Remembering past bandleaders, musicians, arrangers and ballroom operators.
Swing-era singer, bandleader Cab Calloway dies at 86
Hockessin, Del. - Cab Calloway, the swing-era singer, actor and bandleader who soared to national popularity in the '30s and '40s on the strength of such hits as "Minnie the Moocher" and "It Ain't Necessarily So," has died at the age of 86.
The Baltimore-bred musician suffered a serious stroke June 12 at his home in White Plains, N.Y. He died Friday, with his family by his side, at a Delaware nursing home.
Famous for his jaunty, bluesy cry of "hi-de-ho!" Calloway was one of the best-known personalities of the big band age.
Although widely respected in professional circles for his skills as a bandleader -- he succeeded Duke Ellington at the famed Cotton Club in Harlem -- he enjoyed even greater popular acclaim for his energy and verve onstage.
It was Calloway who served as the basis for the character Sportin' Life in George Gershwin's opera "Porgy and Bess," and Calloway who introduced the role on Broadway. He appeared with Lena Horne and Bill Robinson in the film "Stormy Weather," and played opposite Al Jolson in "The Singing Kid."
Though his career slowed after the big band era drew to a close, it never quite wound down.
He appeared on Broadway in "Hello, Dolly" in the '70s, had a supporting role in the 1980 John Belushi/Dan Aykroyd comedy "The Blues Brothers," and even made a cameo appearance in the 1990 Janet Jackson video, "Alright."
Cabell Calloway III was born on Christmas Day, 1907, in Rochester, N.Y. His family moved to Baltimore when he was 10.
Calloway showed considerable musical promise as a youngster. His mother, a teacher, was the organist and choir director at a Baltimore church, where young Cab was a choir member and soloist. He also played drums in high school, but singing remained his strong point.
"I was with this high school outfit, and I sang Coleridge's "Farewell to Minnehaha,' " he said in an interview. "I was originally trained for classical music. Jazz came later with me."
After graduating from high school, Calloway moved to Chicago, where he enrolled in Crane College hoping for a career in law, like his father. Instead, he wound up taking a cue from his sister, Blanche, and fell into a career in music.
Like her mother, Blanche Calloway was a talented musician, and in fact had established herself as a successful bandleader well before her brother even got started.
It was a slow start at first. Joe Glaser, a Chicago club owner at the time, reported many years later that "Cab Calloway started for me at 35 a week, while his sister, Blanche, was making two or three hundred."
But Blanche did her best to shepherd her sibling's career. She got him a role in the musical "Plantation Days," and later allowed him to play intermission breaks for her ensemble. By the late '20s, Calloway's Alabamians were playing regularly in Chicago, while he himself landed a feature role on Broadway in Lew Leslie's "Blackbirds of 1928."
Soon, Calloway was fronting a new band, the Missourians, and had established himself in New York. By mid-1930, the Missourians were recording as Cab Calloway and His Orchestra, and within months were regulars at the Cotton Club, Harlem's most-acclaimed night spot.
It was in 1931 that Calloway made his biggest breakthrough. Trying his hand at songwriting, he worked up a number about "a red-hot hootchie-coocher" called "Minnie the Moocher." An immediate success, it became his signature song, even making it into the movies, thanks to Calloway's performance in "The Big Broadcast."
"Minnie the Moocher" also marked the first appearance of "hi-de-ho" in Calloway's recorded repertoire. Though the phrase would become a Calloway trademark, he confessed later that it was originally just a happy accident.
"I forgot a lyric, and put in the "hi-de-ho' phrase to cover it," he said. "I put it in out of nowhere. That hi-de-ho just came out of the clouds, and it was something that hit."
Calloway led a first-rate jazz band throughout the '30s and '40s, and a number of well-known jazz musicians were alumni of his organization.
Eventually, the big band era came to a close, and by 1948, the Calloway Orchestra had played its last "hi-de-ho."
But the singer himself kept right on working, particularly in the musical theater. He played Sportin' Life in the 1952 Broadway revival of "Porgy and Bess," and toured extensively in the role.
[Source: Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Florida), dated November 20, 1994]
Cab Calloway, 86, The ‘Hi-De-Ho’ King, Dies After A Stroke
Fans knew Cab Calloway as the scat-singing hep cat, the hi-de-hi-de-hi'ing bandleader whose career spanned six decades and ranged from Harlem to Hollywood.
Josh Langsam knew him as the grandfather whose smile could stretch a mile wide.
"He was always cheerful and he was a great family person," Calloway's 13-year-old grandson said Saturday.
Calloway, who suffered a severe stroke June 12 at his home in White Plains, N.Y., died Friday in Cokesbury Village, a retirement community, with his family at his side. He was 86.
Calloway's wife, Nuffie, was resting Saturday at Cokesbury, where she lives.
"He had two separate lives: His life on stage and his life with the family. When he closed the door on his dressing room, he came home as a husband, father and grandfather," she said.
As a bandleader, singer, author, dancer and songwriter, Calloway performed for more than 60 years, from Chicago jazz joints to the Cotton Club, on Broadway and in Hollywood movies. His influence in the music world was huge.
Calloway was the man who hired the then-unknown Dizzy Gillespie and promoted the careers of Pearl Bailey and Lena Horne. He became known to a younger generation through the 1980 film "The Blues Brothers."
Even in old age, he was a marvel to watch -- a dervish who dashed from one end of the stage to the other, his limbs and his mop of unruly hair flying in all directions as he flashed an enormous smile.
His trademark song was "Minnie the Moocher," and audiences would respond in kind when he sang the chorus of "hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho." He once said his scat refrains were the product of a faulty memory -- he couldn't recall the words.
Calloway cast himself as the ultimate hep cat. At his performances, he sold "Cab Calloway's Hepster's Dictionary" and "Prof. Cab Calloway's Swingformation Bureau," how-to books for the unhep.
In his early days he was known as a womanizer and traveled well, in a special train car with his green Lincoln riding on a flatbed. Always a stylish dresser, he was said to have 50 suits in his closet, along with 50 matching pairs of shoes. But he married Nuffie in 1953 and stayed with her until the end.
Cabell Calloway III was born in Rochester, N.Y., in 1907 and raised in Baltimore. He studied law at Crane College in Chicago and was offered a contract to play basketball for the Harlem Globetrotters in 1928, but became a song-and-dance man instead, inspired by his musician-sister Blanche.
The first band he took to New York bombed in 1928. The next year he took over the Missourians, known as Cab Calloway's band for the next 19 years.
In 1931, the Calloway band took over for Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club, the Harlem nightspot where black artists played to an overwhelmingly white audience.
That same year, he recorded "Minnie the Moocher," the story of a "low-down hoochy coocher. She was the roughest, toughest frail, but Minnie had a heart as big as a whale." The song, accompanied by Calloway's theatrics and scat singing, brought the house down.
Calloway's career took off. He appeared in a series of movies -- including "The Big Broadcast," "International House" and "Stormy Weather" -- and took his all-black band on the road, integrating halls long before the civil rights movement.
Calloway's band broke up in 1948. He toured with a trio and even performed at Globetrotter games until his career was rescued by a 1952 revival of George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess."
The role of Sportin' Life - a charming narcotics peddler - had been written with him in mind. They toured Europe, then took it to Broadway, where Calloway later performed in an all-black "Hello Dolly."
[Source: Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Georgia), dated November 20, 1994]
Al Casey, a guitarist who joined Fats Waller's band in high school and provided a steady and swinging rhythmic accompaniment for the leader's vocal antics, died Sept. 11 at a nursing home in New York City. He was 89 and had colon cancer.
Casey's association with Waller lasted from 1933 until the pianist, singer and composer's death a decade later. However overshadowed he might have been by Waller's dynamic piano style and flirtatious ad-libbing, Casey said he was hired to keep the band tight during Waller's fun yelps and scats. The guitarist appeared on more than 230 records that sold millions of copies.
French critic Hugues Panassie, a follower of the early American jazz scene, once wrote that Casey "developed a distinctive manner of accompanying vocal choruses with chords that formed a beautiful counterpoint."
Casey stayed through many incarnations of the Waller band. His most notable contribution to a recording was his bluesy and sublime solo on "Buck Jumpin' " (1941), a song that originated as a punishment for being late to a performance date. Casey came onstage while the band was playing, and Waller made him solo spontaneously to a blues number, hoping he would flail and learn his lesson.
The tune was so successful that it became Casey's unofficial anthem.
Albert Aloysius Casey was born Sept. 15, 1915, in Louisville, Ky. An orphan, he gained a new family that included uncles and aunts who were in a spiritual group called the Southern Singers. One of those uncles, featured on a radio show broadcast from Cincinnati, provided the key introduction to Waller years later.
Moving to New York City in 1930 to stay with other relatives, Casey began playing guitar with a school friend's band, which played at Harlem's Apollo Theater and other venues. Advanced enough for his uncle to encourage a meeting with Waller, he impressed the bandleader and began recording songs.
However, Waller refused to hire Casey full time until he finished high school. The guitarist later called Waller his "second father."
After some music school training, Casey developed a fast-moving style that jumped from chord to chord. This, he felt, would do justice to Waller's vocal buffoonery, as he called it.
In the late 1930s, he left Waller temporarily to work with pianist Teddy Wilson and also made recordings with singer Billie Holiday and saxophonists Ben Webster, Chu Berry and Lester Young.
After Waller's death from pneumonia, Casey readily accepted work as a New York-based sideman, at that point switching to electric guitar. He led the house trio at New York's Downbeat Club, most of the time trying to imitate Nat King Cole's small band and even attempting singing. Apparently he was passable enough to win Esquire magazine awards for best swing guitarist in 1944 and 1945. That led to gala concerts with Duke Ellington in California and Louis Armstrong in New York.
Other jobs brought Casey dates with pianist Art Tatum and saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, as well as bebop stars Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
Casey struggled through several decades as swing fell from favor, at one point working for the New York City Health Department as a Xerox operator.
In the early 1980s, he began a 20-year association with the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, established by a New York orthodontist named Albert Vollmer, who revered the jazz players of the 1930s. Casey liked to point out that he was the youngest member of the group, which featured veterans of bands led by Armstrong, Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver.
Highly regarded in Europe -- he met jazz aficionados who had an encyclopedic knowledge of his recording history -- Casey remained largely overlooked in the United States. Survivors include his wife of 67 years, Althea Jonathan Casey of New York; and a son, Al Casey Jr. of Las Vegas.
[Source: Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California), dated September 15, 2005]
Lee Castle; Big-Band Trumpeter
Lee Castle, a trumpeter in the jazz tradition of Louis Armstrong and Bunny Berigan and who was featured in many of the great bands of the 1930s and '40s, has died in a Florida hospital, it was learned Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for Memorial Hospital in Hollywood, Fla., said Castle - most recently leader of the Jimmy Dorsey band - was 75 when he died Friday following a heart attack.
Born Aniello Castaldo in New York, he began playing professionally at age 15 and by the mid-1930s was performing with Artie Shaw and then Ray McKinley.
He joined the Tommy Dorsey band in 1939, just as Frank Sinatra was being hired as lead male vocalist, and three years later became Benny Goodman's ace jazz trumpeter.
Throughout his career he was known for his full tone, extensive range and the ability to play both in the New Orleans tradition of Armstrong and the sweet, ballroom manner of Harry James.
He briefly led the combined Dorsey brothers bands after they merged in 1953 and following the death of Jimmy Dorsey in 1957, Castle fronted that "ghost band."
He also led two bands of his own in the early 1940s but achieved his greatest successes under other leaders.
Survivors include his wife, Virginia, of Elmsford, N.Y., three brothers and two sisters.
[Source: Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California), dated November 22, 1990]
Carmen Cavallaro, Big-Band Pianist
Big-band pianist Carmen Cavallaro, "the poet of the piano," died Thursday night. He was 76.
Cavallaro, who had suffered from cancer, died at Mount Carmel East Hospital. A spokeswoman said he had been hospitalized on several occasions, most recently on Oct. 5.
A funeral Mass is to be said Sunday afternoon at St. Catherine's Church in Columbus, and burial is to be in Mount Hope Cemetery in Hastings, N.Y.
Cavallaro, born in New York City on May 6, 1913, began his musical career as a piano player for an orchestra, and later joined Abe Lyman and Rudy Vallee. He formed his own orchestra in 1939 and attracted national attention.
As a recording artist, he was perhaps best known for the piano playing in the 1956 movie "The Eddie Duchin Story," starring Tyrone Power and Kim Novak. His biggest hit was his version of Chopin's "Polonaise in A," popularized as "To Love Again," the hit song from the Duchin movie.
"He was known as 'the poet of the piano, " said longtime Columbus booking agent John Moore.
He had lived in Columbus the last several years.
[Source: The Record (Hackensack, New Jersey), dated October 14, 1989]
Big band era's Carmen Cavallaro
Columbus, Ohio - Big band era pianist and composer Carmen Cavallaro, 76, who played the soundtrack for the movie "The Eddy Duchin Story" in 1956, has died of cancer.
Mr. Cavallaro died Thursday at Mount Carmel East Hospital, where he had been hospitalized since Oct. 5.
As a youngster, Mr. Cavallaro was trained in classical music and played concerts in the United States and abroad.
In the 1940s, he played in top hotels in Detroit, New York, Chicago and other cities. A change to a swing band failed in the mid-40s.
Mr. Cavallaro had lived in Columbus 15 years, where he remained active by giving concerts.
He is survived by his wife, Donna, four sons and two daughters.
[Source: Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), dated October 15, 1989]
Bandleader H. Charninski dies at age 78
Hyman Charninsky, 78, of 10433 High Hollows Drive, a longtime Dallas bandleader and lifelong Dallas resident, died Monday in a Dallas hospital.
Funeral services will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Sparkman-Hillcrest Funeral Chapel, 7405 W. Northwest Highway. Entombment will be in Hillcrest Mausoleum.
Charninsky was one of Dallas' leading conductors for more than 40 years. His orchestras played at the old Palace Theatre in the 1920s and 1930s and on Radio Stations WRR, WFAA and KRLD. He contracted the musicians for the State Fair Musicals and the Dallas Summer Musicals for 40 years, and his orchestras played at dances, conventions and annual shows for the Junior League, the Kiwanis and the Dallas Press Club.
He was a 33rd degree Mason and a member of Hella Temple, the Pentagon Masonic Lodge, Federation of Dallas-Musicians Local No. 147 and Temple Emanu-El.
He is survived by his wife, Birdie; a stepdaughter, Mrs. Edward Erickson, and one grandchild.
[Source: Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), dated July 12, 1977]
Buddy Clarke, born 12/30/11, peacefully died at 4 am, 8/22, at Hospice of Miami Heart Institute, at age 96. Buddy enjoyed a full, rich life with many accomplishments. After graduation from law school, he started his working life as a violinist in New York. When the war came, he joined the Coast Guard and formed an orchestra which entertained throughout the United States.
Subsequently, he had an orchestra in Montreal, playing at the Mount Royal Hotel. Returning to New York, Buddy continued in the music business, while branching out to do publicity for Rogers & Cowan as an agent to many Hollywood stars, including Gary Cooper, Anthony Perkins, Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Redford, Shari Lewis and Sterling Hayden.
Buddy, always a spiffy dresser, favored Gary Cooper over all his clients because he taught Buddy how to dress. One of his many pleasant recollections was entertaining Elizabeth Taylor's children watching the Macy's parade from his apartment. Buddy was married to his beloved Floryn for 62 years and thought of her every day since she passed in December of 2002. Every year since then, he placed a memorial piece in the Herald. They were a very happy and devoted couple.
They came to Miami with the Jackie Gleason invasion and he immediately started another career as an entertainment critic for print, TV and radio, including Entertainment News & Views for approximately 15 years having anywhere between one and 5 articles in every issue. He was so prolific and informed that he was considered the last word on movies, plays, music and dance and was a highly respected book reviewer. In New York he was a loyal member of the Friars Club. In Miami 20 years ago a lunch group for writers was formed by Ferdie Pacheco, Howard Kleinberg and Bernardo Benes, called the Sesquipedalians. According to Pacheco, Buddy never missed a meeting even when he needed an aid to accompany him. In his 80's Buddy was appointed as Code Enforcement Judge for Miami- Dade County. Highly respected for his judgment, fairness and insight, he both loved and was highly dedicated to this responsibility.
All those who knew Buddy Clarke considered him wise and astute and a great mentor to many in the arts community and had a profound influence.
Buddy leaves a family of thousands who will miss his warm friendship, his laughter, his opinions, his ideas and knowing such a polifacetic human being.
[Source: Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), dated August 24, 2008]
Clatterbuck, Edward M.
Clatterbuck- Edward M., age 69, Co. Bluffs. Professional bass player with the Lonny Lynn Orchestra. Survived by wife of 51 years, Sharon (Larsen) Clatterbuck, of Co. Bluffs, two sons, Edward Clatterbuck and wife Terri of Yutan, NE., Ron Clatterbuck and wife Pam of Arvada, CO., grandchildren, Chelsea Gatewood of Yutan, NE., Sundance Carson, of New Braunfel, TX., Tanner and Olivia Carman both of Arvada, Co., sisters, Yvonne Stucker of Co. Bluffs, Connie Hecker and husband Mike of Silver City, IA., nieces and nephews.
Funeral service, Saturday, 11:00 a.m. at Cutler-O'Neill Funeral Home. Interment Memorial Park Cemetery. Visitation with the Family, Friday, 6-8 p.m. at the mortuary. The family will direct memorials.
[Source: Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), dated August 16, 2007]
Larry Clinton, 75, an orchestra leader, arranger and composer during the big-band era, died Thursday at the University of Arizona Medical College in Tucson. He lived in Green Valley, Ariz.
His hits included "The Dipsy Doodle," a novelty song he recorded in 1937.
He wrote and arranged for others, too. His work included "A Study in Brown," written for Glen Gray; "Satan Takes a Holiday," for Tommy Dorsey, and "Dusk in Upper Sandusky," for the Dorsey Brothers. One of his most popular arrangements was "Deep Purple."
He also was known for his adaptations from classics. From Debussy, he drew "My Reverie"; from Tchaikovsky, "Our Love," and from Flotow, "Martha."
After service as an Army Air Corps pilot in World War II, he began a career as a music publisher and record executive.
[Source: Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), dated May 8, 1985]
Big-band leader Del Courtney dies
Del Courtney, the Oakland-based big-band leader popular around the country in the 1930s who started his first orchestra at the Claremont Hotel, hosted a San Francisco TV show in the 1950s and served as music director for the Oakland Raiders until 1978, died Saturday at Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu after a weeklong bout with pneumonia. He was 95.
Mr. Courtney had lived in Hawaii since he left the Raiders but never really retired from the music business, friends said Monday.
"Life was all music to him,"said his former drummer, Bill Nawrocki of Livermore, who kept in touch with Mr. Courtney over the years. "He was the greatest guy to work for. And he kept going as long as he could, up until a couple of years ago, sometimes leading tea dances in Honolulu."
"The last time he led the band was at his 94th birthday party," said Donna Johnson, Mr. Courtney's caregiver for the past six years.
Since then, Mr. Courtney had been confined to his bed, Johnson said, but he was mentally sharp. "He was a lot of fun. He was all about music. He loved life, and music was his thing, so we played music all day long," she said.
In the big-band era, Mr. Courtney was known as "The Old Smoothie," his music lulling couples in love. He was not as famous as Tommy Dorsey or Glenn Miller, but almost.
"Compared to contemporaries like Miller and Dorsey, Mr. Courtney was active and popular at the same time but aimed more at those who preferred sweeter dance music," said Christopher Popa, a music librarian at Chicago Public Library and creator of the Big Band Library Web site, who interviewed Mr. Courtney in 2004.
"Certainly in the Bay Area, he was just as big as anyone," Popa said.
Mr. Courtney's band played nearly every major posh hotel in the United States, which locally included the Claremont, the Mark Hopkins, the St. Francis and the Fairmont hotels. Among the songs associated with his band were "Three Shades of Blue" and "Good Evening."
Those tender tunes landed him a job hosting a live variety show on KPIX-TV in the 1950s, with guests including then-unknown performers such as Johnny Mathis and Phyllis Diller. In the 1960s, he had a daily radio show aired over KSFO from the Tonga Room at the Fairmont. And he and his father opened a television store on Franklin Street in Oakland.
He played at four different presidential inaugural balls: for Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. He even appeared in a few motion pictures, including a B-movie called "It Came From Beneath the Sea." He had small TV guest roles on "Dragnet" and "San Francisco Beat."
From 1959 to 1978, he was music director for the Oakland Raiders, leading a band during the halftime shows and forming the Raiderettes. When Popa spoke with Mr. Courtney in 2004, Mr. Courtney told him he still wore a Super Bowl ring Raiders owner Al Davis had given him.
In 1971, Mr. Courtney was stricken with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which caused paralysis and left him near death. Davis was said to have visited him in the hospital every day for several months.
"Del Courtney was loved by me, by my family, by the Raider organization and by the Raider Nation," Davis said in a statement Monday. "He was a trusted friend for over 45 years. Del was one of the first people I hired when I came to Oakland in 1963. He remained part of the Raider family for the last 40 years, joining us annually from Hawaii."
In the late 1970s, Mr. Courtney led the tea dances at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, a relative said. After he moved to Honolulu in 1978, he led tea dances at the Royal Hawaiian for about 15 years. He self-published his autobiography, "Hey! The Band's Too Loud!" in 2005.
He was born in Oakland Sept. 21, 1910, and took his first piano lesson at age 9 from a woman who lived in his neighborhood — 25 cents for a half-hour lesson. He attended St. Mary's High School in Oakland and took lessons from Waterman's Jazz Piano School.
"His father wanted him to become a teacher, because he thought it was an honorable profession," Popa said.
But after attending St. Mary's College in Moraga, then the College of the Pacific in Stockton, he ended up graduating from University of California, Berkeley in 1933 with a master's degree in music and a teaching degree. He started a small jazz band on campus, then organized his first big band at the Claremont.
Mr. Courtney had no children but was married at least four times, including once to Yvonne King of the King Sisters and once to Connie Haines, who sang with Tommy Dorsey.
"It was a standing joke that he wouldn't reveal how many times he was married," Johnson said.
Funeral arrangements are pending. A service will be held in Honolulu, and burial will likely be at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Hayward, Johnson said.
[Source: Daily Review (Hayward, California), dated February 14, 2006]
Charles Craft, Big Band Leader, Known Widely As Baron Elliott
Several generations of Pittsburghers danced to his music in the heyday of the Big Band era, and many still remember Baron Elliott.
Baron Elliott, whose real name was Charles Craft, died Tuesday in Florida. He was 88. Mr. Craft, of Port Charlotte, Fla., had suffered a stroke and a heart attack in November.
Mr. Craft was born in Troy Hill and grew up in Reserve. When he was 5, his mother bought him a harmonica, sparking a lifelong love of music. A versatile young musician, he played violin, viola and bassoon in the Allegheny High School orchestra. But he wanted to be in the dance band and took up the saxophone.
After graduation, he started his own band and was hired by WJAS-AM. It was the 1930s -- the era when live music was a staple of radio programming.
He got the name Baron Elliott by chance. He asked fellow band members to drop suggested stage names for him into a hat and "Baron Elliott" came up the winner.
The Baron Elliott Orchestra went on to be staff orchestra on WCAE-AM (now WEAE) from 1940 to 1951. They were live on the air five nights a week with a half-hour show.
His was one of the so-called "territory bands," big bands that were popular on a regional level. But they also ventured to the big time venues in Chicago and Washington, D.C. A much-anticipated engagement to play in New York City was cut short by World War II and the draft.
Mr. Craft was part of the 35th Special Services Company in Europe, where he produced and performed in shows for the troops. Mr. Craft, a staff sergeant, was awarded a Bronze Star.
After the war, he returned to WCAE. "It was a very popular show with a good following," said Emil Brenkus, bass player with the band and a longtime friend. "As a result, we got a lot of bookings in the Tri-State area, especially proms and parties.
"He had some very talented people in his group," Brenkus added. Other alumni of the band include Billy May and Sam Nestico, who went on to fame as arrangers, and band leader Benny Benack.
The Baron Elliott Orchestra, which played at the William Penn Hotel, West View Park's Danceland and Kennywood, was also one of the first bands to make records for sale locally on several labels, including Decca and Musicraft. Their signature tune was "Stardust Memories."
An article in Jazz Journal summed up his lyrical playing style: "The dancers loved the Baron's styling, and that was his primary goal. In the 1930s, the quality of his lovely alto sax was unsurpassed."
Mr. Craft, who also worked in sales at several area car dealerships, retired in 1981.
Over the years, many of those who danced to the Baron's band in local dance halls never forgot him. "You could never go anywhere with him without being stopped," recalls his daughter, Darlene Schramm of Ross.
Even in recent years, he continued to play for some of his longtime fans. Sam Pugliano, radio host of the long-running "Sam's Polka Party "on WKHB-AM, met Mr. Craft in recent years through the Musicians' Union. He last saw him in September, playing for residents at one of the Kane Regional Center homes. "He came out by himself and he just sounded so good," Pugliano recalls. "The residents loved him."
Mr. Craft is survived by his daughter; a sister, Marie Lyons of Reserve; and two grandchildren.
Visitation will be at Schellhaas Funeral Home, 388 Center Ave., West View, from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today and tomorrow. A Mass will be celebrated Saturday at 10 a.m. in St. Sebastian Church, Ross.
The family suggests memorial contributions be made to the music program at St. Sebastian School.
[Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), dated February 6, 2003]
Xavier Cugat, 90, dies of heart failure
Barcelona, Spain (AP) - Xavier Cugat, the bandleader who introduced tropical rhythms of the rhumba to millions of Americans, died today in a Barcelona hospital, his doctors said. He was 90.
Cugat died of heart failure because of arterial sclerosis, doctors Jorge Rius and Jaime Pujadas said in a statement.
He checked into the hospital Oct. 8 with a lung infection and failure of his left ventricle.
"Coogie," as he became known to millions of Americans and Europeans, became a star in the early 1930s playing Latin dance music at the Coconut Grove club of the Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel and later at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.
He and his band, the Gigolos, were featured in several popular Hollywood movies in the 1940s and 1950s.
Born Jan. 1, 1900, in San Cugat del Valles near Barcelona, Cugat began as a violinist at age 12 with the Havana Symphony in Cuba, where his parents moved when he was 4.
He moved to New York that same year and became a U.S. citizen three years later.
Unable to find much work as a classical musician, he made his way to Hollywood, where he drew caricatures of movie stars for the Los Angeles Times.
Rudolf Valentino told Cugat he had to dance the tango in a silent film and asked the musician to put together a band to accompany him. That was the beginning of Cugat and his Gigolos, who thanks to Valentino, got an engagement at the legendary Coconut Grove, which led to spots at Al Capone's Chez Paris in Chicago, the Hotel Chase in St. Louis and more than a decade at New York's Waldorf Astoria. Cugut played the violin and directed the band with his bow. "I learned very early that everyone in the United States specialized in something," Cugat explained in a 1986 interview, "so I decided to specialize in tropical music -- we called it the rhumba abierta then. Today they call it salsa, but it's all basically the same thing." His splashy, tropical Hollywood films like "Neptune's Daughter," in which he starred with Esther Williams and Red Skelton in 1949, made his name a household word.
Cugat had a history of heart ailments and high blood pressure and was hospitalized in Los Angeles before he gave up his band and returned to Spain in 1978.
But despite further heart problems and hospitalization, he formed a new 16-piece band at the age of 86 and began touring throughout Spain.
Cugat was married and divorced five times. His wives were Cuban Rita Montaner, Mexican Carmen Castillo, Chicago-born Lorraine Allen, Brooklyn-born Abbe Lane and Spaniard Charo Baeza, known professionally as Charo.
"If I had it to do all over I'd marry the same ones," he said. "We always divorced for our careers. You cannot play the violin in Philadelphia when your wife is in Rome making a movie with Marcelo Mastroianni."
Cugat had no children but raised dogs and wrote two books -- "I, Cugat" and "My Wives."
[Source: The Evening Tribune (San Diego, California), dated October 27, 1990]
Bandleader Xavier Cugat, 'Rumba King,' Dies at 90, Musician
He was credited with being a prime mover in Latin-American rhythm craze of the 1930s and '40s
Bandleader Xavier Cugat, who began playing in a symphony orchestra at the age of 10 and went on to become known as the "Rumba King" of the 1930s and '40s, died Saturday in Spain. He was 90.
Cugat died at the Quiron Clinic in Barcelona, where he had been in intensive care with heart and lung problems. Cugat, who was born in Barcelona, had lived in that city for the last 18 years.
A onetime musical child prodigy and classical violinist, Cugat's adult career was devoted to popular music and he was credited with being a prime mover in the Latin-American rhythm craze of the 1930s and '40s.
But he always considered himself more an entertainer and showman than a musician - and made no apology for it.
"I play music," he said, "make an atmosphere that people enjoy. It makes them happy. They smile. They dance. Feel good--who be sorry for that?"
He was also a discoverer of talent: Dinah Shore and the late Desi Arnaz both acknowledged their debt to "Cugie," the bandleader who helped them take their first steps toward success.
He was also an authentic child of the century, born Jan. 1, 1900, in Barcelona.
Because his life also ended there, it would be easy to think of the city as his "home town." But Cugat did not think of it in that light.
"The first city I remember," he said in a 1960 interview, "was Havana. My father was a political refugee from Spain--yes, they had them, even back then--and we moved to Cuba when I was 3. It was lucky, too, because we moved in across the street from a violin-maker and when I was 4 he gave me a Christmas present. . . ."
It was a quarter-size violin and the bandleader's brother, portraitist Francis Cugat, said the instrument was almost never out of young Xavier's hand.
Educated ("When I couldn't find a way to get out of it") by the Jesuits and also by Cuban music teachers ("I was willing to spend more time with them, you know") Cugat began playing with a symphony orchestra in Havana when he was 10; at 12 he was first violinist.
That's what he was doing a few years later when Enrico Caruso came to perform with the orchestra.
By the time Caruso's engagement was through, the great tenor had formed a close friendship with the boy violinist and arranged for him to accompany him on a tour of America.
"And that," Cugat laughed, "was how I started drawing. . . . "
Caruso, he explained, was an accomplished cartoonist-caricaturist as well as a great performer. Each would pass the time drawing barbed characterizations of friends and acquaintances. But the tour didn't last long.
"He died (in 1921) shortly after I got to New York," Cugat said, "and there I was, no friends and not a word of English. And not much money."
Carrying his violin case, the young man wandered around the city until he found a restaurant with a Spanish name and someone inside who spoke the language. He got a job there playing 14 hours a day for meals and a place to sleep. "But no money," he said. "And it went on for quite a while."
Finally, however, he said he managed to find work with a symphony orchestra--on tour--and picked up enough English to defend himself. Still, as a career, he admitted to doubts.
"When I came out West in the 1920s," he said, "I still wanted to be a concert violinist. But I was beginning to suspect I was not the best. It happens when you grow up, you know?"
Nonetheless, he became one of the first solo musicians to play on radio; he performed on WDY, Camden, N.J., in 1921, and in the 1920s was a featured soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
"But it wasn't enough money to live on--not the way I wanted to live," he said. "And so I went to work for a newspaper. It was The Los Angeles Times."
The Times job lasted from 1924 to 1925, but Cugat the artist found it difficult to be humorous on demand for the rotogravure pages.
"When they tell you to be funny by 10:30 tomorrow morning," he said, "I can't do it--I finally quit, and get these six guys to play commercial music with me."
Well--almost commercial. They were a Latin music combo, and in the 1920s (Rudolph Valentino notwithstanding) such rhythms were considered "gigolo music" and demand was limited. Cugat eked out his living between engagements scoring and doing other odd jobs for Warner Bros.
He even filmed a test short in sound before "The Jazz Singer" helped usher in the sound age in motion pictures.
But it was all uphill work.
"What made it nice," he said later, "was the kids working there at the time. My niece, a dancer called Margo, (later the film star of that single name) was in one little short we did, and so was Rita (Margarita) Cansino, who used to dance with her father, Eduardo, in the border spots.
"That Rita, she was 12 years old then. I didn't see her for the next 15 years--and when I did she had a new name and a lot more besides. The new name was Rita Hayworth."
Their reunion was on the set of Cugat's first movie, "You Were Never Lovelier" in 1942 in which the late Miss Hayworth starred--and a lot had happened to the bandleader in the intervening years.
When Gus Arnheim's was "the" dance band at the Cocoanut Grove (Arnheim had a talented young vocalist named Bing Crosby) Cugat's little Latin band filled in with rumbas and tangos during the intermissions.
There was a daily broadcast over KFWB, too; three violinists named Cugat, Leon Belasco and Russ Columbo.
But his big break came when he was booked into the Starlight Roof of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City. His music was a hit there, and became a fixture in what became known as the "Cugat Room" of the Waldorf for nearly a decade.
The first movie was followed by "Go West Young Man," "Tropicana," "Bathing Beauty," "Two Girls and a Sailor," "Holiday In Mexico," "This Time For Keeps," "A Date With Judy," "Weekend at the Waldorf," "No Love, No Leave," "Luxury Liner," "Neptune's Daughter" and others.
Usually he played himself, frequently his caricatures were also featured (he also designed the "curtain of the stars" for Sid Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood) and always he made music.
There were frequent appearances, too, on radio.
And he was frequently in the headlines--but not as a musician.
Cugat's first marriage, to band singer Carmen Elena Castillo in 1929, ended in divorce in 1944; his second, to Lorraine Allen in 1947 ended the same way in 1952--the year he married singer Abbe Lane, from whom he was divorced shortly before his 1966 marriage to Charro Baeza, from whom he was divorced in 1978. Only the last divorce was quiet.
The others featured charges and counter-charges of infidelity. Dress designer Oleg Cassini and Cugat once exchanged punches outside the Mocambo nightclub over Cassini's alleged attentions to Cugat's wife. The second Mrs. Cugat and several detectives once broke into a hotel room to confront Cugat and Abbe Lane. And then Cugat broke into the apartment he shared with Abbe Lane during the final year of their marriage.
"I like women--all women," he said in the brief interregnum between his third and fourth marriages. "Also, there is my temperament. I am Latin. I excite. For me, this is life."
Less expensive, but as full of publicity, was Cugat's testimony before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Commerce Committee investigating television quiz show rigging in the late 1950s.
Cugat admitted that he had been coached by an assistant producer of the "$64,000 Challenge" quiz game, in which he won $16,000 for his apparent knowledge of popular music.
"I did it strictly--strictly--for the publicity," Cugat said, adding that he had donated his winnings to an orphanage in Cuba.
Years passed and the public fascination with South American dance rhythms gradually faded. But Cugat's personal and musical popularity continued only slightly abated.
His film appearances ceased. But he continued to make an occasional television appearance--and his band remained a popular draw on the road and especially in Las Vegas--until a stroke left him partially paralyzed in 1969.
Although he recovered almost entirely, his health remained delicate and after his fourth divorce he moved back to the "home town" he had never really known, in Spain.
"Beautiful," he said. "A beautiful city. And peaceful--a good place to be.
"But I'm still glad my father moved us to Havana. And that the man who lived across the street was a violin-maker. Lucky! Sure. Think of it: What if that man across the street had been a maker of shoes?"
[Source: Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California), dated October 28, 1990]
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