Home > News & Advice > News Obituaries > Jimmy Cavallo (1927–2019), rock and roll pioneer
Jimmy Cavallo (1927–2019), rock and roll pioneer

Jimmy Cavallo (1927–2019), rock and roll pioneer

by Kirk Fox

His band is believed to be the first white group to play the Apollo Theater.

Jimmy Cavallo was a rock and roll pioneer with his band Jimmy Cavallo & His House Rockers who are believed to be the first white band to play Harlem’s Apollo Theater. Cavallo’s band caught the ear of legendary rock DJ Alan Freed who put them in his 1956 movie “Rock, Rock, Rock!” Featured in the title song and appearing in other scenes in the film, the band played the Apollo Theater in December 1956 to promote the movie — before Buddy Holly and the Crickets’ more publicized Apollo Theater performances in 1957. Cavallo and his band also appeared in Freed’s 1959 film “Go Johnny Go.” Cavallo became a music legend in his hometown of Syracuse, New York and then in South Florida, where he continued to play his sax and sing every week well into his 90s.  

We invite you to share condolences for Jimmy Cavallo in our Guest Book.


Died: Monday, December 2, 2019 (Who else died on December 2?)

Details of death: Died at the age of 92.

Is there someone you miss whose memory should be honored? Here are some ways.

Cavallo on being an early adopter of rock and roll: “We were pioneers, performing with Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Ray [Charles]. We were the only white group doing it, and we weren’t just copying it either.” —2012 interview with the Palm Beach Post   

What they said about Jimmy Cavallo: “He was such a beautiful, wonderful entertainer, and everybody loved him. Everyone is devastated that he’s gone. He had the biggest heart of anybody I know. Jimmy played a lot of these gigs for nearly no money. Some gigs he paid everything to the band. It was the music that was his whole life. The world’s gonna miss that man.” —Sally Holderness, entertainment director at Nick’s where Cavallo had a weekly gig 

“Jimmy Cavallo was way ahead of his time, and was one of the true pioneers of rhythm and blues, which eventually evolved into rock ‘n’ roll. Call it what you will, a trendsetter, trailblazer, pioneer … Jimmy Cavallo was the real deal.” —DJ Stu Grant in a 2012 interview with the Palm Beach Post 

Full obituary: South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Related lives:

Rock ‘n’ Roll ‘n’ Alan Freed

Bill Haley: The Father of Rock and Roll

Chuck Berry (1926–2017), rock and roll icon

Becoming Buddy Holly

More Stories