Grammy-winning King of the Trumpet enjoyed long, fruitful career

NEW ORLEANS — Al Hirt, whose power and technique made him the King of the Trumpet in the 1960s when he won a Grammy for his hit “Java,” died Tuesday. He was 76.

Members of his family said he died at home, where he has been in failing health since leaving a hospital a week ago. Cause of death was given as liver failure.

Hirt’s virtuosity led him to 21 Grammy nominations in a career spanning more than 50 years. In 1964, he won a Grammy for best non-jazz instrumental for “Java.”

At his peak in the 1960s, he played for John Kennedy’s inauguration, starred at Carnegie Hall, and headlined numerous television variety shows, including his own “Fanfare” program on CBS.

In all, he recorded more than 50 albums — four gold and one platinum. “Honey i Horn” reached No. 3 on Billboard’s Popular Music Album Chart in 1963.

“He was one of the best trumpet players all around the world,” said clarinetist Pete Fountain, a longtime friend who also kept his home in the Crescent City. “He had everything — technique, stamina, education.”

Hirt and Fountain started out together with day jobs as exterminators, killing rats and roaches by day and playing music at night. They played together off and on for more than 50 years.

Born Alois Maxwell Hirt in New Orleans in 1922, he got his first trumpet when he was 6. Classically trained at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, he spent three years in the U.S. Army as a company bugler, then began his professional career in 1946 as a member of Benny Goodman’s Orchestra.

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