Born into a musical family, Sy Oliver was an arranger, composer, trumpet player and occasional vocalist. He worked for the Jimmie Lunceford band from 1933-39, and is credited with creating that band's distinct sound. From 1939-42 he worked for Tommy Dorsey's band. He is considered to be one of the main contributors to the sound of "swing" in the late 1930s and 1940s.