Cuthbert Ormond Simpkins - Early Years

Early Years

Simpkins' father, C. O. Simkins, Sr., is a dentist from Shreveport, Louisiana, who served from 1992 to 1996 as a Democratic member of the Louisiana House of Representatives from the heavily African American District 4. His mother, the former Dorothy Herndon, is a social worker, also originally from Chicago.

Until he was fourteen, Simpkins, lived with his family in Shreveport, at the time a heavily segregated city. Simpkins, Sr., took an active role in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Two of their family homes in Shreveport were bombed. The senior Simpkins' malpractice insurance was cancelled, and he was denied renewal because he was listed as No. 1 on the death list of racist elements. These events forced the Simpkinses to leave Louisiana, but the senior Simpkins later returned to Shreveport. Simpkins hence received his undergraduate degree from Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, having graduated with honors in chemistry. In his senior year at Amherst, he began work on the biography of American saxophonist and composer John Coltrane. After graduation from Amherst, he earned his medical degree from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from which he graduated in 1974. At Harvard, he finished the book Coltrane: A Biography, which was published in 1975. Another biography of Coltrane, Chasin’ the Trane by J. C. Thomas was published in the same year. It is not clear which book was published first. Coltrane: A Biography was well received by major media critics such as Mel Watkins who wrote in The New York Times Saturday book review section, “Dr. Simpkins very often accomplishes something that few other jazz biographers have done: He narratively simulates the emotional effect of the subject’s music.”

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