Blakey made a name for himself in the 1940s in the big bands of Fletcher Henderson and Billy Eckstine. He worked with bebop musicians Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. In the mid-1950s Horace Silver and Blakey formed the Jazz Messengers, a group that the drummer was associated with for the next 35 years. The Jazz Messengers were formed as a collective of contemporaries, but over the years the band became known as an incubator for young talent, including Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, and Wynton Marsalis. The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz calls the Jazz Messengers "the archetypal hard bop group of the late 50s".
He was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame (in 1981),the Grammy Hall of Fame (in 1998 and 2001), and was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. He was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1991
On December 17, 1947, Blakey led a group known as "Art Blakey's Messengers" in his first recording session as a leader, for Blue Note Records. The records were released as 78s at the time and two of the songs were released on the New Sounds 10" LP compilation (BLP 5010). This octet included Kenny Dorham, Howard Bowe, Sahib Shihab, Musa Kaleem, Ernest Thompson, Walter Bishop, Jr., and LaVerne Barker.
Around the same time in 1947or 1949. Blakey led a big band called "Seventeen Messengers." The band proved be financially unstable and broke up soon after.The Messengers name then went dormant for several years.
Blakey and Horace Silver began working together in the early 1950s. Some cite the group that included Blakey, Silver, Kenny Dorham, Lou Donaldson and Gene Ramey in 1953 as the original Jazz Messengers.On February 21, 1954, a group billed as the "Art Blakey Quintet" produced the live set of records called A Night at Birdland. The quintet included Horace Silver, Clifford Brown, Lou Donaldson and Curly Russell. These records were quite successful, and some cite this date as the beginning of the Jazz Messengers.