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 Youngest Band Leader

01 February 2013

In today's viral internet world, cuteness is a quality measured in hits. It's the number we use to assess which video in the endless stream of cuddly kittens, loveable pups, and dancing babies is the most distracting image in our modern daily life.

I think vintage photographs should also have a proper unit of measurement for cute - the Antique Adorable Winsome Scale or AAWS, and this small boy dressed in a band leader's uniform should easily rate 9.9 AAWS.

You can wave to him now.

The unmarked photo, produced by White, a noted theatrical photography studio at 1261 Broadway in New York City, might seem to be just another young boy with a stick and wearing a hat one-size too small. Surely there would be more to his story if we just knew his name.

Which we do. He is Roy DeForest.


Roy's picture is also found on the back of a souvenir postcard of the New York Orphan Boys' Band, a story I wrote 2 years ago on the boys' band of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum  and the man who was the orphanage's gym teacher and band director, Jimmy DeForest.

The story of Jimmy, an Irish immigrant who worked as a circus trapeze artist, a boxer and then trainer of Jack Dempsey, and for a time was also the manager of an orphan boys' band is a fascinating tale. But you will have to go back to that post to read it.

The story in this post is about his son, Roy De Forest- the youngest LEADER in the WORLD imitating SOUSA.


New York Orphan Boys' Band


In the 1910 census for Ocean township, Monmouth, NJ,  Roy, a.k.a. James R. DeForest, is listed at age 10 with his father James DeForest age 41, and his mother Catherine age 29.  Did mother have a favorite photo of Roy? She had a lot to choose from, as here is a second one of Roy with hat in hand.  How many AAWS would you give it?

This cut down cabinet photo, undoubtedly also by White, has no markings, so we can only guess at his age, about 4 or 5 maybe.

Unless we know where to look. Have you spotted the clue?


There are letters on Roy's band leader's cap that spell RACHEL GOLDSTEIN. What could that mean? This is not the period for designer uniforms, and the band was called the New York Orphan Boys' Band from the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. Why does it say Rachel Goldstein? Was she a patron?

In a way, yes. A fictional one.

It took some hunting, but I discovered the connection was in the title for a play. A melodrama in 4 acts by Theodore Kremer called Rachel Goldstein, or The Struggles of a Poor Girl in New York. produced for the Broadway stage in October 1903.

Newtown Register Oct. 29, 1903

See the Great Boat Scene in mid-ocean, The Flat-Iron Building on a windy day. Long Acre Square at Midnight. Hester Street on a busy day. The Yiddish Cake Walk. The Boys' Orphan Asylum Band of 25 New York Boys.

(Note also the adverts for Page's Perfect Pile Cure and Chas Bender's Umbrella Hospital)


The story follows a young Hebrew girl named Rachel Goldstein as she and her father emigrate to America from Russia. (In this era the word Hebrew is the equivalent of Jew which was almost never used, and Russia was much larger and included most of Poland and Eastern Europe).  The plot involves shipboard romance; murder; storms at sea; false arrest; amnesia by lightning strike; deceptive disguises; diamond theft; gunshots; courtroom drama; poisoned cigars; and finally rescue by the wealthy brother who happens to be the jury foreman and who then dies. Let's just say it's complicated, but in the end Rachel gets her guy and they live happily ever after on 5th Avenue. Basically a standard soap opera plot, only Kosher.

The sets for this elaborate production were filled with every kind of theatrical effect including a recreation of the passenger ship, Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse; the Savoy Hotel restaurant; and a typical New York street market. This excerpt came from the play's synopsis in a review from October 1903.

Next we are brought to Hester Street, where Rachel and her father are peddling. The Hebrew Boys' Orphan Asylum Band, by permission of the management, is allowed to march on the scene and play several selections to the pronounced edification of the auditors on and off the stage. From Hester Street the action moves into Rachel's room. Here more "thrills" are passed out.

NY Morning Telegraph June 28, 1903

In June 1903, the New York Morning Telegram ran a half page feature on the star of the show Louise Beaton as she prepared for her role as Rachel Goldstein. The novelty in this play was her portrayal of a Yiddish heroine, apparently a character not seen before on the New York stage. The illustrations show the actress as the young unpolished immigrant girl (top left), and then as the more sophisticated socialite she becomes at the end of the play (top right). The lower figures are when she assumes a disguise as her father to foil the dastardly villains.

This play was quite successful, attracting an audience of many of the people depicted in the production. At one performance when Miss Beaton was indisposed, there was a near riot of patrons demanding their money back. But one newspaper account from May 1903, caught my attention.

NY Evening Telegram May 20, 1903

In the spring of 1903, Louise Beaton (who was married to theater producer A.H. Woods and was not Jewish as far as I know) traveled to Russia's Bessarabia to observe the Yiddish culture there and study for this role of Rachel Goldstein. Bessarabia is on the Black Sea in what is now Moldavia. In this report she describes the anti-Semitic unrest that led to the infamous  Kishinev pogrom on April 6, 1903. A Russian newspaper had made outrageous allegations of Jewish involvement in a murder-suicide of Christians and then incited the public to act against the Jews. The riots left 47 or 49 Jews murdered, 92 severely wounded and 700 houses destroyed.

Kishineff Massacre
an elegy for violin & piano by Herman Shapiro

This tragic crime was the start of a larger effort to remove the Jewish population of Russia and more pogroms came in 1905. This combination of political revolution and racial hatred would lead to more Jewish emigration from Russia and Eastern Europe. A scene depicted not only in Rachel Goldstein  but in another later Broadway musical -  Fiddler on the Roof .

This cover page of sheet music came from the Wikipedia entry for the Kishinev pogrom and shows how this monstrous event affected the New York public. Louise Beaton's statement of concern for the Jewish people of this region seems genuine and heartfelt. The experience clearly left a deep impression with her and added to her empathy with the character of Rachel.


The Hebrew Orphans Asylum was one of over 50 orphanages in the boroughs of New York. There were institutions for unfortunate children of every kind - Catholic, Protestant, Hebrew (Jewish), Colored, Scandinavian, and even a lodging house for destitute newsboys. The Hebrew Orphans Asylum first organized its Boys' Band in the 1880s, and by 1903 it was already a recognized musical group making regular appearances at parades and grand ceremonies all around New York City. Many of the young musicians would go on to find work in the New York theater orchestras and bands. A Broadway melodrama that portrayed the immigrant Jewish community would make a perfect promotion for the charity to show off the boys in the band. These photographs of the 3 year old band leader Roy DeForest would also make an attractive souvenir to sell in the theater lobby.

So how many AAWS does little Roy rate now?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the message is all about boys and bicycles.


Peter said...

Many AAWS points for Roy but I guess half of the points are due to the sad look in his eyes.

Howard said...

Rachel Goldstein is one play I'd definitely love to see. Where did I leave my time machine? Fascinating post as always Mike.

Wendy said...

A play that contains poisoned cigars and lightning-induced amnesia HAS to be great. How long was that play, anyway?

I give Roy all 10 AAWS points on a 10 point scale.

John said...

I think the photographs of Roy with his cap on have slightly higher AAWS scores, but they're all in the high 9s.

Excellent research.

Postcardy said...

Roy rated a lot of AAWS, but the history was even better.

Brett Payne said...

That is a remarkable set of images and story, Mike. You have the images, words and time for every photo prompt, Mike. I am very impressed. Assuming they came to you via the ubiquitous eBay, I can imagine this set of photographs did not come cheap. I look forward to every Sepia Saturday contribution each week, but yours in particular.

Bob Scotney said...

Another fascinating post for us to study, Mike. Superb images and a story to accompany them,

tony said...

You Make It Come Alive Mike.AWWS all-around!
.....No Wonder so many folk fled from Russian & Eastern Europe to America.......

B. Rogers, Living in Black Mountain said...

This blog post blows me much information that is illustrated and flows into a very well written story. Thanks.

Karen S. said...

What a wonderful leader I bet he was too. He's just adorable. Such interesting history too!

Boobook said...

SO much to tell from one little photo! Great story.

Alan Burnett said...

As with all of your posts - it is crafted like a fine piece of furniture, just perfect. It has all the components we have all come to associate with your posts - great old photos, wonderful research, flawless writing. Blogging as Art, Mike.

barbara and nancy said...

I wonder if the writer, director of the film "Hester Street" knew of this play. The plot is surprisingly similar. Carol Kane, the star, spoke Yiddish the entire film. I think she was channeling Louise Beaton.

Great post and I give the entire post 10 AAWS.


Clever connection to the theme here,
"even a lodging house for destitute newsboys"
A most enjoyable post, as usual!!
Cute boy, but the play is what caught my attention. I think I would have liked seeing that.

Eugenia O'Neal said...

OMG!!!! This was an amazing blog - the pogrom, Rachel's play, the orphans!!! Now you've messed up my day as I shall just spend most of the rest of it surfing the Net to find out more. As for Roy, you're clearly mistaken. He's not 9.5 AAWS - he's off the scale!

Little Nell said...

Wonderful story Mike. That photo of little Roy certainly tugs at the heartstrings.


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