This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Navy Band of the USS Minneapolis

12 December 2014

A bass drum makes an excellent billboard to advertise the name of a band. It is the first thing I look for in an old photograph and this drum made it easy to identify the US Navy Band of the USS Minneapolis. The Nineteen musicians arranged on the ship's deck are wearing the older style US Navy blue uniforms and flat caps. Seated in the center behind the drum is their bandmaster wearing a bow tie. Note the small E-flat clarinet on the right which was the typical high piccolo instrument of military bands, while on the left is a bandsman with the standard B-flat clarinet..

USS Minneapolis C-13

The USS Minneapolis belonged to a class of battleship called a protected cruiser. She was 413 ft (126 m) long with a displacement of 7,375 long tons and had a crew of 477 officers and enlisted men. Built in Philadelphia and commissioned in 1894 the Minneapolis was part of a major expansion of the US Naval fleet in the 1880s. During the Spanish-American war of 1898 the ship initially was part of the North Atlantic squadron and later moved to duty in the Caribbean. Almost immediately after the war ended in August 1898, the Minneapolis was decommissioned. Like many battleships of this era that had coal fired steam engines, the ship was periodically removed from duty until needed. Prior to World War One her last service finished in 1906.

USS Minneapolis C-13 in 1898

In 1917 when the United States entered the war, the Minneapolis returned to active duty in July and made 4 voyages across the Atlantic escorting American convoys taking troops and military supplies to Europe. After the war in 1919, the Minneapolis was reassigned to San Diego, California as flagship of the Pacific fleet. In 1921 she was decommissioned for the last time and sold for scrap. Her mast and ship's bell were saved and are now displayed near Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis.

The postcard of the band was part of a collection of several photos from an estate sale. This postcard shows the Chief Petty Officers of the USS Minneapolis, and I believe the bandmaster may be in this photo too.  It is difficult to tell with certainty but I think he is the man standing third from the right.

The back of the card has a penciled note which might be from the dealer, but there is a nice rubber stamp from the navy photographer of USS Minneapolis C-13 that makes it an official navy photo. In July 1920, the navy reclassified the ship as the CA-17. Since such a change would surely have required the photographer to get a new stamp, any postcards with C-13 must be from before that date.

Also in the estate sale was this photo of the USS Minneapolis band on parade. Here they wear the familiar white sailors caps, blue uniforms and white leggings. The bandmaster leads them from the front with a long drum major's baton. 

The back of the postcard has the same rubber stamp mark of the ship's photographer and a note that the parade was in San Francisco. Though that is certainly possible, the buildings seem more like Southern California so I suspect it might be in San Diego where the ship was based. Since the Minneapolis as the C-13 did not get to the Pacific until 1919, all three photos are likely from that year, though the first two could be earlier from 1917-18.

What  makes the Minneapolis band's photo most interesting is a detail that could easily be overlooked. Standing on the left is a trombonist whose complexion is not the same as the other bandsmen. The US Navy, like most of the nation, was very segregated in this era, so it is very unusual to see a man of color in a band like this. I believe he is Filipino as the Philippines were acquired in 1898 by the United States in the settlement of the Spanish-American War. From 1900 to 1935 the islands had a troubled history under U.S. civil administration. In 1901 the US Navy was ordered to add 500 Filipinos to the force, most serving as ship stewards. But a few talented musicians were accepted into the navy bands as seen in my 2013 story on a Filipino Navy Band from 1912. 

If we look at a closeup we can see the same man marching in the parade too.

A few rows back is another bandsman with darker skin. Because his instrument is tucked under his arm we can't determine what he played. Could he be Filipino as well? He might be African-American but this would be very unusual for 1919. In any case the postcards show a rare element of diversity that was not common to American society at this time.

One last bit of history on the USS Minneapolis I found particularly unsettling especially when considering the date of these photos. In a very long list of non-combat casualties compiled by the Department of the Navy, a record of the ship appears for January 1918 when the USS Minneapolis reported 21 cases of influenza while it was in the Philadelphia navy yard. It was the first occurrence on a navy ship and it quickly spread throughout the fleet claiming the lives of over 5,000 sailors before it abated in 1920. Millions of people perished from the great influenza pandemic,  far more than were killed during the war years. The actual origin of this deadly virus is still debated in medical science though the source is now believed to be China. But certainly the transmission of this illness was exacerbated by the use of military ships for transporting hundreds of thousands servicemen back and forth across the Atlantic. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where sailors are often on parade.

About a Dog

06 December 2014

There once was a dog that we'll call Beau
and one day he felt awfully low. 

It seems his gal whose name was Jane
was out of sorts and had a pain.

Her daddy he was known as Joe
and on a cornet he could blow.

A brassy noise came out the end
and poor old Beau it did offend.

He couldn't help but start to howl,
which made little Jane commence to yowl.

The noise they made was so dreadful bad
it made the photographer a trifle mad.

"Enough!" he cried. "Be silent, please."
and gave the shutter bulb a squeeze.

A gloomy photo it may be,
but what fun it is for us to see. 

>>> <<<

This unhappy family trio are unknown as the photograph has no marks on the back. The photography studio of Kenney and Brewer of Redwood Falls, Minnesota was only in operation in 1896 according to the information listed under F. H. Brewer in the Minnesota Historical Society's directory of photographers. The other photographer was Clifford C. Kenney,  born 1854, and he was active for a few more years – 1896 to 1900 in Redwood Falls and kept studios in other Minnesota towns to the southwest of Minneapolis.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
for more dog tales click the link.

The Ladies of Wien

28 November 2014

The young ladies of Wien

are unlike girls of Berlin.

Their music has charms

but their faces alarm.

They are so much better
when heard and not seen.

Die Wiener Damenkapelle
The Viennese Ladies Band

A postcard from Wien – Vienna, circa 1910
of a seven member "ladies" band/orchestra and their bandmaster.
All their individual first names are written over the band's name.
Notice that they all wear wristwatches too.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everything is not what it seems.

Brown's Family Orchestra

21 November 2014

Some puzzles turn out to be more challenging than they first appear. The solution seems tantalizingly apparent but somehow remains concealed. For some time this musical photo has been a riddle that remained unsolved. At least it was until this week when its secret was finally unlocked. The answer turned out to more interesting than expected.

It is a postcard photo of a family band posed outdoors in a field. Their name is displayed on the bass drum.
Brown's Family Orchestra
Wilmington, Del.
Father and mother stand on the left behind their five young children. All wear durable band uniforms with heavy capes and military style caps. Father holds a French horn which, because it is my instrument too, is the reason the photo first intrigued my interest. Mother has a tenor saxophone and in descending age the children hold a tuba, drum, cornet, alto horn and alto saxophone. The oldest boy appears about age 13 while the two on the right might be 5 or 6. Are they boys or girls? Maybe twins? The bobbed hair style suggests 1920s or 1930s. They have the look of a professional family band, a musical tradition that has its own album in my collection. The two stories that most resemble this group are the Lehr Family Orchestra and the Biehl Family Orchestra. Both of those groups included a violin player which at a stretch allowed for the term orchestra, but the Brown's instrumentation is just a small seven piece wind band. 

The back of the card has a note that reads
Harvest Home

A name, a place, a date. This puzzle seems pretty easy. But the question of who they are turned out to be a difficult question to answer.

_ _

The surname Brown is perhaps one of the most common in America, and quite a few live in Wilmington, Delaware. The date of 1925 makes the censuses of 1920 and 1930 of limited usefulness, since searching for a husband and wife named Brown with 5 children produced too many possible matches.

The note also adds confusion as it refers to a fairground called the Bullion Harvest Home which is in Venango County, Pennsylvania, some 300 miles from Wilmington. This private park was the property of Perry Edward Hoffman who established it near his farm west of the Alleghenies near Franklin, PA and rented it out for family reunions and fraternal society events.

Even the name Brown Family Orchestra proved problematic as there were several other groups with that same name beginning in the 1880s and going into the 1960s. The photo is actually on the Delaware State Heritage website but there is no information provided. No full name and no date.

It was a puzzle. Who exactly was this jovial family of musicians?

This week I tried searching again in which is a super archive that I only recently added to my list of research sites. Instead of orchestra I substituted band, and Bingo! the lock clicked open.

The Neosho MO Times
October 14, 1926

A detailed announcement of a Unique Program coming to the Orpheum Theater appeared in the Neosho MO Times for October 14, 1926. The Famous Brown Family Band was to perform.

The company includes Ralph, 15 years, bass; Vera, 12, the only girl, plays drums, traps, bells and xylophone; Martin, 9, the cornet; and Albert, 7, the cymbals and alto, while Mrs. Brown plays the piano and saxaphone (sic) and Mr. Brown, director, is master of the violin and French horn, and last but far from least is Gordon, the youngest of all who is past master of the saxaphone. 

In all it is just a true American family of musicians.

The family traveled with its own tutor, a licensed school teacher who made sure that Whether in Maine or California the Brown juniors get the instruction just the same as if they were in their school at home.

_ _

Riverside CA Daily Press
February 2, 1927

The Brown family band was next mentioned in a report from the Riverside CA Daily Press of February 2, 1927.

The family consists of Mr. and Mrs. H. H. Brown and five children, whose ages are 18, 12, 11, 10, 8 years respectively. Their home is in Delaware. Last winter they played in Florida and last summer at Revere Beach, near Boston. When crossing the continent they stopped along the route and played at theaters. They traveled in a well-equipped house on wheels. A school teacher accompanies them at all times, so the children keep up with the public schools.

_ _

With those initials and names I quickly found them in the 1920 census for Wilmington Delaware. Herbert Brown, age 36 was born in Pennsylvania and worked as a Contractor. His wife's name was Luella Brown, age 34, and five children, Ralph, age 10; Verna, 5; Martin, 4; Albert, 2; and Gordon, 1. The father's draft card from 1918 gave his full name as Herbert Hinmon Brown and he worked for a company that made components for shipbuilding and railway rolling stock. How did he become a master of the violin and horn, two instruments with very different musical disciplines? Was he from a musical or theatrical family? That's a question that may never get answered. 

1920 U.S. Census, Wilmington, DE

Rocford IL Republic
September 25, 1926
According to the several newspaper notices that I found, the Brown family performed around the country from Florida to Massachusetts to California from 1925 to 1928 playing vaudeville theaters, county fairs, dance halls, church socials and the like. They traveled in a kind of early motor home described as an auto pullman car. I have been unable to find a picture of this vehicle, but it may have been a large converted bus or a house trailer towed behind a car. It even had a fold-out platform that Mr. Brown had built which the family used whenever they needed a stage.

In September 1926, Mr. Brown got into a dispute with a tourist camp near Rockford, IL which charged him 50¢ even thought the signs to the campground read "Free Tourist Camp".

In the 1920s most people used the trains to move around the United States. The interstate motorways did not exist and even the few numbered national highways were largely incomplete. Recreational camping was still a novelty and for a family of 8 people, including the tutor, to crisscross the country in these years was a formidable logistic feat.

How long they maintained this lifestyle is unknown but the dates suggest that it was more than just a summertime activity and evidently they made enough money to keep going. Undoubtedly the decline of the vaudeville theater circuit and the new popularity of movies with sound and then the rise of radio contributed to the end of traveling show business families. The Brown family decided to leave Wilmington and relocate to Shreveport, LA.

_ _

  Neosho MO Daily Democrat
October 16, 1926

Their Neosho, MO performance received several writeups in the papers. One report made special mention of the two youngest musicians, Albert and Gordon and corrected their respective instruments. Albert had the nickname of "Pud" Brown and was promoted as a seven (actually 8) year old saxophone wonder.  In a closeup of the band we can see that Albert Pud Brown is the older  boy on the right holding the alto saxophone.

Instead of picking up "Al" or "Bert" as a nickname, the family called him "Pud". The appellation stuck and he continued to use it for the rest of his life. Had the Neosho report left out this detail we might never learn about the rest of the Brown's story.

Though the family's roving life came to an end, Pud Brown chose to make his career as a professional musician playing saxophone and clarinet. He settled in Chicago which had become a booming center for jazz music as a result of Chicago's prohibition era nightclub scene. His specialty was in Dixieland music but his talent found him work playing with many well known bands like Phil Lavant's orchestra in 1938 and then Lawrence Welk's band where he met his future wife in 1941. During the war he returned briefly to Shreveport but Hollywood beckoned and he moved to Los Angeles where he was a sideman in the bands of Les Brown, Coleman Hawkins, Doc Cheatham, Kid Ory, and Louis Armstrong among many others. In 1975 he returned to Louisiana and the birthplace of American jazz – New Orleans. He played in Clive Wilson's Original Camelia Brass Band and was a regular featured musician at the French Quarter's Palm Court Jazz Cafe.  He was celebrated in jazz circles as one of the best of traditional Dixieland soloists on clarinet and saxophone.

Pud Brown died on May 27, 1996 and his obituary was written up in several newspapers including the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Independent. Some made just a mention of his early years touring in the family band but I don't know that anyone has ever made his connection to the postcard of Brown's Family Orchestra.

 Jazz Funeral for Albert "Pud" Brown, May 1996
Source: Wikimedia

Of course the musicians of New Orleans had to give one of their own a time-honored jazz funeral parade. Someone has generously posted several photos of their tribute on Wikimedia and this one shows the parade leader starting off under a traditional umbrella while holding a large photograph of Albert "Pud" Brown (1917 - 1996). You can see more at this link.

Solving a photo riddle always provides a satisfaction, but the surprise of discovering it was a very youthful photo of a celebrated musician makes this a very special reward. The bonus came from YouTube with a chance to actually hear Pud Brown and get a sense of what his family band sounded like. 

_ _

Pete Daily and his Chicagoans was a Dixieland band led by the cornet player Pete Daily. He started his band in Chicago but in 1942 moved to Hollywood and formed a 7 piece band. It included Pud Brown on clarinet and saxophone and may be the reason why he moved there. The band made several short films in 1951 and here are two which feature Pud. The first is called Goat Blues and Pud takes a solo at about 1:40.



This second clip is entitled Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone. and Pud Brown starts the tune playing tenor saxophone. This uptempo song by Sam H. Stept with lyrics by Sidney Clare was published in 1930 but shares essentially the same chords and melody structure as an earlier song from the 1920s – Has Anybody Seen My Gal? also known as Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue. It was a very popular melody in 1925, the same year that Brown's Family Band was touring. I suspect that Pud knew it backwards and forwards. 



But wait! For my friends at Sepia Saturday, there's a dog too!

Neosha MO Times
October 14, 1926

And not just any dog, but Sandow the World's Greatest Dog!

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more family stories that may include a dog or two.


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP