The Biehl Family Orchestra
17 December 2009
Posted by Mike Brubaker
This is a photo of the Biehl Family Orchestra. The distinguished gentleman is Anthony Biehl of Davenport, Iowa. With him are three daughters - Lucy the oldest, on clarinet, Leona on the horn, and Grace the youngest, on cornet. I don't believe the other young ladies, the drummer and trombonist, are related.
Tony, as he was known, was born in Pennsylvania in 1860 and his daughters were born in Davenport in 1883, 1885, 1889 respectively, so judging from their apparent ages, this photo was taken around 1902-1906. Tony has A.F.M. (American Federation of Musicians) embroidered on his collar so he considered himself a proud member of the musician's union. He owned a mandolin factory in Davenport and was a popular performer and teacher of music. His wife, Lulu, is not pictured but she was a musician as well on saxophone. Grace Biehl became an important promotion as a young cornet soloist, but Leona is most unusual to play the horn at this time.
In the 1910 census, they list their occupation as vaudeville actors. They were one of many family groups touring the small mid-west "opera houses". After WWI these entertainments brought their own setups and were known as tent shows, and the Biehl family joined the Dubinsky Brothers Stock Company, which ran several touring tent productions. The whole family acted in comedies and melodramas, and played music as well, mostly out of Jefferson City, Missouri. The daughters married other performers and after their father's death in 1929 they kept the production going as the Biehl Sisters Orchestra at least until 1937 or even later.