Zutty Singleton grew up in New Orleans, the nephew of musician Willie "Bontin" Bontemps, a bass, guitar, and banjo player. He made his first professional appearance with Steve Lewis at the Rosebud Theatre in New Orleans in 1915, and after that he sometimes worked with John Robichaux.
After serving in the Navy during the first world war he returned to New Orleans where he briefly worked as a chauffeur before getting a job with Tom's Roadhouse Band.
He went on from there to play with "Big Eye" Louis Nelson and Papa Celestin and also led his own band at the Orchard Cabaret before joining Luis Russell's band at the Cadillac Club in 1921.
1921 saw Zutty get a job on a riverboat with Fate Marable. He remained with Marable through 1923, and made his first recordings with Marable in 1924.
In 1929, Singleton accompanied Carroll Dickerson's band, which was backing Louis Armstrong. After a move to New York City in the late '20s and early '30s he played with Alonzo Ross, Vernon Andrade, Fats Waller, Bubber Miley, and Otto Hardwick, and he also led his own band at the Lafayette Theatre.
Singleton moved to Los Angeles in April 1943 to take up a gig at Billy Berg's club
. He appeared in the film Stormy Weather that year and went on to play with Paul Howard, T-Bone Walker, and Teddy Bunn over the next couple of years, also appearing on Orson Welles' radio show. Continuing to lead his own bands in occasional club gigs, he also played during the rest of the '40s with Slim Gaillard (1945-1946), Wingy Manone (1947), Eddie Condon (1948), Joe Marsala (1948), and Nappy Lamare (1949).
Singleton settled in New York where he led bands at the Stuyvesant Casino, Central Plaza, and the Metropole during the rest of the '50s. In the early '60s, he began playing with Tony Parenti at Jimmy Ryan's, a residency that lasted through the end of the decade. (In 1964, he had a bit part as a clarinetist, curiously, in the film Andy.) In 1970, he suffered a stroke and was forced to retire; he died five years later at age
Along with Baby Dodds, Zutty Singleton was one of the two major drummers to emerge from the formative period of jazz in New Orleans. He accompanied such New Orleans jazz musicians as Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and Sidney Bechet. But he also played behind Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, the leading lights of the bebop