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 }

A Vaudeville Girl

01 October 2011

By itself this photo might seem to be just another pleasant portrait, circa 1915, of a young woman seated at a piano and holding a cornet. She looks almost like a model for a music store advertisement displaying a piano, a violin, a cornet, and a very curious instrument - a tenor helicon. Not a typical American band instrument.

It was taken by DeHaven, Chicago. Located only a block from Grant Park on the 5th floor of 144 Wabash Ave. and overlooking the El - the elevated train tracks, the photographer was right in the heart of Chicago. But the names for the DeHaven Studio photographers were actually David Hyman Bloom, and younger brother Samuel Bloom. Born in 1891 and 1894 respectively, they arrived in America in 1908 as part of the wave of Jewish immigrants from Russia. The two Bloom brothers and sister Beatrice ran the DeHaven photo studio from perhaps 1915 through 1930.

But this is not a solitary photo, there is more.

Seated at a piano, with cornet, violin, tenor helicon, and also a trombone. this photo shows another young woman with stylish hair, wearing a more theatrical dress, showing some ankle, but posed in the exact same way.  But this photograph is marked Apeda, N.Y. 

The cornet is held at the same forward angle in both photos making it impossible to compare the instruments. The violin might be the same but really all violins look the same in sepiatone. The upright pianos are different. The oak grain piano case in the Chicago photo is replaced in the New York photo with a darker case with carved medallion on the front. Though the feet on the piano stool are the same, piano stools probably had a standard form everywhere. What is unusual is that the obscure instrument, the tenor helicon, is identical in both photos.

A tenor helicon is about the same length and pitch as a trombone. The musician wears it over the left shoulder much as a bass helicon or sousaphone is played. It was probably designed for use in mounted cavalry bands where the player's right hand could press the valve keys and the left hand could hold the horse reins. Though not a popular instrument for a young American woman, it was played by some women in German and Austrian Damen Orchester, musical stage ensembles for women which flourished in the early 1900's in Europe.

Here are closeups of both women.

Comparing the eyes and especially the dimple, I believe they are pictures of the same woman.

Apeda Studios was a major photography business active in New York City from 1910 to the 1930's and they produced many promotional photographs for the Broadway theaters and the early screen artists. You can find more glamor pictures of early 20th century celebrities of stage and cinema at this link: Apeda Studio NY

But wait there's more.

This photo, marked Guttenstein, Alhambra Theater Bldg, Milwaukee, though a bit over exposed, shows a lady musician holding a cornet and wearing an elaborately embroidered band uniform coat and dress with a military-like pillbox hat. The instrument's mouthpiece is pointed toward the camera, but its small shape makes this a cornet and not a trombone.

Now look at the eyes and the dimple. It is the same woman again just as in the first two photos. Her costume is too fancy for a town band, so it suggests she is a stage performer, perhaps in a vaudeville show or touring musical revue. Assuming she also also played the piano and violin, she must have been a very talented musician to be able to play such diverse instruments.

The Alhambra Theatre, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin was a large opulent palace to entertainment. Built in 1896, it had 3000 seats and 18 private boxes. Countless vaudeville acts, dramatic plays, and musical shows played the Alhambra on the tour circuit. And it was one of the first theaters showing movies. But though the films were silent, theaters like this were anything but quiet, as they always employed musicians in the orchestra pit to accompany the films and other acts.

Since theatrical people could be frequent customers of a skilled photographer, it made good business for Mr. Guttenstein to set up a studio in the theater itself. He may even have taken the picture for this 1909 postcard of the Alahambra Theatre.

But wait, there's even more!

Another photograph from the Apeda Studios in New York, this time of a girl playing a trombone while seated on a large pedestal. The photo is similar to those of other vaudeville and stage performers from 1915-1925. She wears a very fancy embroidered coat and dress, topped with a splendid fur capo complete with plume. Though the trombone mouthpiece partly covers her dimple, look at her eyes. It is the same girl again.

Unfortunately her identity will have to remain a mystery. The four photos came from the same dealer, but there are no names, no dates. Only good guesses.

But for further proof of my good guess on this young lady musician, look at the shoes in each photo. Different costumes, yes. But sensible shoes are always a good investment for any girl. These were well traveled shoes, too.

My contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link for more enthusiasts of vintage photographs.


Rosie said...

Being a "shoe person", I, too, noticed that she is wearing the same pair of shoes in three of the photos.

Unknown said...

The shoes caught my eye after the second photo. Yes the same shoes in several. Very interesting set. Maybe they were ads for the instrument company.

mary said...

Definitely a traveling show. I was interested to learn about the tenor helicon instrument. Was it strictly military? or did it find its way into band productions?

Alan Burnett said...

Is there no end to the fascinating images of brass instruments (and often pretty girls) that you possess. There are few things as interesting as reading the words of an expert in the field - especially one who writes as well as you do.

Sheila @ A Postcard a Day said...

A very interesting post. I've never heard of a tenor helicon, or any helicon come to that. As for the shoes, well, if they're the same shoes, the photos must have been taken in very quick succession. :)

Bob Scotney said...

I never thought that ladies hats and shoes would hold my attention for so long. Perhaps it was the dimple that did the trick. Intriguing detail and instruments again.

Postcardy said...

That is a fascinating group photos. At first I was surprised at the different cities of the photos, but your description explained it well.

Rob From Amersfoort said...

The first two pictures became very intriguing when I noticed that they were made in two different places. I like the way you expand the story on and on, very nice story telling. And I didn't notice the shoes at all...

Unknown said...

The shoes caught my eye even more than the dimple! Great set of photos - it has me itching to read newspaper accounts of the day but, with no dates or names, that would be a daunting task.

Unknown said...

She certainly did get around didn't she? Good research and information you have here with the photos. I especially like the uniformed poster girl.

Christine H. said...

She has a very distinctive look. I might not have noticed the shoes though. You have a good eye for these things. Fascinating post - as always.

Little Nell said...

A lovely, and obviously talented, girl. She bears a resemblance to someone I know, who is rather feisty, so I'm hoping this one was too!

Brett Payne said...

The first portrait caught my eye, the second had me intrigued, and by the third I was riveted to your story. She could have been an inspiration for the Sgt Pepper album cover dressed in that elaborately embroidered band uniform coat. It is a fascinating collection, and I hope you can eventually discover who she was. The paper trail must be there somewhere. Do you have some ideas yet?

It's interesting to see the photographer who established his business in the Alhambra Theatre Building. I have a portrait of my great-grandfather taken in August 1891 in a similarly located studio in the Central Music Hall, Chicago. In the story entitled Whistling Bird, the Arizona Cowboy and the Disappearing Lady, I wrote about his brief sojourn as a singer with a travelling troupe. I have been told more recently, by his last surviving niece, that he was offered a job by D'Oyley Carte but turned him down - it may, of course, be apocryphal.

21 Wits said...

Always a fascinating read...and the costumes are stunning...quite the large bow in her hair too. Her pose is the same with her legs crossed...and those shoes are even worn yet today places...

tony said...

These Boots Were Made For Walking!

Bruno Laliberté said...

pity she will remain unknown to us, but she looks most dashing in her band uniform. if you knew her name, perhaps a recorded performance would be available?

oh well!!
some other time...


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