Dee Barton

Major Works

  • Man
  • Lonely Boy
  • The Singing Oyster
  • Dilemma
  • Three Thoughts
  • A New Day
  • Woman
  • Get On
  • Triple Digit
  • Listen
  • Trouble Maker
  • Swing Machine
  • Rapture
  • Dingbat
  • A Good Bad Case of You 
  • Swamp Stomp
  • Get Off
  • Waltz Of The Prophets
  • Turtle Talk
  • Nookie
  • Stainless

Dee Barton: A Biography

By Ericka Mordecai (SHS)

Dee Barton's Starkville High School  senior picture, 1955

Dee Barton’s Starkville High School senior picture, 1955

Dee Barton, son of  D.W. Barton and Mary Chafee, has already accomplished more than some musicians only dream about.  Born in Houston, Mississippi, in 1937, he moved  at the age of four with  his family to Starkville, Mississippi, where Dee grew up. As Barton lived and attended school in Starkville, he was around music all the time because his father was the band director for  Starkville High School for fourteen years. When Barton became an eighth grader, he received his first opportunity to help his father with his band.  In a recent interview Barton had this to say, “We had 350 students in the school of whom 130 were in the band” (Gleske, Herald)

When Barton reached high school, his musical talents bloomed.   He let everyone know that he was here and here to stay in the music business. From the time he was a freshman until he was a senior, he was involved in The Mississippi Lions Club band, which was for top musicians only. These musicians competed in the annual International Lions Club convention. He also was the student director of the Starkville High School band. In addition, Barton was voted the most musical in his senior class.

During those four years, he had the opportunity to get to know Mary Ann Mobley, an actress and former Miss America, but at that time she was in the high school band at Brandon, Mississippi.  Like Barton, Mobley was a part of the Lions Club band for three years. Mary Ann Mobley says  about Barton, “Dee is one of the most talented and nicest persons you’d want to meet. He has such an enviable reputation in this business. But it’s a behind the scenes kind of reputation. People don’t realize that Mississippi has produced such a talented man “(Myers, Clarion Ledger).  Gary Collins, a TV talk show host and Mary Ann Mobley’s husband said this, “He (Barton)  was playing here at a place called Carmelos, well,  I thought jazz was dead. Then I thought, my God, here is this orchestra…and they just blew everybody away” (Myers, Clarion Ledger). Barton  regularly played  with his twenty-some  piece jazz orchestra at Carmelos when he lived in the Los Angeles/Woodland Hills area.

In 1955 he graduated from Starkville High School and went on to attend North Texas State University in Denton, Texas. He  graduated in 1960 with a bachelor’s degree in education and an emphasis on composition. Not long after graduating from college,  he got the opportunity to join Stan Kenton’s big band, which he was a part of for almost a decade. Barton got the chance to show off his skills first playing the trombone and then drums for this big band. The album  Adventures In Jazz, which came out in 1963 featuring different musicians,  included  two compositions (“Waltz of the Prophets” and “Turtle Talk” ) by Barton.  The album  was phenomenal. To back that up, this album won a Grammy Award. Another album that Barton was a part of which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1968 was Stan Kenton Conducts Jazz Compositions with Dee Barton (Myers, Clarion Ledger).

Dee Barton is a very talented musician. He  has been a musical consultant for  such people as Frank Sinatra, The Rolling Stones, Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, John Lennon, and many more. Barton was also involved in writing scores for thousands of radio and TV commercials. He has played for such people as Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, and Maynard Ferguson. In all, he has written scores for 50 to 60 movies He has also searched the world abroad and found that music is the universal language that combines many different people and races.

After being in Kenton’s band, Barton went on to organize his own band on the West Coast. They performed at a Los Angeles Night Club called Donte’s. This nightclub is where he met well-known actor and director Clint Eastwood (DePriest, Star).  Eastwood asked Barton to write scores for his movies, Play Misty For Me, Every Which Way But Loose, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, and High Plains Drifter.  In addition,  Barton wrote supplemental compositions for Eastwood’s Dirty Harry movies like Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, and Dead Pole  (Myers, Clarion Ledger).

Barton’s talents have been used for TV shows like The Rockford Files, Red Skelton, Baretta, Ironside, Batman, The Odd Couple and Soul Train.  If it had not have been for Eastwood, Barton says  that he may have missed his big Hollywood break.  Dee Barton said, “My best score is High Plains Drifter.  It has more meat in it.  The theme has become quite well known” (Myers, Clarion Ledger).  Not only has  Clint Eastwood been Barton’s client, but Barton  also sold the song “Sunshine” to Jim Henson, who chose Kermit the Frog to be the one to sing  it.  Barton’s taste in music extends far beyond jazz music.  Barton says  this about music, “I enjoy advanced music, insane music, and pretty music” (DePriest, Star).  However, Barton has a love for something other than music.  He absolutely loves bass fishing.  Nevertheless,  wherever Barton goes, music is always on his mind.

John Williams, composer for Star Wars, has been  Barton’s close friend and mentor in the music business.  Hugo Friedhoffer and Victor Young  have inspired him.  So has Stravinsky. Barton also enjoys Gil Evans and Johnny Richards, who are jazz arrangers.   Included on the album Stan Kenton Conducts the Jazz Compositions of Dee Barton is this quote from Barton:  “When you write for all the sections, you not only gain an abundance of freedom, but communicate a fresh point of view.  I especially enjoy building a mood and then letting a soloist improvise over my harmonic and rhythmic structures”  He continues, “As long as he doesn’t violate the order in which I’ve arranged them, I’m never too concerned about what he does.”  Barton has an interesting viewpoint.  He says, “I’ve always felt that the biggest contribution we could make to music would be to throw away the rule book.  It’s time we stopped trying to enforce personal prejudices on the 19 or 20 guys who are responsible for breathing life into our arrangements.”

In recent years, Barton has taught seminars at different colleges like the University of Alabama, the University of California at Los Angeles,  Mississippi State University, the University of  Mississippi, the University of Southern California, California State at Northridge, the University of Indiana, Michigan State University, the University of Redlands, the University of Southern Mississippi, and the New England Conservatory of Music.  He also has done some judging for contests and festivals at assorted colleges, universities, and music schools throughout the United States. The Dallas Jazz Orchestra recorded a CD entitled The Dallas Jazz Orchestra Plays Dee Barton, which was nominated for a Grammy in 1996.

Dee Barton's mother, with Dr. Miller, accepts Hall of Famous Award for her son at SHS

Dee Barton’s mother, with Dr. Miller, accepts Hall of Famous Award for her son at SHS

Currently,  Dee lives in Brandon, Mississippi, and teaches music at Jackson State University (Barton, resume). According to one interviewer, Barton has said, “I’m definitely planning on staying here, in Mississippi, the rest of my life.”  He does not like living in Los Angeles, a city he says is like a war zone. Besides,  things have changed.  He no longer has to be in California to do California work;  and, if necessary,  he can always fly to California and come back home to Mississippi!   This fall  Kenton’s Adventures in Jazz is scheduled for re-release on CD by Capitol Records.  According to Noel Webber, who will write the liner notes for the CD,  Barton  is a master when it comes to intricate time changes and  inner line writing. In the spring of 1999, Dee Barton was inducted into the Starkville High School Hall of the Famous.  His mother accepted the award for him.

In conclusion, no one can say that Dee Barton has not accomplished great things in his life.  His music is breathless and fantastic.  I had an opportunity to watch Play Misty For Me on television, and I really enjoyed Barton’s music.  He is a nice and very talented man.  As a Mississippian, I am also proud to say he comes  from my hometown and graduated from my alma mater, Starkville High School.  All in all, Dee Barton does what he loves to do and that is why he is so good at it.

Note:  Dee Well Barton, Jr., died Tuesday, December 4, 2001, at the age of  sixty-four.  He had been inducted into the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame in 2000 at the first ceremony.  He is survived by his daughter,  Susan Barton Locke of San Diego, California; his sons, De Wells Barton III of Dallas, Texas, and Thomas Barton of Brandon; his ex-wife Jane Earl Barton of Tarzana, California; and his mother Mary Barton Chafee of Starkville, Mississippi.  He also has two grandchildren, Shannon and one other.

Return to Top of Page


  • 1937–Dee Barton was born in Houston, Mississippi
  • 1955–Dee Barton graduated from Starkville High School, Starkville, Mississippi
  • 1960–Graduated from North Texas State University and that same year performed in Stan Kenton’s orchestra, playing trombone and then drums before becoming Kenton’s arranger
  • 1961–Adventures In Jazz, which contained two of Barton’s songs, was nominated for a Grammy
  • 1965–Started writing for TV and motion pictures, recording and promoting for rock groups, jazz groups, vocal groups
  • 1968–Stan Kenton conducts the Jazz Compositions of Dee Barton came out
  • 1969–He began his work on Clint Eastwood’s movies, including the Dirty Harry movies
  • 1973–He was a musical director at Media and Jingle Company in Memphis, Tennessee
  • 1977-78–He performed at half time at the Liberty Bowl
  • 1986–He was a creative director at Media General Incorporated in Memphis, Tennessee
  • 1988–He was a musical director for Creative Network Studios in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • 1988 to 2001–He has  taught seminars at different colleges like the University of Alabama, the University of California at Los Angeles,  Mississippi State University, the University of  Mississippi, the University of Southern California, California State at Northridge, the University of Indiana, Michigan State University, the University of Redlands, the University of Southern Mississippi, and the New England Conservatory of Music and has done some judging for contests and festivals at assorted colleges, universities, and music schools throughout the United States.
  • 1996–Dallas Jazz Orchestra plays Dee Barton is nominated for a Grammy.
  • 1998–He lives in Brandon, Mississippi, where he teaches at Jackson State University
  • 1999–Dee Barton inducted into Starkville High School Hall of the Famous.
  • 2000–Dee Barton one of first inductees into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame.
  • 2001–December 4, Dee Barton died at the age of 64.

Return to Top of Page

Phone Interview with Dee Barton (1988)

By Ericka Mordecai (SHS)

When and where were you born?

Ericka Mordecai (SHS Researcher)

Ericka Mordecai (SHS Researcher)

I was born in Houston, Mississippi, on September 18, 1937.

Do you have any brothers or sisters?

Yes, I have a brother who is three years younger than me. He is a writer and a band  leader.

What kind of child were you? Were you outgoing or shy?

I was a very outgoing child. I was very laid back in music because there was no doubt that is what I wanted to do.

When did you first realize you were musically talented?

I would have to say around the age of four. I was already playing songs on the piano.

Were you a good student in high school?

I was absolutely horrible! I only passed school by the skin of my teeth. You see, my dad got sick;  and I had to teach his high school and junior high school band classes plus go to school at the same time.

Did you like living in Starkville, or did you want to live somewhere else?

I liked Starkville a lot, but it was so out of the hierarchy music world. I had to practice music ten hours a day!

Have you wanted to do something else besides being in music?

I ‘m an avid bass fisherman. It was cheap to bass fish back then; it was nothing like it is now. I used to have  to walk every foot to get to that pond I fished at.

Are you married? How many children do you have?

No, I’m not married now. I have four children, all conceived in wedlock,  I assure you!

Your dad was the band director; do you think that had some influence on your career?

A terrible amount.   Mrs. Leveck also had a great deal of influence on me. She taught me music.

What are you doing or involved in now?

I’m teaching at Jackson State University now. Also,  I still do motion pictures. I’ m rehearsing with a big band and doing a bit of writing for motion pictures.

Do you have any advice for future musicians out there that may read this interview?

Just go to school and do the best that you can. Try to get into the best music schools that are out there. The most important thing is to get into a good music school.

Return to Top of Page

Related Websites


  • Barton, Dee. Resume. April, 1998.
  • Barton, Dee. Telephone Interview by Ericka Mordecai. April 29, 1998.
  • DePriest, Joe. “Composer Scores Music For Stars.”  Star. Date not available.
  • Gleske, Tony. “Dee Barton: Big Band and Big Fun.” Los Angeles Herald Examiner.  Monday, November 19, 1984.
  • Myers, Leslie R.. “Music Man”. Clarion Ledger. Date  n. a.