His early years were spent performing odd jobs like shining shoes, but by 1910, he was making a name for himself in New Orleans.
He and Armand J. Piron, a violinist and bandleader, founded the leading African-American-owned music publishing company of the 1920s.
He married Eva Taylor, a famous blues singer, stage actress, and collaborator, in 1921.
He and W.C. Handy toured together for a brief period of time.