Barrett Deems, billed as "the world's fastest drummer" by Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, was born on March 1, 1914 in Springfield, IL, USA.
His father was a movie theater projectionist and amateur ragtime piano player. Mother had no musical background. Barrett Deems got his first drum at age five; by eight he had first drum set (Sears-Roebuck $100 starter set); Began music lessons for 25 cents each from local pit musician. Lessons continued for 6 years until became tired of the discipline. At age 14 Barrett Deems was playing with his father, usually backing up silent movies in local theaters. At 16, member local musician's union and then had first road gig with the Paul Ash Orchestra. A year later, in 1931, Barrett Deems returned to Springfield.
In Springfield, Deems formed his own band which played locally from 1931 to 1937. At the time, Springfield was enjoying "big-city" nightlife complete with gambling and after-hours jam sessions. The Deems Orchestra worked the top clubs including, The Gingham Gardens, the Lake Club and The Rex. After hearing Deems (in Springfield), Ben Pollack encouraged him to go to New York or Chicago to get in with big name bands.
In 1938, Barrett Deems joins Joe Venuti band in New York, remaining and recording with Venuti until 1946. Deems worked with Venuti off-and-on for the rest of Venuti's life.
Between 1946 and 1954 Barrett Deems gigged with a large number of famous bands and groups including Red Norvo, Charlie Barnet and Muggsy Spanier.
In 1954 he joined Louis Armstrong's All-Stars. In 1956, the the U.S. Dep't of State sponsored All-Stars tour of Europe and Africa, incl. the Ghana's Independence Day Celebration before 100,000 fans. The band was the guest of Premier Kwame Nkrumah. Later in 1956, he appeared with Armstrong and, Bing Crosby in the movie 'High Society'; -in the sequence that accompanies the song "Now you has jazz." Fred Astaire was Bing's co-star.
In 1959-1960 Barrett Deems played with many well-known small groups and big bands. During the sixties he recorded with Jack Teagarden's band. Mostly Deems was working around Chicago, backing up visiting performers. Also as a member of the Dukes of Dixieland.
Barrett Deems toured Eastern Europe with Benny Goodman's Orchestra in 1976.
In the next years he toured South America with Wild Bill Davison. Featured with Arvell Shaw in a BBC documentary of a 1984 tour of England, "The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong".
Barrett Deems has played at the Chicago Jazz Festival with his own big band. And, in 1994, received the Living Art of Music (LAMA) Award for Big Bands.
Barrett Deems died of pneumonia on September 15, 1998 in Chicago, IL,at age 85.