Born Boniface Ferdinand Leonardo DeFranco on February 17, 1923, in Camden, New Jersey, "Buddy" spent his formative years in nearby Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after relocating to the city with his parents and siblings at the age of three. He was one of five children; the youngest, however, died at a year old. DeFranco’s father, Leonardo, was a remarkable man, yet his life was plagued with unfortunate circumstances. The son of immigrants from central Italy, Leonardo DeFranco, a native of Philadelphia, lost his sight because of a mistreated infection before DeFranco was born. Determined to learn a trade in spite of his disability, he attended the Overbrook School for the blind, where he learned how to tune pianos, but continued to struggle to support his family.
Nevertheless, Leonardo DeFranco, also an amateur guitarist who played with a blind band called the Jovial Night Owls, "always found time to play for us, or to tell us a story," DeFranco recalled to Balliett, and instilled in his children a love for music. DeFranco’s mother, Louise Giordano, was born in Philadelphia as well, and worked as a secretary and in a cigar factory in order to help out the family. She had difficulty dealing with the stress of raising four children on a limited income and attempted suicide, then asked to be committed to a state institution where she lived for the remainder of her life. After DeFranco’s mother left, an aunt took the children in one by one, and DeFranco’s father remarried twice, though only one of these marriages provided him any degree of happiness.
DeFranco began his professional career just as swing music and big bands — many of which were led by clarinetists like Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and Woody Herman — were fading in popularity. While most jazz clarinet players did not adapt to this change, DeFranco successfully continued to play clarinet exclusively, and was one of the few bebop clarinetists.
In 1950, DeFranco spent a year with the famous Count Basie Septet. His small combo in the early 1950s included jazz modernist Sonny Clark on the piano and guitarist Tal Farlow. He was bandleader of the Glenn Miller Orchestra from 1966 to 1974. He has also performed with Gene Krupa, Charlie Barnet, Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson and many others, and has released dozens of albums as a leader.
Buddy DeFranco has the unprecedented distinction of winning twenty Downbeat Magazine Awards, nine Metronome Magazine Awards, and sixteen Playboy All-Stars Awards as the number one jazz clarinetist in the world.
Buddy is generally credited with leading the way for jazz clarinetists from the exciting era of swing to the exhilarating age of bop. Along the way he has set the example for all jazz musicians for technical brilliance. Improvisational virtuosity and creative warmth. He is one of the most imaginative clarinetists playing today.