Elmer “Mousey” Alexander
Elmer “Mousey” (sometimes spelled “Mousie”) Alexander was an American jazz drummer who performed with musicians such as the jazz clarinetist, Benny Goodman, and the jazz singer, Billie Holiday. He also happened to be Assyrian.
Elmer Alexander was born in Gary, Indiana in 1922 to Assyrian parents from Urmia, Persia (Iran). Soon afterwards, the family moved to Chicago, where Alexander grew up. During the first half of the twentieth century, Chicago became an important hub for jazz musicians in the United States, so Alexander began playing the drums for different jazz clubs in the area. At five feet, four inches, Alexander was not a tall man. He, therefore, received the nickname, “Mousey,” because of his tiny appearance behind the drums.
Once World War II began, Alexander went off to serve in the U.S. Navy. After the War, he found himself playing the drums for Billie Holiday during a performance that she did in Chicago in 1948. That performance helped launch his career, causing him to eventually move to New York City in 1952. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Alexander often played drums with the famous jazz clarinetist, Benny Goodman, and his band. They even appeared on television on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1957. Other jazz musicians that Alexander performed with throughout his career include Sy Oliver, Zoot Sims, and Doc Severinsen. He also accompanied the singer, Pearl Bailey, at the White House in 1972 where they performed for President Richard Nixon.
In the 1970s, Alexander’s health began to decline after he experienced a series of heart attacks and heart surgeries. He also suffered a massive stroke in 1980. However, he was a fighter, and successfully managed to play the drums again, ever after half of his body was initially paralyzed as a result of the stroke. After somewhat recovering from the stroke, he received the nickname “Miracle Mouse” and put on different performances for stroke victims, in order to motivate them in their recovery process. Unfortunately, Alexander could not battle his poor health for long, so passed away in 1988 at the age of 66.
Stay tuned next week for a post about a current Assyrian drummer.
Written by Esther Lang
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McLeod, Michael. “The Beat Goes On…Jazz Drummer Mousey Alexander Has Had So Many Heart Attacks that Many Musicians Have Given Him up for Dead. But Sit in on His Sunday Night Jam Sessions, and You’ll See – And Hear – That He’s Very Much Alive. And He’s One of the Greats.” Orlando Sentinel. August 7, 1988. https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-1988-08-07-0060100020-story.html (accessed March 8, 2021).
“Mousie Alexander with Benny Goodman on The Ed Sullivan Show 1957.” Tracy Alexander. November 18, 2016. YouTube video, 4:30. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moVaywCO2f8 (accessed March 8, 2021).