He played in Alabama State College's band the Bama State Collegians and eventually rose to bandleader. He joined Hampton's band in 1941 before spending 13 years with Basie.
He released over 25 albums as a bandleader between 1954 and 1992.
He was born into a musical family. His father David was a pianist. He was married to Rigmor Alredsson Newman.
He collaborated with Yusef Lateef on "Part of the Search" from 1973.