The Gypsy Barons of Detroit
14 September 2010
Posted by Mike Brubaker
In 1922 the Detroit News expanded into commercial radio with the station WWJ , originally at 580 kHz and later in 1927 at 920 kHz. These were powerful stations that broadcast an AM signal a considerable distance across the midwest. The first radio stations started in 1920 but within a year there were hundreds around the country. Radio was a fast growing communication medium but it really had no connection to the conventions of the theater or the concert hall. This was new technology and everything had to be invented and tried, at least once. Gypsy music was a popular style in the 1920's.
These guys (and maybe gal - the trombonist at the back looks curiously feminine) seem more swarthy than your average polka band. Several could be related. There is only the group's name written on the back of the photo, but could they be a genuine Romani band?
During the early 20th century, Detroit was considered to have America's largest concentration of Romani (i.e. Gypsy) people. Mostly from Romania and eastern Europe, they settled in Michigan and established numerous Romanian Orthodox churches. More here - History of Detroit Romanian Community
This band was playing to a local crowd and probably worked the various clubs and social events of the Romani community. This photo was likely used by the newspaper for radio promotion but as a studio portrait it captures the character of an early pop band. Note there are two horns seated on the left. The horn is not typically associated with gypsy brass bands. There are three trumpets too, not cornets as might be expected if this was a decade earlier. Despite the low fidelity of early radio, one imagines that this band could really pump out the sound.