The great jazz drummer and bandleader Art Blakey had a distinctively aggressive, hard-driving style, and was one of the pioneers of hard bop. He led the quintessential hard bop group, the Jazz Messengers, which in the seventies and eighties became a training ground for scores of younger jazz greats, Keith Jarrett, Chuck Mangione, and Wynton Marsalis among them.
Blakey was born in 1919 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was fostered to a Seventh Day Adventist family. Like many musicians of his generation, his early exposure to music came at the church. He began his professional career leading a band as a pianist - while still only in seventh grade! One night he showed up in a nightclub to play, and the owner ordered him at gunpoint to play the drums because Erroll Garner was already at the keyboards. Apparently he liked it, because he switched to the drums fulltime. He was an assistant to the great drummer Chick Webb for a time, and in 1937 began performing with Mary Lou Williams. In 1939 he joined Fletcher Henderson's group, with whom he played for three years. After a brief stint as a bandleader, he joined Billy Eckstine's group, where he played with the other greats who would develop bebop: Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis.
In 1947 Eckstine's group disbanded, and Blakey put together the Seventeen Messengers. In 1955 he formed a quintet with Horace Silver called the Jazz Messengers that developed a hard-driving, blues-influenced version of bebop that became known as hard bop. After a year Silver left to form his own group, Blakey became the leader, and for the next 35 years was associated with this band name.
Blakey traveled to Africa in the late 40s to immerse himself in Islam, and took the name Abdullah Ibn Buhainawas. While there, he learned the polyrhythmic, communcative drumming style of the continent. Realizing that jazz was a uniquely American music form - "no America, no jazz", he liked to say - he returned to play in the US, and he continued to tour the world with the Jazz Messengers as well as lend his unique style to session music and all-star groups. He died in 1990.
To find out more about Art Blakey, visit the official website of his estate, http://www.artblakey.com. The estate is managed by one of his sons, Takashi Buhaina Blakey. Blakey's wife was named Diana and they had at least four sons and one daughter, and that's all I know about that.