was born in Chicago, Illinois. He
began playing professionally in the mid 1920s with bands in Wisconsin.
He made his first recordings in 1927, with a band under the leadership
of banjoist Eddie Condon and "fixer" (and sometime singer, who did not
appear on the records), Red McKenzie: these sides are now recognised as
the first, and definitive, examples of white "Chicago Style" jazz. The
numbers recorded at that session were: 'China Boy', 'Sugar', 'Nobody's
Sweetheart' and 'Liza'.
The McKenzie - Condon sides are also notable for being the first records to feature a full drum kit. Eddie Condon describes what happened in the Okeh studio on that day (in 'We Called It Music' - pub: Peter Davis, 1948):
"Mezzrow (Milton "Mezz" Mezzrow) was helping Krupa set up his drums. 'What are you going to do with those?' Rockwell (Okeh's 'A&R' man in the 1920's) asked. 'Play them,' Krupa said simply. Rockwell shook his head. 'You can't do that,' he said. 'You'll ruin our equipment. All we've ever used on records are snare drums and cymbals.' Krupa, who had been practising every day at home, looked crushed. 'How about letting us try them?' I asked. 'The drums are the backbone of the band. They hold us up.' I could see that Rockwell was leery of the whole business; drums or no drums, I figured, we are probably going to get tossed out. 'Let the kids try it', McKenzie said. 'If they go wrong I'll take the rap'. I didn't know until long afterwards that Red had guaranteed our pay for the job'...
"Quietly we waited for the playback. When it came, pounding out through the big speaker, we listened stiffly for a moment. We had never been an audience for ourselves...Rockwell came out of the control-room smiling. 'We'll have to get some more of this... (Rockwell nodded towards Krupa): didn't bother the equipment at all,' he said. 'I think we've got something,'".
Krupa moved to New York City in 1929 and worked with the band of Red Nichols. In 1934 he joined Benny Goodman's band, where his featured drum work — especially on the hit "Sing, Sing, Sing" — made him a national celebrity. In 1938 he left Goodman to launch his own band and had several hits with singer Anita O'Day and trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Krupa made a memorable cameo appearance in the 1941 film Ball of Fire, in which he and his band performed an extended versions of the hit Drum Boogie.
Many consider Krupa to be the most influential drummer of the 20th century, particularly with regard to the development of the drum kit. Krupa's main influence began in the 1930s with his collaboration with the Slingerland drum company, but he had already made history in 1927 as the first kit drummer ever to record using a bass drum pedal. His drum method was published in 1938 and immediately became the standard text.
Krupa has been cited as an influence by 1960s rock drummers such as Keith Moon of The Who, Peter Criss of KISS (to whom Krupa gave personal lessons), and Paul Whaley of Blue Cheer. The British techno-rock group Apollo 440 had a hit with "Krupa" which featured the sampled phrase; "Gene Krupa's syncopated style". The song itself is an electronic dance track written in the style of Gene Krupa, giving the impression of Krupa's style in the form of a 1990's dance track, blending his musical idioms with a modern song using samples and synthesised basslines.
Krupa largely went into retirement in the late 1960s, although occasionally played in public until shortly before his death from leukemia in Yonkers, New York. He was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Calumet City, Illinois.