Eugene "Snooky" Young took up the trumpet at the age of five and first began to make a name for himself as the lead trumpeter of the Jimmie Lunceford band from 1939 to 1942. He briefly joined Count Basie in 1942, and moved on to the bands of Lionel Hampton and Gerald Wilson before re-joining Basie from 1945 to 1947, and again from 1957 until 1962. Upon leaving Basie, Young became a studio trumpeter at NBC, was a founding member of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra in 1966, and was constantly in demand for all kinds of sessions (including a live, recorded New Year's Eve gig with the rock group the Band in 1971). While at NBC in New York, he was a member of the Tonight Show Orchestra, moving to Los Angeles with the show in 1972 and holding down his chair until 1992, when Johnny Carson's departure broke up the band. Young kept busy in the L.A. area, appearing regularly as a lead trumpeter in several big bands including appearances with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. The self-effacing Young issued only three albums under his own name, and of these, only Horn of Plenty (Concord) featured Young as the sole headliner. In 2009, Young was named a jazz master by the National Endowment for the Arts. He passed away in 2011 due to complications from a lung disease. He was 92.
When they called Eugene Edward Young up to the podium to receive his 2009 NEA Jazz Master's award, he was called by his professional name, Snooky. "I don't know how I got it," he said. "It started when I was a real little kid. I don't know where it came from. It used to be Snookum and it finally wound up being Snooky."
The first chair trumpet player with Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Gerald Wilson, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, the Tonight Show Orchestra and currently the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, began playing at age five, having been born into a musical family. By seven he was winning amateur contests playing and singing Louis Armstrong hits of the day including "When You're Smiling" and "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You". He even had a chance meeting with his idol. "My mother and I were walking down 5th Street in Dayton, Ohio and Louis Armstrong was in town," he recalled. "I think he may have been staying at the Y, because we're right in front of the YMCA. My mom saw him and stopped him and said, 'Louis Armstrong, this is my son, Snooky. He wants to play trumpet like you and he admires you very much.' I can still remember, Louis hugged me and said many really nice things to me. Later, when I was with the Jimmie Lunceford band, I met Louis and I told him about meeting him in Dayton, but he didn't really remember."
Harry "Sweets" Edison considered Ed Lewis and Snooky Young "the two greatest first trumpet players" he ever played with.