Jazz trumpeter Walter Fuller who helped establish the San Diego jazz scene in the 1940s and became a civil rights advocate, died April 20 at a San Diego health care. He was 93. He had been suffering from diabetes and related illnesses.
Born in Dyersburg, Tenn., Fuller grew up in Chicago and was influenced by jazz great Louis Armstrong. He joined pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines in 1930, adding trumpet solos and credited with helping form the band’s sound. Fuller was believed to be the group’s last surviving original member.
Fuller also earned distinction for his singing and scatting on the band’s 1933 hit “Rosetta,” which not only became his signature tune but his nickname. He left the band in 1940 when Hines disbanded the orchestra, and so Fuller started his own big band.
He started playing in San Diego in the mid-1940s.
Fuller protested the club’s policy of requiring all black customers to stand in the rear of the building, even if seats were available in front. After threatening to fire him, the club’s managers changed the policy to allow all customers to sit wherever they wanted.
Fuller also managed to change the listings in the local chapter of the musicians union, which separated whites and blacks. Other chapters in the state followed as well.
In 1952, Fuller became the first black director on the local board of the musicians union, a position he held until retiring in 1986.
He is survived by his daughter, two grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.