Elmer Snowden is remembered today mainly as the original leader of the Washingtonians, a group he brought to New York City from the capital in 1923. Unable to get a booking, Snowden sent for Duke Ellington, who was with the group when it recorded three test sides for Victor that remain unissued and are, presumably, lost.
Snowden was a renowned band leader – Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford, Bubber Miley, "Tricky Sam" Nanton, Frankie Newton, Benny Carter, Rex Stewart, Roy Eldridge and Chick Webb are among the musicians who worked in his various bands. Very active in the 1920s as an agent and musician, Snowden at one time had five bands playing under his name in New York, one of which was led by pianist Cliff Jackson. Unfortunately, most of his bands were not recorded, but a Snowden band that included Eldridge, Al Sears, Dicky Wells and Sid Catlett appeared in a 1932 film, "Smash Your Baggage." Snowden also made numerous appearances as a sideman on almost every New York label from 1923 on. Unfortunately, he rarely received credit, except for two sides with Bessie Smith in 1925, and six sides with the Sepia Serenaders in 1934.
Though Elmer Snowden continued to be musically active throughout his life, after the mid 1930s he lived in relative obscurity in New York. He continued to play throughout the 30s, '40s and '50s, but was far from the limelight. In 1969 he moved back to Philadelphia, where he died on May 14, 1973.