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*Percy Hughes was born on this date in 1922. He was a Black musician, bandleader, postal worker, and amateur tennis player.
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Percy Hughes Jr. was the son of Percy Hughes Sr. and Virginia Hughes and had one younger brother Clayton. He grew up in a musical family in St. Paul's Rondo community; his brother played trumpet, his father played the French horn, and his mother was a pianist. At age 11, he began to play clarinet, later expanding to alto, tenor, and soprano saxophone. He attended Minneapolis Central High School. Soon after, he enlisted in the Army in Kansas in the mid-1940s. Hughes played infield on the regiment baseball team against players from the Negro leagues, including Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson. He turned down a chance to pursue baseball because of the racism he’d experienced in the South.
The military also allowed him to play in a jazz band with musicians who’d worked with Duke Ellington and Count Basie. When Hughes returned home in 1946, he formed his first jazz ensemble in the Twin Cities and studied at the Minneapolis College of Music. Hughes led a group that performed (at the Flame for six years, then at the Point Supper Club for 17 years, and next at the Ambassador Motor Lodge for a decade) locally in Minneapolis.
In the 1980s, he joined Echoes of Ellington, a Twin Cities combo featuring Ellington’s music. But Hughes couldn’t support his family as a musician, so he worked (days) as a mail carrier for 27 years, starting in 1955. In 1960, he discovered no tennis program for employees at the post office, so he started a tennis league and took lessons. A few years later, he became a volunteer and eventually a certified instructor for the Senior Tennis Players Club and the Inner City Tennis program in Minneapolis.
Hughes was married three times to Louise Neal, Judy Perkins, and Dolores Windsor. Hughes received awards for his work in tennis and was inducted into two Minnesota music halls of fame. He recorded several albums, including “I Remember Judy,” dedicated to his second wife, singer Judy Perkins.
Hughes was inducted into the Minnesota Jazz Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Minnesota Music hall of Fame in 1996. He was the subject of a 2011 book, “Sports and All That Jazz: The Percy Hughes Story” (which included a music CD) by Twin Cities writer Jim Swanson. In 2013 with hip replacements, he continued to play tennis and music. Percy Hughes died on December 30, 2015.