Theodore Dudley "Red" Saunders (March 2, 1912 – March 5, 1981) was an American jazz drummer and bandleader. He also played vibraphone and timpani.
He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and after his mother's death moved to Chicago with his sister. He took drum lessons while attending a boarding school in Milwaukee, and became a professional musician in 1928, playing in Stomp King's band. He then spent several years touring the country as drummer with Ira Coffey's Walkathonians, a band that played at competitive walkathon events, before joining a revue, Harlem Scandals.
On returning to Chicago in 1934, he joined a band led by Tiny Parham at the Savoy Ballroom, and thereafter became a well-known drummer in Chicago clubs and hotels. In 1937, Saunders joined the house band at the Club DeLisa, initially led by pianist Albert Ammons, and then briefly by saxophonist Delbert Bright, before taking over as bandleader himself.
Saunders remained in control of the Club DeLisa house band until the club closed in 1958, apart from a hiatus between 1945 and 1947 when he led a smaller band at other venues in Chicago. Among his sidemen were Leon Washington, Porter Kilbert, Earl Washington, Sonny Cohn, Ike Perkins, Riley Hampton, singer Joe Williams and Mac Easton. Among the arrangers he employed were Johnny Pate and Sun Ra.
He made his first recordings as bandleader for Savoy Records in late 1945, and later accompanied such rhythm and blues performers as T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner, Sugar Chile Robinson, Rosetta Tharpe, Willie Mabon, Little Brother Montgomery and LaVern Baker (then credited as "Miss Sharecropper") on sessions. He continued to record under his own name with relatively little commercial success for several years, until early 1952 when his recording of the traditional children's song "Hambone" on the OKeh label, with Dolores Hawkins and the Hambone Kids (who included Dee Clark), reached some R&B charts.
In 1956, he recorded with Guy Warren on Warren's album Africa Speaks—America Answers! Despite his regular gig and disinclination to go on the road, Saunders also played with Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Woody Herman.
Sadly, the rise of rock ‘n roll spurned the end of the recording days for Red’s band, but he continued to lead a band at the Regal Theatre in Chicago into the 1960s. For the remainder of his career, he worked as a producer/musician and as a booking agent. He worked with some iconic names in the music business, including everyone from Albert Ammons to the Jackson Five, participating in over 50 recording sessions.
He played with Little Brother Montgomery and Art Hodes at the New Orleans Jazz Festival in the 1970s. He was one of the greatest show drummers of the period and is well-remembered as such.
Red Saunders continued to work right up until his death in Chicago on March 4, 1981; his death certificate listed the causes as acute cardiopulmonary arrest, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.