William "Red" Garland was born in Dallas, Texas in 1923. Though he came from a non-musical family, Garland showed an early interest in music. He began his musical studies on the clarinet and alto saxophone but in 1940 switched to the piano. Garland spent copious amounts of time practicing and rapidly developed into a proficient player. A short early career as a welterweight boxer did not seem to hurt his playing hands. He fought a young Sugar Ray Robinson before making the switch to a full-time musician.