Kirk was born May 28, 1898 in Newport, KY. His Twelve Clouds of Joy was
the first Kansas City band, after Benny Moten's Kansas City Orchestra,
to achieve national recognition.
Kirk's first professional job was with violinist George Morrison's band, in which he was featured on bass saxophone and tuba. He joined Terrence Holder's band in Dallas, Texas, and was elected leader after Holder's departure in 1929. In the summer of 1929, the Clouds of Joy established their base of operation in Kansas City, opening at the Pla-Mor Ballroom at 32nd and Main.
On November 7, 1929, the Clouds of Joy made their recording debut for the Brunswick label. During a rehearsal for the recording session pianist, Marion Jackson was unavailable, so the band brought in John William's wife, Mary Lou. Dave Kapp, an artist and repertoire executive for Brunswick, liked Mary Lou's playing and insisted that she be included in the recording session. Mary Lou became the band's greatest asset as its principal composer and arranger.
The Kirk band maintained its Kansas City base and performed at the Pla-Mor, Fairyland Park and Winwood beach, occasionally touring the west and east coasts. Their first big national hit, "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" featured vocalist Pha Terrell and was recorded April 2, 1936 .
After Mary Lou Williams' departure in 1942, the Kirk band declined musically and lost some of its popularity. Kirk reorganized and expanded the band to 17 pieces. This edition of the Kirk band featured many modern players, including Howard McGhee and Fats Navarro on trumpets.
Mr. Kirk died in 1992.