Eldridge was born on the North Side of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on January 30, 1911 to parents Alexander, a carpenter, and Blanche, a gifted pianistwith a talent for reproducing music by ear, a trait that Eldridge claimed to have inherited from her. Eldridge began playing the piano at age five; he claims to have been able to play coherent blues licks at even this young age. The young Eldridge looked up to his older brother, Joe, particularly because of Joe's diverse musical talents on the violin, alto saxophone, and clarinet. Roy took up the drums at the age of six, taking lessons and playing locally. Joe recognized his brother's natural talent on the bugle, which Roy played in a local church band, and tried to convince Roy to play the valved trumpet. When Roy began to play drums in his brother's band, Joe soon convinced him to pick up the trumpet, but Roy made little effort to gain proficiency on the instrument at first. It was not until the death of their mother, when Roy was eleven, and his father's subsequent remarriage that Roy began practicing more rigorously, locking himself in his room for hours, and particularly honing the instrument's upper register. From an early age, Roy lacked proficiency at sight-reading, a gap in his musical education that would affect him for much of his early career, but he could replicate melodies by ear very effectively.