Remembering past bandleaders, musicians, arrangers and ballroom operators.
Death Takes Mildred Bailey, Blues Singer
Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Dec. 13 - (AP) - Mildred Bailey, 48, whose "Old Rockin' Chair" song made her famous two decades ago, died last night of a heart ailment.
The blues singer had a slight, throaty voice and a special delivery which stirred her listeners deeply. Part Indian, she was born Mildred Rinker on a farm near Spokane.
Miss Bailey's first singing job was at the age of 17, when she plugged hit tunes for $10 a week in the old Bush and Lane music store in Seattle. The store no longer is in operation.
Paul Whiteman, band leader, heard Miss Bailey sing in a San Francisco restaurant in 1929 and signed her to a contract. Her brother, Al Rinker, was a singing member of the Whiteman band. She immediately became a star, but five years later she broke with Whiteman and dropped out of sight. In 1942, Miss Bailey made a comeback in New York.
The singer married and divorced Red Norvo, a xylophonist with the Whiteman band. There were no children. Her closest survivors are her brothers, Al and Charles Rinker of California.
[Source: Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), dated December 13, 1951]
Negro Dance Hall Fire Toll Exceeds 200
Several Die in Hospitals; Condition of Others is Critical
Crowd is Trapped
Flames Start Near Only Door of Building; Spread Furiously
Natchez (Miss.), April 24 – (AP) – More than 200 Negro men and women burned to death here late last night when flames, attributed to a cigarette, raced through decorations of dry Spanish moss and trapped them in a one exit dance hall.
Coroner R.E. Smith said the death list mounted to 212 after several of the victims died in hospitals. He said a number of the survivors remain in critical condition and expressed belief others may die.
300 In Hall
About 300 dancers were in the hall when the fire broke out and flared suddenly. There were no rear or side doors in the building and windows had been boarded up to keep out “gatecrashers.”
The coroner said bodies were “piled up like cordwood.”
“From my examination, it appeared most of them died of suffocation. A majority of the victims were about 15 or 16 years old. There were about as many men as women victims.”
“The bodies were piled up in funeral parlors and no identifications have been made yet. The undertakers told me they would embalm the bodies and then line them up and let relatives file by to identify kinsmen.”
Fire Spread Fast
Julius Hawkins, Negro employee of the Natchez Democrat, who was at the dance, said he managed to escape.
“I was standing near the door and the fire just spread over everything,” he said. “I turned and made a run for it and got out with only a scratched arm.”
“Inside, everyone was trying to get out and crushed each other as the fire was burning them. All were crying and yelling.”
Ernest Wright, an elevator operator who went to the club to meet his wife after getting off duty, advanced the cigarette theory.
He told the police today he saw two girls come out of the women’s room near the front of the hall and heard one of them say: “Now you did it. You set the place on fire.”
“I didn’t see anything for a minute,” Wright continued. “Then I saw a blinding sheet of flame. In a moment the whole place was on fire.”
The deputy said Bandleader Walter Barnes was among the dead and only two members of his twelve-piece orchestra escaped.
[Source: Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California), dated April 24, 1940]
Big Band Leader Charles Barnet Dies At Age 77
San Diego (AP) - Saxophonist Charlie Barnet, a rowdy Swing Era band leader who was among the first whites to hire black musicians, has died. He was 77. Barnet, credited with discovering singer Lena Horne, died early Wednesday at Hillside Hospital, a nursing supervisor said. He suffered from Alzheimer's disease and died of pneumonia, said his wife of 33 years, Betty Barnet.
Best remembered for the jazz standards "Cherokee" and "Redskin Rhumba," Barnet had retired from music and divided his time in recent years between homes in San Diego and Palm Springs. His career spanned four decades.
Born Oct. 26, 1913, to a wealthy New York City family, Barnet began developing an interest in music when he received a saxophone as a gift.
He disappointed his parents by eschewing law in favor of a musical career, joining a band on an ocean liner at age 16. He led his first band at age 33. In his 1984 autobiography, "Those Swinging Years," Barnet described how he reveled in the music, drugs and women that filled road life in the jazz era.
Barnet's early hits included "Pompton Turnpike," "I Hear a Rhapsody" and "Where was I?" He wrote more than 25 Billboard pop chart hits from 1936- 46, including "Skyliner."
Mrs. Barnet, who was his 11th wife, said he did not want a funeral service. She said her husband's body would be cremated.
[Source: Peoria Journal Star (Peoria, Illinois), dated September 5, 1991]
Count Basie didn't know he was dying; band to tour
Hollywood, Fla.(From Tribune Wire Services) -- The jazzman's tour is over, but his music's still on the road.
Count Basie's band has no plans to cancel a tour scheduled to begin Wednesday, even though the band leader died yesterday of cancer.
Doctors had feared the disease would gnaw away at his spirit as much as his body, so his family had decided not to tell him he had contracted it.
"Had he known or been aware that he had cancer . . . he would have given up hope of living," said Aaron Woodward, Basie's adopted son.
Woodward, manager of Count Basie Enterprises, confirmed that the tour would proceed as planned.
Basie hadn't publicly performed with his group since March 19, when his appearance at the Hollywood Palladium in California brought out 2,200 fans and scores of friends rallying him on.
The Count, 79, had battled arthritis in his later years. But physicians at Doctors' Hospital in this oceanside community realized the latest fight was more serious a few days after Basie checked in Feb. 4.
Dr. Leo Schildhaus diagnosed pancreatic cancer, but he and the family agreed not to tell the patient.
After a 10-day stay, Basie was released, but returned for hospitalization March 27.
He died in his sleep around 4 a.m. EST yesterday with family by his side in the VIP wing of the 124-bed hospital, Woodward said. Basie's body was to be flown back to New York Sunday for services Monday, said Wayne Hutchinson, a spokesman for Willard Alexander Inc., which handled Basie's publicity.
Saxophonist Herman Walder recalled performing with Basie and trading boasts about their ambitions during their off-hours in the early years.
"He'd say, 'I'm going to have the greatest band in the world,'" Walder said. "And he did it."
"He was a fine cat, man, a fine guy, and he never bragged on himself," said drummer Baby Lovett, who performed with Basie. "He's got his own style, and nobody played like him."
Basie, born William Basie in Red Bank, N.J., embarked on his career as a piano player for $3 a night in a Chinese restaurant on the New Jersey coast.
Some of Basie's hits included "One O'Clock Jump," "Don't You Miss Your Baby" and "I Left My Baby."
"We just play music," Basie once said. "And we try to make it swing."
By 1939, Basie and his band were jazzing up Carnegie Hall and three years later he made his film debut in "Reveille with Beverly." Basie, who picked up the "Count" title from a razzing Kansas City radio announcer in the 1920s, more than once executed his tight ensemble style mixed with simple blues riffs.
His band in 1957 became the first American group to play a royal command performance for the queen of England.
Basie was probably best known to the general public for his recording of "April in Paris," which turned the pop standard into a jazz classic.
"He certainly made a notch in musical history," said a contemporary, clarinetist Benny Goodman, 75. "He was a wonderful man. He was a big force in music."
Many of Count's colleagues said he will never be replaced. "That's the end of the whole era," said Norman Grantz, who recorded Basie on his Pablo label for years. "Nothing's left that remotely resembles the impact that Basie had."
Contemporary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck said, "He won't be replaced by anyone."
A pupil of the legendary Fats Waller, Basie started as a $3-a-night piano player in a Chinese restaurant on the New Jersey coast and 50 years later, he was still meeting club dates from coast to coast. Critics say the band Basie brought to New York in 1936 was one of the greatest collections of 20th century musicians, including vocalists Billie Holiday and Jimmy Rushing, saxophonists Lester Young, Herschel Evans and Earl Warren, trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry "Sweets" Edison, trombonists Benny Morton and Dicky Wells, and the rhythm section of Basie at keyboards, drummer Jo Jones, bassist Walter Page, and guitarist Freddie Green.
"Bill Basie was my good friend for a long, long time," said Frank Sinatra. "Singing in front of the Count and his great band made any singer sound great."
"I learned an enormous amount about musical energy from the Count, who was one of a kind and will never be replaced."
Blues singer Joe Williams, who rose to prominence in the 1950s as a Basie vocalist, said America had lost a "national treasure" but "the happiness that his music gave us will live. Count Basie called me his No. 1 son and I am pleased to have been so selected." "He was perfection," added trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. "He had an uncanny sense of tempo. He knew when to hit it -- a note, a chord -- and never made a mistake probably in his life."
[Source: Evening Tribune (San Diego, California), dated April 27, 1984]
Bunny Berigan Dies
New York, June 2 (AP) - Bunny Berigan, 33-year-old orchestra leader and trumpet player, died Tuesday at Polyclinic Hospital, where he was taken Monday suffering from an intestinal disturbance.
[Source: Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), dated June 3, 1942]
Neil Bondshu Dies; Bandleader on Coast
Berkeley, Cal. (UP) – Neil Bondshu, 30, bandleader at San Francisco’s swank St. Francis Hotel, died late Saturday, apparently from the effects of an undetermined drug.
Mr. Bondshu died just three days after he disappeared from the hotel in the band’s station wagon. He was found unconscious in a hotel room here Friday. Doctors earlier said he was under treatment because of a condition resulting from an apparent overdose of a sedative.
[Source: Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), dated December 24, 1944]
Will Bradley; Band Leader, Trombonist
Will Bradley, a handsome, urbane studio trombonist who emerged from those anonymous ranks to lead what briefly was one of the most celebrated Big Bands of the early and mid-1940s, has died.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that Bradley, noted for such popular hits of the day as "Beat Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar," "Celery Stalks at Midnight" and "Strange Cargo," died Saturday in Flemington, N.J. He was 78.
With drummer Ray McKinley, whom Bradley lured from Jimmy Dorsey, the Will Bradley Band was a mainstay of ballrooms and hotels during the wartime years of sentimental ballads, jive tunes and boogie-woogie.
Called by Glenn Miller "the best of all" the trombonists of his day, Wilbur Schwichtenberg had worked for years in recording studios before emerging to join the old Milt Shaw and Ray Noble bands (Miller was a fellow trombonist with Noble). In 1939 Schwichtenberg became Bradley and Wilbur became Will and he and McKinley (considered a co-leader although he sat at the back of the band) produced a series of sweet ballads and swing tunes for Columbia records.
With Freddie Slack at the piano the Bradley band recorded "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance," with Carlotta Dale on vocal, and "Old Doc Yak," with McKinley singing and playing drums.
Louise Tobin, then Harry James' wife, sang "Deed I Do" with Bradley shortly before the band switched emphasis from ballads to boogie.
Slack, later to form his own famous band, was the catalyst behind a white group of musicians playing what had been a black innovation.
In George T. Simons' book "The Big Bands," McKinley recounts how the musicians were experimenting with instrumental arrangements based on the blues with an eight-to-the-bar piano boogie beat.
"There was one point where I had a drum break and for some reason or other that night instead of playing the break, I sang out "Oh, beat me, daddy, eight to the bar!" After the set McKinley encouraged the writing of a song with that title and it became the biggest of the Bradley band's hits, selling more than 100,000 copies.
Bradley tried to chase that success with "Rock-a-Bye Boogie," "Scrub Me, Mama, With a Boogie Beat," "Fry Me, Cookie, With a Can of Lard" and others.
But he quickly became disenchanted with the band's new sound, preferring the more solid tunes of the day, and he and McKinley eventually split up, McKinley to form his own group in 1942.
Bradley brought new talent into his band after McKinley's departure, among them a young drummer named Shelley Manne and a trumpet player who called himself Shorty Rogers. These two were to become an integral part of modern jazz a few years later.
But the wartime military draft decimated the ranks of the younger players and Simon writes of one engagement in Detroit in which Bradley told him that six musicians moved from the bandstand to the recruiting station in a single week.
After that Bradley was forced to cancel many of his personal appearances and rely on studio musicians for recordings. Bradley himself soon returned to the studios where he had started.
He is survived by his wife, Joan, a son, a daughter and a grandson.
[Source: Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California), dated July 21, 1989]
Brown Sr., Les
Les Brown dies; led Band of Renown
Les Brown, whose Band of Renown scored a No. 1 hit with "Sentimental Journey" during America's big band era, has died of lung cancer. He was 88.
Brown died last night at his home surrounded by his family, according to his daughter, Denise Marsh.
A conductor-clarinetist whose smooth arrangements of swing melodies transcended changes in musical tastes, Brown was cited in 1996 by the Guinness Book of Records for heading "the longest organized group in the history of popular music."
He started his professional career in 1936, and his Band of Renown was still performing about 60 dates a year as recently as five months ago, often conducted by son Les Brown Jr.
In the 1940s heyday of swing, Brown never achieved the greatness of Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman. But the band scored two hit records--"Sentimental Journey" with Doris Day as vocalist, and the instrumental "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm."
"Sentimental Journey," co-written with Ben Homer and Bud Green, became a theme for soldiers returning home from World War II.
Brown once recalled the song's debut at the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York: "The minute Doris sang that song I knew it was going to be a big love affair between her and the public."
"The happiest times in my life were the days when I was traveling with Les and his band," Day said yesterday. "I loved Les very much, I am going to miss his phone calls."
Brown's career included a close association with Bob Hope. In 1950, he joined Hope for the first of 18 Christmas tours to entertain American troops around the world. Day came along.
"The world has lost a great musician," Hope said in a statement. "I have lost my music man, my sideman, my straight man and a special friend."
Hope hired Brown in 1947 as backup band for his NBC radio show. The association lasted through television and into the 1990s, when failing health prompted the comedian's retirement.
"Entertaining the troopsthat was very rewarding," Brown said in a 1998 interview. "We got to see the world. For seven years we went to Vietnam. Those guys needed the entertainment the most."
Brown's band was a regular in San Diego over the years. In a 1978 interview with The San Diego Union, he said his band "played a lot of dates in San Diego, at the Town and Country Hotel, and at the Hotel del Coronado and El Cortez."
Lester Raymond Brown was born into a musical family in Reinerton, Penn., on March 14, 1912, and played in bands at New York Military Academy and Ithaca College. At Duke University, he organized a dance band with fellow students, and they left the campus in 1936 to tour as the Duke Blue Devils. The band broke up as parents demanded the students return to school; Brown supported himself by writing arrangements for other bands.
An official at RCA-Victor Records saw promise in the young musician and helped him gather 12 musicians for a date at the Edison Hotel in New York. Adding more players, the band played the New York World's Fair in 1940 and added Day as vocalist in September. It took on the name Band of Renown two years later.
The band included Brown's brothers, Warren and Clyde. Clyde, known as Stumpy, played trombone and sang for more than 50 years. Les Jr., born in 1940, made his debut at 13 in a clarinet duet with his father. At 16 he began touring as drummer and vocalist.
Brown hired innovative arrangers who provided clever versions of classics such as "Bizet Has His Day," "March Slav" and "Mexican Hat Dance." Radio and records helped build the band's popularity.
During an engagement at the Hollywood Palladium in 1942, the Band of Renown made its first movie, "Seven Days Leave," starring Lucille Ball and Victor Mature.
In recent years, Brown limited his appearances. The 1990s saw a revival of big bands, but Brown wasn't impressed with neo-swing.
"I don't think much of it," he said in an interview with The Boston Globe last year. "It's a different kind of swing. I hate to say it, but there's no relationship between what these guys are doing now and our music or Benny Goodman's or Artie Shaw's."
In addition to his daughter, Brown is survived by his wife, Evelyn, and son, Les Jr.
No services are scheduled.
[Source: The Record (Hackensack, New Jersey), dated January 7, 2001]
Les Brown, 88; Band Leader Hit Big With ‘Sentimental Journey’
Les Brown, whose Band of Renown scored a No. 1 hit with "Sentimental Journey" in 1945, near the end of the big-band era, has died of lung cancer. He was 88.
Mr. Brown died Thursday night at his home, according to his daughter, Denise Marsh.
A conductor-clarinetist whose smooth arrangements of swing melodies transcended changes in musical tastes, Mr. Brown was cited in 1996 by the Guinness Book of Records for heading "the longest organized group in the history of popular music."
He started his professional career in 1936, and his Band of Renown was still performing about 60 dates a year as recently as five months ago, often conducted by his son, Les Brown Jr.
In the heyday of swing in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Mr. Brown never achieved the level of popularity of Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, or Benny Goodman. But the band had a number of hit records, including "Sentimental Journey" "I've Got the Sun in the Morning," and "You Won't Be Satisfied," all with Doris Day as vocalist, and the instrumental "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm."
"Sentimental Journey," co-written by Mr. Brown with Ben Homer and Bud Green, became a theme for soldiers returning home from World War II.
Mr. Brown once recalled the song's debut at the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York: "The minute Doris sang that song, I knew it was going to be a big love affair between her and the public."
Day was 17 when Mr. Brown first heard her at the Edison Hotel in New York. He went backstage and signed her.
"The happiest times in my life were the days when I was traveling with Les and his band," Day said. "I loved Les very much; I am going to miss his phone calls."
Mr. Brown's career included a close association with Bob Hope. In 1950, he joined Hope for the first of 18 Christmas tours to entertain American troops around the world. Day came along.
"The world has lost a great musician," Hope said. "I have lost my music man, my sideman, my straight man, and a special friend."
Hope hired Mr. Brown in 1947 as the backup band for his NBC radio show. The association lasted through television and into the 1990s, when failing health prompted the comedian's retirement.
"Entertaining the troops - that was very rewarding," Mr. Brown said in a 1998 interview. "We got to see the world. For seven years, we went to Vietnam. Those guys needed the entertainment the most."
As the first president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Mr. Brown helped make the Grammy Awards a televised event. He persuaded Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby to participate in the first telecast.
Lester Raymond Brown was born into a musical family in Reinerton, Pa., on March 14, 1912, and played in bands at New York Military Academy and Ithaca College. At Duke University, he organized a dance band with fellow students, and they left the campus in 1936 to tour as the Duke Blue Devils. The band broke up as parents demanded the students return to school; Mr. Brown supported himself by writing arrangements for other bands.
An official at RCA Victor Records saw promise in the young musician and helped him gather bandmates for a date at the Edison Hotel in New York. The band played the New York World's Fair in 1940 and added Day as vocalist in September. It took on the name "Band of Renown" two years later.
The band included Mr. Brown's brothers, Warren and Clyde. Clyde, known as Stumpy, played trombone and sang for more than 50 years. Les Jr., born in 1940, made his debut at 13 in a clarinet duet with his father. At 16, he began touring as drummer and vocalist.
Mr. Brown hired innovative arrangers who provided clever versions of classics such as "Bizet Has His Day," "March Slav," and "Mexican Hat Dance." Radio and records helped build the band's popularity.
During an engagement at the Hollywood Palladium in 1942, the Band of Renown made its first movie, "Seven Days Leave," starring Lucille Ball and Victor Mature.
In recent years, Mr. Brown limited his appearances. The 1990s saw a revival of big bands, but Mr. Brown wasn't impressed with neo-swing.
"I don't think much of it," he said in a Boston Globe interview last year. "It's a different kind of swing. I hate to say it, but there's no relationship between what these guys are doing now and our music or Benny Goodman's or Artie Shaw's."
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Brown is survived by his wife, Evelyn, and Les Jr. No services are scheduled.
[Source: San Diego Union-Tribune (San Diego, California), dated January 6, 2001]
Theodore Brown, Jazz Musician
Detroit, Mich. (UPI) - Theodore (Steve) Brown, 75, one of the great pioneers of modern jazz, died Wednesday.
Mr. Brown was the first to "slap" the string bass. While playing a date near New Orleans, he tossed away his bow when the drummer in the band failed to show up.
By slapping the bass he provided the rhythm of a drummer. The technique later became standard.
He played with Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman, Jean Goldkette, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Bix Beiderbecke, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo and others.
Born in New Orleans, Mr. Brown was orphaned at age 10. He is survived by a son, a daughter, a brother and two sisters.
[Source: Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), dated September 17, 1965]
Bruse, Albert J.
The funeral of Albert J. Bruse, the Lincoln musician who died Friday, was held at the German Lutheran church at 2 o’clock Sunday afternoon. Short services were also held at the home, south of the city. Interment was at Wyuka. The funeral procession was more than three blocks long. Members of the Musicians’ union, of which organization Mr. Bruse was vice president, made up a band of forty-five pieces, which were lined eight abreast and played a dirge on the way to the cemetery. Mr. Bruse was a member of ten fraternal orders and each one was represented at the ceremony. The pall bearers were selected from the Nebraska state band.
[Source: Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska), dated November 27, 1911]
Dance Bandleader Glenn Buhl Dies
Glenn Buhl, 32, dance orchestra leader, died today in a Council Bluffs hospital of complications from a hip injury received 15 years ago playing basketball.
A saxophonist, Mr. Buhl had worked out of Omaha with his band for several years, had lived at 1715 North Thirty-first street. They were scheduled to play at the Chermot next Saturday night. He was stricken suddenly last week while playing an engagement in Des Moines. He was taken to a Denison, Ia., hospital. He was later transferred to the Bluffs.
Mr. Buhl had played with Lawrence Welk’s orchestra before organizing his own band. He did much of the arranging of its numbers. Members of the band will be pallbearers at funeral services tentatively set for Thursday at Elkhorn, his birthplace.
He is survived by his wife, Bernice; daughter, LaVonne, and son, Wendell Lee, all of Omaha; father, Fred Buhl, and mother, Mrs. Alma Buhl, both of Elkhorn.
[Source: Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), dated May 10, 1938]
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