell Procope on alto saxophone, Billy Kyle on piano and O'Neill Spencer on drums) would become one of the more significant "small groups" in the Big Band era, with the first recording of Shavers' song "Undecided". Vocals were often performed by Maxine Sullivan, who became Kirby's wife in 1938 (they divorced in 1941). Kirby recorded with star performers including Benny Goodman.

Kirby died of complications from diabetes on June 14, 1952, in Hollywood, California. His jazz recordings for Columbia, Decca, and RCA Victor are today recognized as classics and in 1993 he was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.

A Virginia Landmarks highway marker indicates the location of Kirby's home. 

Physical Description

Virginia Landmarks Register, 2005.

Geographical and Contact Information

442 North Kent Street
Winchester, Virginia

Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “John Kirby Home,” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed May 22, 2019,

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