A jazz composer and band leader, J. Tim Brymn wrote songs that became hits for ragtime and other popular music performers.
Born in Kinston, he studied at the Christian Institute in Franklinton and Shaw University in Raleigh, then left for New York around 1900 to attend the National Conservatory of Music of America—the prestigious institution where Antonín Dvoˇrák had served as director a few years before.
Brymn was an early member of New York’s Clef Club, a professional and fraternal organization of black musicians that helped improve working conditions and showcase talents. He directed the Clef Club orchestra in 1914, two years after its 125 members made jazz history at Carnegie Hall.
Brymn directed the 350th Field Artillery U.S. Army regimental band during World War I, bringing syncopated jazz rhythms to new audiences in France. After the war, Brymn took his Black Devil Orchestra on a successful American tour.
Brymn’s compositions include the Tar Heel Blues Rag (1914), and Cocoanut Grove Jazz (1917), described by the Library of Congress as one of the earliest pieces of published music including the word “jazz” in the title. Brymn wrote the lyrics for Aunt Hagar’s Blues, which has been recorded by Lena Horne and Louis Armstrong, among others, and was sung by Pearl Bailey in the 1958 film St. Louis Blues.