Remembering past bandleaders, musicians, arrangers and ballroom operators.
Fats Waller Dies In K.C. From Heart Attack
Thomas (Fats) Waller, 39 years old, noted musician, composer and bandleader, died in his sleep in a stateroom on a train in the Union Station yards. The 278-pound musician’s unusual career came to an end as Wallace T. (Ed) Kirkeby, Brooklyn, his manager, attempted to shake him into consciousness.
Heard Gasping for Breath
Kirkeby said he was sleeping in the berth above Waller and was awakened at 5 o’clock by Waller’s gasping for breath. When he could not arouse him, he called for the train porter to summon a physician. A physician from the General hospital arrived in a few minutes and pronounced Waller dead. It was believed it was caused by a heart attack. Waller and his manager were on their way from Los Angeles to fill engagements. Kirkeby said Waller was pronounced recovered by a Los Angeles physician after a 10-day confinement with the flu.
The body was ordered moved to a mortuary here to await instructions from the wife, Mrs. Anita Waller, in New York, by Edward Robinson, deputy coroner. Robinson said it was believed death resulted from a heart attack. A further examination of the cause of death was to be made.
The musician’s name was Thomas Wright Waller. He attended Paderewski concerts in New York at the age of 10, studied under Carl Bohm and Leopold Godowski, and regarded lowdown boogie-woogie as definitely beneath his nimbly-fingered piano. Despite his respect for the classics, he paid taxes on a reputed income of $72,000 in 1941 – and jazz did it.
Composed Hit Tunes
Waller composed such hits as “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Feets Too Big,” the music for “Connie’s Hot Chocolates,” “Keep Shufflin’” and the current Broadway success “Ear to Bed.”
For appearing with a 13-piece accompanying band, he was paid $4,000 a week, but Waller preferred to play with a 5-piece combination at $2,500 a week because he said the smaller orchestra was more flexible.
He was equally famous in Great Britain and Scandinavia, where he spent a total of 20 weeks in 1938 and 1939.
Fat’s father was Rev. Edward Waller, pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist church in New York, one of the nation’s largest Negro congregations.
Church Organist at 10
Fats started playing the organ in church when he was 10 and at 14 was playing professionally in a Harlem movie-vaudeville house.
Waller started on the road to national fame around 1932, playing on the early morning “Rhythm Club” of station WLW, Cincinnati, and then was called back to New York as a sustaining artist on the Columbia network.
When not touring the country, Waller lived in a 7-room English brick house in St. Albans, Long Island, where his favorite pastime was playing his piano or his electric organ. He enjoyed playing an electric organ so much that while on tour he invariable rented one so he could play in his hotel room.
Kirkeby said he believed the funeral services would be in New York. The bandleader leaves, besides his wife, three sons, Thomas Waller, Jr., 21, in an army camp at Coffeyville, Kan., and Maurice Waller, 16, and Ronald Waller, 15, of the home.
Source: The Plaindealer (Kansas), dated December 17, 1943
Ted Weems, Bandleader, Dies in Tulsa
Tulsa, Okla. (AP) - Ted Weems, a bandleader since he was a grade school student, died Monday night of a lung ailment and complicating pulmonary infection which had kept him hospitalized here for almost eight weeks.
The 62-year-old musician had had earlier bouts with emphysema, a lung disease, before he came to Tulsa to play an engagement with his band in March and suffered another attack. He lived at 6203 Bordeaux, in Dallas.
Weems' wife had been in Tulsa since soon after he was stricken. Other survivors include a son, Ted Jr., of Dallas, his mother, Mrs. Victoria Weems, Hamilton, Ohio, and a brother, Robert, of Cincinnati.
The funeral is to be held in Bethesda, Md.
Perhaps his best known record was "Heartaches," featuring the whistling of Elmo Tanner.
Many noted entertainers began their careers with Weems, including singers Perry Como and Marilyn Maxwell.
[Source: Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), dated May 7, 1963]
Lawrence Welk, the smiling maestro whose danceable Champagne Music entertained millions of Americans during his 30 years on television, died Sunday. He was 89.
Welk had been battling pneumonia, a spokesman said.
The affable, German-accented band leader toured the country for 25 years early in his career without making much impression in the music business. But from the time he appeared on Los Angeles television in 1951, his lilting music attracted an adoring audience, mostly those of mature years. He appeared on television regularly until 1982 and has continued in reruns.
Welk, who accompanied his musicians with his accordion and danced a graceful waltz with his Champagne Lady vocalist, never wavered from the easy- listening, melodic style he started playing in his native North Dakota. His phrases ''Ah-one, ah-two'' and ''wunnerful, wunnerful'' became part of the nation's lexicon.
''We try to please our audience,'' he told an interviewer in 1964. ''We try to bring it some joy, happiness and relaxation and always to be in good taste - the kind of entertainment that should come into the home.''
The formula worked. Swing, rock and roll, bebop and other pop genres came and went, but Welk's easy-listening schmaltz always found an audience.
Welk's accent came from his parents, who were born in Alsace-Lorraine, a region of present-day France that was once part of Germany. In 1892 they emigrated and settled on a farm near Strasburg, N.D.
Welk got his start playing with pickup bands, then started his own ''Biggest Little Band in America.'' Over the years he developed the style that would make him famous: bouncing, effervescent, with a steady beat that invited dancing. He found the name for it while broadcasting from the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh in 1938.
In his 1971 autobiography, Wunnerful, Wunnerful, Welk recalled his radio announcer telling about his fan mail: ''They say that dancing to your music is like sipping champagne. Lawrence, you've got yourself some Champagne Music!' ''
In 1951, Welk's manager, Sam Lutz, booked the band into the Aragon Ballroom on the Ocean Park pier in Los Angeles. Lutz also persuaded TV station KTLA to broadcast from the Aragon.
The May 2, 1951, telecast brought a flood of calls. After two years of high ratings, the show was picked up as a summer replacement on ABC.
The Lawrence Welk Show continued on ABC for 16 years, ending in 1971. Instead of fading away, the show was syndicated on 248 stations in the United States and Canada.
The Lawrence Welk Show gave the last of its 1,542 performances on Feb. 25, 1982.
Welk ended his career in 1989. He and his wife, Fern, whom he married in 1931, made their home in his Champagne Towers complex in Santa Monica.
In addition to his wife, Welk is survived by a son, Lawrence Jr.; two daughters, Shirley Fredricks and Donna Mack; 10 grandchildren and one great- granddaughter. Funeral arrangements were incomplete.
[Source: The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee), dated May 19, 1992]
Band Member Killed in Crash
Tommy Dorsey Cancels One Engagement
North Platte, Neb. (AP) – Ray Wetzel, 350-pound trumpet player for the Tommy Dorsey band, was killed in an auto accident near Sedgwick, Colo. Mr. Wetzel was traveling in a private auto, while most of the other bandsmen came to North Platte in the band’s bus. Although a capacity crowd had assembled for the North Platte dance, Mr. Dorsey canceled the engagement and admissions were returned.
Mr. Wetzel’s wife and others in the car said that the car in which they were riding had a blowout, sideswiped a stock truck and crashed into a bridge. Mr. Wetzel died of chest injuries en route to a hospital. His body was taken to Juleseburg, Colo. None of the others in the car was seriously injured.
The bandleader said he would attempt to have a friend of Mr. Wetzel join the band in time to make a scheduled appearance in Lincoln Saturday night.
[Source: Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), dated August 18, 1951]
Whiteman, King of Jazz, Dead at 77
By Alden Whitman
New York Times News Service
Rotund, jovial and sleek, with thinning black hair glossed against his head pompadour style, a round face and a pencil-thin black mustache, Paul Whiteman reigned supreme as the monarch of sweet, danceable jazz in the 1920s and early 1930s. Whiteman died of a heart attack Friday at the age of 77.
As a bandleader, he made ragtime respectable by orchestrating its rhythmic patters. At the same time, he introduced symphonic jazz through George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," which he commissioned, and through Ferde Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite," which he played. And, in a series of memorable performances, he brought his toe-tapping dance music into the concert hall and to the attention of serious critics.
In the era of the Stutz Bearcat, the raccoon coat and the hip flask, Whiteman was the hero of flaming youth. In night clubs and hotels and ballrooms they danced all night to such favorites as "Yes, We Have No Bananas," "Whispering," "The Japanese Sandman," "Dance of the Hours" and "Three O'Clock in the Morning."
Thousands more danced to these tunes at home by playing one of Whiteman's recordings or by tuning radios to his broadcasts.
Those who listened to Whiteman's band in the 1920s heard a number of jazzmen and vocalists who were later celebrated in their own right. The instrumentalists included Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo and the Dorsey Brothers, Jimmy and Tommy. Among singers, Whiteman introduced "The Rhythm Boys" - Bing Crosby, Al Rinker and Harry Barris. Mildred Bailey sang with his band, as did Jane Froman and Morton Downey.
As a conductor, Whiteman was somewhat less than dynamic. Looking like a Dutch miller, he flicked a small baton, twitched an elbow or crooked an eyebrow. Virtually his only consistent movement was to wag his head to the band's rhythms. His talent lay in an instinctive ability to add a catchy ingredient to a tune.
In rehearsal, with his shirt unbuttoned and a golf cap askew on his head, he gave a score its finishing touches - a banjo swipe here, a comedy trumpet there.
Grofe, Whiteman's brilliant pianist, made his arrangements. Even so, Whiteman could tell rather little about a composition from reading it, and he made his additions after hearing his men play a piece.
For all his seeming indolence of the bandstand, Whiteman was a consummate showman. Not only did he play his brand of jazz in the world's most fashionable concert halls, but he also, for a time, conducted his group of 46 musicians from atop a white horse in New York's old Hippodrome.
[Source: Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), dated December 30, 1967]
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