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 }

Things Are Not Always What They Seem

22 May 2015

The fake mustache must be the oldest theatrical gag in the world. Though an audience sees it as the most transparent of disguises, it always manages to fool the other characters in the play. Would this mustachioed young lady dressed in a soldier's fancy military jacket and shako deceive you?

Her name is on this postcard:

Cara Tietzsch

A soubrette is a theater term applied to a coquettish female character in light comedy. The word is also used in opera for a woman with a high soprano voice playing a role with the same lighthearted comic quality. It was often a supporting part in operettas and musicals.  We can guess from her costume and the upturned points of her mustache that Cara Tietzsch portrays a man in the Prussian or Austro-Hungarian military. No doubt she sang a lusty soldier's song too. 

* * *

The postcard was sent from Wiesbaden, Germany on 28 March 1903. The soft pencil used for the message and address makes the handwriting too difficult for me to decipher.

* * *

This duo are also a pair of music hall artists playing two gents who are out on the town in tatersall check suits and bowler hats. They also sport an odd pipe-like device for smoking cigars. But one of them is not the man she appears to be. The caption reads:


The postcard was printed in Wien, Austria and sent from Graz on 14 IX 1906 to a Fräulein Jose Prochska a Sprachlehrerin or Language Teacher of Budweis, a city whose beer is much better than its imitator in St. Louis. It is now in the Czech Republic, but in 1906 Budweis was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The writer Blick? has used a sharper pencil for a more clear script that refers to the Hotel Florian where he has heard these two performers. (Translations are always welcome!)

If you look hard enough even a small advertisement from 1905 can be found on the internet. The Hotel Terschek in Cilli (now Celje, Slovenia) had a notice printed in the Deutsche Wacht for 13 July 1905 on the upcoming entertainment.

Deutsche Wacht July 13, 1905

Freitag den 14. Juli 1905.
Gastspiel des populären Gesangs-komikers
Franz Maier
(„Mir gehts schlecht") und
Mina Walter
Die fesche Linzerin
D' Lerchenfelder

Friday 14 July 1905
Guest performance by the popular singing comedians
Franz Maier
("I feel bad") and
Mina Walter

The jaunty Linzerin
The Lark Fields

There were two other references in German newspapers that date from 1918. This advert for the Gasthof Werdl appeared in the Marburger Zeitung. Franz Maier is still singing that same old song 13 years later, „Mir gehts schlecht" – "I Feel Bad" which may have had a very different meaning for German audiences three months before the end of WW1. Note that Mina Walter is described as a Vortrags-Soubrette, which translates as a lecture soubrette, but I think it means she was a recital singer, as opposed to a concert hall singer.

Marburger Zeitung
August 02, 1918

* * *

The "woman" on this next postcard is captioned:
M. de Sternac
Dans son imitation de Mme. Yvette Guilbert
M. de Sternac
in his imitation of Mademoiselle Yvette Guilbert

It is dated 28 Novembre 1904 and is autographed by the artist, M. de Sternac. He/she wears an elegant sequined gown, not unlike the ones worn by a similar cross dressing performer, Louis Vernassier, whom I wrote about earlier this year. It supposedly imitates Yvette Guilbert (1865-1944), a celebrated Parisian cabaret singer and actress. She was the subject of many famous paintings and posters created by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec during the golden age of the Montmartre music halls. Her voice had a distinctive breathy style, almost spoken, that made her the model "diseuse" or "speaker" of French songs of  the Belle Époque, as she became famous for the extended monologue stories that she added. 

Yvette Guilbert (1864-1944) National Gallery of Art, Gallery Archives
(middle) Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Yvette Guilbert, 1895
(right) Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Yvette Guilbert Taking a Bow, 1894

* * *

The artist M. de Sternac also imitated another celebrated woman who was much more exotic but is less well known today. In this postcard from 1905 he/she wears a floral kimono and holds a huge oriental fan behind. M. de Sternac portrays a celebrated dancer named  Sada Yacco or Sadayakko (1871-1946) and she was a Japanese Geisha dancer and actress.

Sada Yacco's early career began in the tea houses of Tokyo, where she was recognized for her talented acting by an aspiring actor named Otojirō Kawakami. They were married in 1893 when Kawkami returned from a short study in Paris. He endeavored to start his own theater company in Japan that was modeled after French theaters with modern electric lights and a Western proscenium stage. In 1899 the company was recruited by a businessman, Yumindo Kushibuki, to travel to the United States with a troupe of 18 Japanese performers. This Kabuki theater company toured the American theater circuit beginning in San Fransisco and ending in New York. and was possibly the first appearance of a traditional Japanese theater to Western audiences.

This world tour continued across the Atlantic where the group played first in London, then Paris, and finally Brussels before returning to Japan on January 1, 1901. Only months later in June of that year the Kawakami Theatre Troupe organized a second longer European tour that took in many more cities including London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Rome, and Madrid until finishing in London in July 1902. In two years this small Japanese ensemble, and especially Sada Yacco, produced a profound influence on European fashion, music, and art. 

Sada Yacco (1871-1946)

This image show Sada Yacco in her most famous role as the Kabuki dancer Musume Dōjō-ji or the Maiden at Dojo-ji Temple. Her character is a sweet young girl infatuated with a handsome Buddhist priest. When he rejects her affections, her rage transforms her into a fire-breathing serpent who kills him. Later she returns to the temple, and if I understand the story correctly, she dances as a Shirabyōshi, a female dancer in a male costume. It ends with her death. I wonder if M. De Sternac appreciated the irony.

I'm uncertain if Sada Yacco also sang songs, though there were traditional Japanese musicians in her husband's theater. Certainly the sound of the Japanese language would have seemed musical to European ears unfamiliar with it. In 1901, the artist Pablo Picasso was inspired (or maybe commissioned) to paint a poster featuring Sada Yacco. I don't know if the calligraphy is his own, or if it is actual Japanese writing added by the Kawakami Theatre Troupe.

Sada Yacco 1901 by Pablo Picasso

The idea of cross dressing a man as woman, or a woman as man, has ancient roots in the history of theater. Judging by the numerous male and female impersonators on postcards in the decades before 1914, it was a popular music hall entertainment. The Principal Boy was a standard "woman as a boy" role in English Pantomime, devised as a work-around from laws that prohibited children working on stage. Even the opera stage provided frequent opportunities for a fake mustache with the many Breeches or Trouser Roles for female singers portraying men. And of course there was also an old tradition of male comedians dressed as women in farcical variety show skits.

No doubt this was because of the titillating thrill of seeing someone who was not really what they seem. After all, people will gawp at anything unusual or potentially naughty. But I think it is wrong to presume that they were actually gay or transsexual. Beyond the oddity of the mixed-up gender are theater performers who worked hard to invent interesting stage characters that sang songs, told jokes, and entertained. Keep them smiling. That's the first rule of Show Biz. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is Topsy Turvy this weekend

A Bandstand Request

15 May 2015

... ... ...

To do what? Unfortunately the last line of this small sign
has been obscured by a bench rail so we can never know
what mischief it is intended to prevent.  

But we can guess,
as it is strategically placed just below the edge of a concert stage
where a suave debonair conductor stands surrounded
by the musicians of his orchestra. 

He is dressed in elegant white tie and tailcoat while his musicians, all men, sport black tie and wide lapel dinner jackets. On the left are five violins and on the right are winds – two trumpets, a blackwood flute, an oboe and a clarinet.

Further to the left are five more strings – a cello, two violas, and two men without instruments who are most likely the pianist and the double bassist. We will have to guess which is which.

On the opposite side are five more musicians – a bassoon, two horns, a trombone and an older gentleman who surely must be the percussionist of this small 20 piece orchestra. Though this photo postcard was never mailed and has no marks for date, the two horn players provide a clue for the general location as they have very distinctive piston valve horns, an instrument which was the standard for British orchestras for generations up until the 1950s. The three long piston valves and removable mouthpiece crook are a 19th century French design used by horn players of France, Belgium, and England from the 1850s to the 1950s.

German rotary valves, which eventually became the prevalent plumbing mechanism for modern horn makers around the world, were once considered deficient in some chauvinist way that supposedly made the German horn tone inferior to those with British piston valves. Considering that many of the early London horn players were of German origin, and that so too were many London conductors,  this musical heritage is even more unusual in how it gave British orchestras a  special quality that persisted for many decades.  

The full view of the stage shows the orchestra to be rather cramped for space. It appears to be an outdoor pavilion with decorative pillars that look vaguely Egyptian. The photographer's camera was placed about twenty feet from the edge of the stage and other than the bench rail, there are no other clues for location. But it seems a very model of a British seaside resort concert orchestra. The gentlemen's clean shaven and slick hair style suggest 1920s or possibly 1930s.

A Google search for the sign's abbreviated phrase surprisingly produced only four hits, and all were pages from a website called the Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives. This privately run website, based oddly enough in Atlanta, GA, offers an extraordinary amount of historical material on US immigration, military documents, and particularly steamship passenger records. The four webpages reference a rule found in the passenger brochure for ships of the Canadian Pacific Ocean Services traveling from Liverpool to Quebec during the years from 1924 to 1928.

Candian Pacific Ocean Services
Source: Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives
Just below the names of the officers and 109 passengers who were on the S.S. Montrose during its voyage in February 1927, are numerous advisories. Between Lifebelts and Emergency Stations is this cautionary appeal:

Boat Deck.—Parents are respectfully requested not to allow their children to frequent this deck.

Just above it is this note on the ship's entertainment.

Orchestra at luncheon, dinner, and in the Lounge, and on Deck for dancing.

The ship's shop sold postal cards, stamps, candies, cigars, cigarettes, tobacco, pipes, magazines, toys, and novelties. Library Steward provides stationery, telegraph forms, books of reference and railway time tables.

* * *

So is this British orchestra by the seaside, or on it?
The answer remains uncertain without more clues.
But just imagine what childish misbehavior would compel
an ocean liner company to place such a notice on four different ships.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more signs of the times.

A Helicon Mess

08 May 2015

A bass horn don't have to sound sweet,

As long as he keeps to the beat.

But there's not much demand

For a man in a band,

Whose head don't connect with his feet.


This lanky helicon player seems to have marched to the beat of a different drummer. His instrument is a variety of tuba, of which the Sousaphone is the more familiar design in modern marching bands. His cap and the fancy embroidery on his uniform resemble those of circus bandsmen, but he could just as easily be a member of a town band. I would date this photograph style to about 1895 to 1905.

The photographer's name has lost its first letters and although it looks like Perkins Studio, the center initials are C_E_G . The location of the studio is Lonaconing,  a small town in Allegany County in western Maryland's panhandle. In 1900 it had a population of 2,181. Today the population is only 1,214.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where there are never any bad photographs, only good stories.


The A.&M. College Band from Greensboro

01 May 2015

When you receive a postcard in the mail, which side do you look at first? The picture on the front? Or the message on the back? Though the real story of this postcard starts on the back, we begin with the photo on the front.  

There was never a question about the name of the band. It was clearly written on the bass drum – the A&M College Band of Greensboro, N.C.  Seated and standing around it were 25 young African-American bandsmen dressed in simple military style uniforms.

The musicians were students of the Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race, established in 1891 and now known as North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University or NC A&T.  It is one of the 106 historical black colleges founded in the days of racial segregation to provide institutions of higher education for America's black community. 

Minus the border margins the actual postcard image is quite small at only 4½ x 2 inches. The band stands on the steps of a brick building holding just brass instruments – 10 cornets, 4 trombones, 7 baritones and tubas, along with a snare, a bass drum, and cymbals, .  

There was never a question about the date either, as the postmark is very sharp
Dec. 4, 1914 Greensboro, N.C

On the other hand, reading the message was a bit tricky.

Margarets Father
buried yesterday.

Mrs. M. Stewart
421 Arnett St.

This was not a typical note for a postcard. Such a simple but terse sentence might need no other words, but why would Charles write it on a postcard of a college band? The only reason that made sense was that someone might do that if they were pictured in the group photo. 

So I followed the address to Jacksonville, IL, a small town just east of Peoria on the way to Bloomington. The name in the city directory for that address was Stewart, which led me to the 1900 census where I found Jacob Stewart, age 44, a barber who lived on 421 Arnett Street with his wife, Martha, and three children. The youngest was a daughter, Marietta, age 11, then two sons, Mahatha S., age 12, and Charles E., age 18, born in March 1882.

So if this postcard was a note sent to his home, who was Magaret? Presumably it was Charles's wife. But it could just as easily be his girl friend. Or a cousin. Or his landlady. The name combinations still offered too many other possibilities to learn anything more. So I put this detective case into a virtual back folder and moved on to other stories. That was several years ago.

Last week I took another look at the postcard of the A&M College Band 
and was surprised and excited at how much more could be discovered.

* * *

1915 NC General Assembly Journal

One of the curious habits of people in earlier times was their use of initials in names. Perhaps it came from signature styles and the way that a middle initial was the distinguishing letter for keeping track of men named after their fathers and grandfathers. For this new search I used "C. E. Stewart" and it brought up a matching Greensboro reference in Google's book archive.

On page 341 of the NC General Assembly Journal of 1915 was a list of the monthly salary roll for the Academic Department of the Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race at Greensboro. The fifth highest paid was:

C.E.Stewart, Music, History .. $66.66

Now the postcard message made sense. Charles E. Stewart taught music at the A&M college! Of course he would want want his mother to see his school band along with the sad news.

Charles's annual salary was $800 (Which when divided by 12 months makes for the odd $66.66.) In the context of the salaries for everyone from the college president to the assistant cook it seems quite generous, but it was only half of what a teacher at one of North  Carolina's white colleges was paid.  

* * *

Next to Wikipedia, the website has become one of my favorite places for locating unusual historical documents. This week I found new material on the A&M College which included several of the early school bulletins. In the 1910-11 school annual was this photo of the college faculty.

In the band's photo the man with shoulder epaulets on his coat and standing at the very back
is the same man standing here at the front row right.
Charles E. Stewart.

Agricultural and Mechanical College of North Carolina
Faculty 1910-11

Both photos were taken on front entrance steps of the main building on the A&M Greensboro campus. It was completed in 1893 and the first classes opened that fall. In 1904 the college added a 100 acre farm equipped with the latest agricultural machinery. 

Agricultural and Mechanical College of North Carolina
Main Building 1910-11

The college offered four-year Bachelor of Science degrees in Agriculture or Mechanics. Courses included horticulture, animal husbandry, steam engines, and brick laying, as well as the usual academics of English, math, and history. Tuition was $1 per month. Lodging also was only $1 and board $5 per month. Miscellaneous annual fees amounted to $11.50. Textbooks were estimated to cost $12.50 per year. All payable in advance.

The college accepted only men and did not admit women until 1928. All students were required to purchase school uniforms, prices as follows: cap, $1.50; coats, $7.00; pants, $3.00. More expensive uniforms may be had if desired. The regular uniform is made of very good material and should last the average student at least two or three years.

The college had 217 regular students in the 1910-11 school year, almost all from the state of North Carolina. 

Agricultural and Mechanical College of North Carolina
View of Campus 1914-15

Greensboro NC Daily News
September 29, 1910

Prof. Charles E. Stewart joined the college faculty in 1909. Though he also taught general world history, his specialty was music. Considering that his salary was higher than the instructors for bookkeeping, English, and math, it is a mark of the high value accorded to musicians in this era. Previously he had been a music teacher at Wilberforce College in Ohio, where he had also taken a degree. He received his musical training at the Chicago Music School where he played piano, took voice lessons, and must have acquired the basics of instrumental music education.

In September 1910, the Greensboro Daily News reported that Stewart was organizing the first band, orchestra, and chorus  programs for the college. All the brass instruments have the look of silver plate, and presumably were purchased together as a set from the same manufacturer.

* * *

The A&M bulletins for the following years are also available at and the one for 1912-13 shows the college band in a very similar arrangement as seen in the postcard. Again Prof. Charles E. Stewart stands at the back center. The instruments are still brass but one clarinet has been added. 

Agricultural and Mechanical College of North Carolina
Band 1912-13

Prof. Stewart also had an athletic background and coached some of the first A&M college sports teams. In this photo he stands on the left with the baseball team. We can see that he is a good head taller than the players. 

Agricultural and Mechanical College of North Carolina
Baseball Team 1910

In 1912 he took on the football team, and stands left in his band director's uniform. There was a basketball team in 1915 but Stewart is not pictured in that photo.

Agricultural and Mechanical College of North Carolina
Football Team 1912

The college changed its name in 1915 to the Negro Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina  in order to avoid confusion with the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in Raleigh which was established in 1887 for white students. In 1918 it too changed its name to the North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering. or what is now North Carolina State University

By 1915 the NC A&T College Band numbered 39 musicians. Even so, with only three clarinetists, the ensemble was essentially still a brass band. The bandsmen now wore white trousers and Stewart, standing in the center, was dressed in a kind of white naval style uniform. 

Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina
Band 1915-16

With nearly 40 members, the band accounted for almost 20% of the student body. And it was probably even higher when the students of the fledgling school orchestra and chorus were included. These ensembles played for various college events, notably the  graduate exercises at the end of the term. This photo shows a concert in the A&T college chapel with an audience of African-American parents and citizens of Greensboro. Stewart stands at center stage.

Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina
Music Recital, College Chapel 1914-15

These annual bulletins of the A.&M. College of North Carolina convey the strong pride and aspirations that the African-American community of the time placed in higher education. Music was a very important element in preserving black culture and expanding opportunities for young black men in an American society that placed enormous restrictions for advancement,  particularly in the Jim Crow era of North Carolina. The years of segregation created two parallel worlds that rarely exposed the white society to the values and ideals fostered at schools like A&T college. Photos of a band of black musicians in the South were as uncommon then as they are rare now.

How many of these young musicians joined the black units sent overseas when the US entered the Great War in 1918? Did any of them play in James Reese Europe's legendary army band of the 369th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed  the Harlem Hellfighters?  Did some go on to play in the first jazz bands of the 1920s and 30s?  Did any find careers as music teachers?

* * *

Prof. Stewart's full name was Charles Edwin Stewart. He was indeed married to Margaret Guy, born 1886, of Zanesville, Ohio, whose father, Charles Guy, a stationary fireman (stoker) and bridge tender, died in 1914. Their wedding was in March 1908 and as far as I know, they had no children. 

Music may have been his passion but it was not his calling, as in 1916 Charles E. Stewart left Greensboro and his teaching position at the Negro Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina to take up his true lifework. His degree from Wilberforce College was a Bachelor of Divinity at the Payne Theological Seminary, and a life devoted to ministry would be his future. A short time after 1916 he became pastor to the Ebenezer African Methodist  Episcopal church in Baltimore, MD. 

Charles E. Stewart, B.D.
Pastor Ebenezer A.M.E. Church
Baltimore, MD

In 1920, Stewart applied for a passport in order to attend the World Sunday School Convention held in of all places, Tokyo, Japan. He would be traveling to "visit missions and study religious history" in Japan, China, France, and the British Isles. His application offers extra personal details like his height: 6 foot 4 inches; eyes: dark brown; and his signature which matches the distinctive handwriting on the postcard.

His mother provided a notarized letter attesting to his birth in Michigan on March 6, 1884 which is curiously at odds with the 1900 Census record of 1882. However his draft cards for 1918 and 1942 show 1884.

This trip around the world would not have been possible before 1920 when so much of the world was engaged in war. It would have been a grand journey for anyone, but for an African-American pastor with a background in music and world history it must have been extraordinary adventure. According to a later newspaper article on Rev. Stewart, his itinerary was expanded with visits added to Hawaii, Korea, Java, Italy, and Germany. Whether he traveled with his wife Margaret or anyone else is not stated.

Charlotte, NC Observer
November 20, 1932
Throughout his life, Stewart maintained a connection to Wilberforce College in Ohio which was established by the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church. He earned a Doctor of Divinity degree there and later studied law at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He also kept close ties to A&T College and returned several times to Greensboro as a guest speaker, usually for graduations. His name, now with the title of Dr., regularly appeared in newspapers marking him as a respected church leader and reputable spokesperson for black issues of the day.   

In 1932, Dr. Stewart changed direction to return to education by accepting an offer to become head of Kittrell College in Vance County, NC. Today the little town of Kittrell  has a population of 467, but in 1930 it was even smaller with only 220 residents. This private school was actually older than A&T College having been founded in 1886 by the African Methodist Episcopal Church. More of a trade school than a full college, in 1916 it reported 284 students but two thirds were younger elementary school children. Despite dreams of becoming a larger institution, this community college struggled along until closing in 1976.

Dr. Stewart stayed there only for a few years before taking a ministry position at an A.M.E. church in Portsmouth, VA. In the 1950s, he became pastor of a church in Albany, NY. His last pastorate was the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Philadelphia, where the A.M.E. church was founded as the first independent black denomination in the U.S. by Richard Allen in 1794. Stewart was there from 1960 to 1965.

The Mother Bethel church keeps an online archive of its funeral records, and there I found
Charles, E. Stewart's name one last time, listing the date of his death
as September 10, 1976 at the grand age of 92.

* * *

It's not often that I discover the full arc of life of someone in an old postcard photo. It was a special honor to meet someone with such a remarkable career who spanned the turbulent decades of America's struggle  for civil rights. Doubtless the Rev. Dr. Charles E. Stewart measured his greatest accomplishments by his many parishioners from his years in a church pulpit. But I think he was also proud that his musical life had a legacy too. Today the students of North Carolina's A.&T. University still sing the school's alma mater, Dear A. & M., to a melody he composed during his years there. 

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

It seems fitting to have the NC A&T Blue and Gold Marching Band of today play that song for us.
(There is singing but the brass pretty much overwhelm  hearing any of the words!)

* * *

* * *

I also wanted to include a video of the A&T band performing their football halftime show and there were dozens and dozens on YouTube. But this next video seemed more appropriate to honor Dr. Stewart. It is from the mass band opening ceremonies of the 2015 Honda Battle of the Bands in Atlanta. This competition on the gridiron of the Georgia Dome featured 8 marching bands from historically black colleges. They are:  
  • Alabama State University, "Mighty Marching Hornets"
  • Bethune-Cookman University, "Marching Wildcats"
  • Howard University, "Showtime Marching Band"
  • Jackson State University, "Sonic Boom of the South"
  • North Carolina A&T University, "Blue and Gold Marching Machine"
  • Southern University, "Human Jukebox"
  • Talladega College, "Marching Tornado Band"
  • Tennessee State University, "Aristocrat of Bands"  

They play two anthems that I'm certain Charles E. Stewart knew and loved. 

Extra points if you can count all the Sousaphones.

* * *

 * * *

Lift ev'ry voice and sing,
'Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list'ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on 'til victory is won. 

Lift Every Voice and Sing, 1899
words by James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938)
music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873–1954)

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where no one is on the sidelines this weekend.


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