Edward Lee Morgan was born in Philadelphia on July 10, 1938, the youngest of Otto Ricardo and Nettie Beatrice Morgan's four children. A leading trumpeter and composer, he recorded prolifically from 1956 until a day before his death in February 1972. Originally interested in the vibraphone, he soon showed a growing enthusiasm for the trumpet. Morgan also knew how to play the alto saxophone. On his thirteenth birthday, his sister Ernestine gave him his first trumpet. His primary stylistic influence was Clifford Brown, who gave the teenager a few lessons before he joined the Dizzy GillespieBig Band at 18, and remained a member for a year and a half, until the economic situation forced Dizzy to disband the unit in 1958. He began recording for Blue Note Records in 1956, eventually recording 25 albums as a leader for the company, with more than 250 musicians. He also recorded on the Vee-Jay label.
He was a featured sideman on several early Hank Mobley records, as well as on John Coltrane's Blue Train (1957), on which he played a trumpet with an angled bell (given to him by Gillespie) and delivered one of his most celebrated solos on the title track.
Joining Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1958 further developed his talent as a soloist and composer. He toured with Blakey for a few years, and was featured on numerous albums by the Messengers, including Moanin', which is one of the band's best-known recordings. When Benny Golson left the Jazz Messengers, Morgan persuaded Blakey to hire Wayne Shorter, a young tenor saxophonist, to fill the chair. This version of the Jazz Messengers, including pianist Bobby Timmons and bassist Jymie Merritt, recorded the classic The Freedom Rider album. The drug problems of Morgan and Timmons forced them to leave the band in 1961, and the trumpeter returned to Philadelphia, his hometown. According to Tom Perchard, a Morgan biographer, it was Blakey who introduced the trumpeter to heroin, which impeded his career trajectory.