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 }

What did you think it meant?

29 July 2016

It looks like a joke.
But the snare drummer,
he's not smiling.

His companions on bass drum,
bass and tenor saxhorns,
they don't seem
to see anything funny.

The rest of the brass band,
they're dead serious too.

It's right behind them
hanging in the store window.
But not one musician is laughing.
That sign in the window.
It says (snicker)

Ain't that a hoot?
Nudge, nudge.
Wink, wink.
Know what I mean?

The back of this cabinet format photo
has a penciled note.
Youngstown, Pa.
Town Band
(note wooden sidewalks)

I'm not convinced this note is contemporary with the photo's age,
as it looks like a description added by an antique dealer.
(An indifferent dealer too, that didn't know how to properly treat historic ephemera.)
This brass band of nine musicians,
two cornets, two altohorns,
two tenorhorns, a basshorn
and two drummers.
are holding a set
of top action rotary valve brass instruments,
a design of American brass band instruments
used from about 1860 to 1885,
and roughly equivalent to a consort of brass saxhorns.
The men are dressed, not in military style uniforms,
but in ordinary civilian clothing.
All are wearing hats
with a few in winter fur caps.

If the note is correct,
the photographer took this photo in
Youngstown, a borough (town)
in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
about 45 miles east of Pittsburgh.
With a population in 2015 of 316
Youngstown's population has little changed from
when it was incorporated in 1831.
The band stands in front of a kind of general store
built in heavy stone block and unidentified.
The store's wooden boardwalk
may have seemed important to note,
but it is the single indecorous word
next to the kerosene lanterns in the window
that attracts a modern prurient eye,
and ironically helps date the band.

Trademark registered on March 31, 1874

Pittsburgh Post
15 June 1878

The ‘Vibrator’ was a threshing machine manufactured by the Nichols, Shepard & Co. of Battle Creek, Michigan. In 1878 it was advertised in the Pittsburgh Post as the Matchless, Grain-Saving, Time-Saving, and Money-Saving Thresher of this day and generation. Beyond all Rivalry for Rapid Work, Perfect Cleaning, and for Saving Grain from Wastage.

Nichols, Shepard & Co. Battle Creek, MI
Vibrator Threshers and Horse Powers

It was Perfectly adapted to all Kinds and Conditions of Grain, Wet or Dry, Long or Short, Headed or Bound. 

Nichols, Shepard & Co. Battle Creek, MI
Vibrator Threshers and Horse Powers

Not only Vastly Superior for Wheat, Oats, Barley, Rye, and like Grains, but the ONLY Successful Thresher in Flax, Timothy, Millet, Clover, and like Seeds.

Two years later the Nichols, Shepard & Co. advertisements advised:   

CAUTION! The wonderful success and popularity of our Vibrator Machinery has driven other machines to the wall: hence various makers are now attempting to build and palm off inferior and mongrel imitations of our famous goods.

Be Not Deceived by such experimental and worthless machinery. If you buy at all, get the  “ORIGINAL” and the “GENUINE” from us.

New Bloomfield, PA Times
16 March 1880

The farmers in the Youngstown brass band
surely knew about the Vibrator.
It was heavily promoted
in Pennsylvanian newspapers
with illustrated adverts like these from 1874 to 1881
when the Nichols, Shepard & Co. sales strategy abandoned
its verbose marketing campaign
and The Vibrator disappeared
from the regional papers in the 1890s.

And as any farmer knows,
you reap what you sow,
and yet you still need to
bring in the sheaves and
separate the wheat from chaff.
What man wants to flail around
over old fashioned threshing,
When you can belt up
your steam engine
to a Vibrator.
That's the way to do it.

What did you think it meant?





This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where no one is ever in the dark about old photos.

Two Young Cellists

22 July 2016

Vintage photographs of
a child playing a cello are rare.
But surprisingly there were
a small number of young musicians
who played the cello professionally.
The traditional musical instruments for child prodigies
are violin and piano, but sometimes children
are attracted to other instruments.
This boy, dressed in a suit with short pants,
strikes up a tune on his cello for the photographer.
His name is written on the postcard's caption:

H. Serfling
Cello- und Xylophon- Virtuose
Ausgez. v. hoh. Fürstlichkeiten

The postcard was mailed from Berlin on 27-6-14.

His first name was Hans.
He is sitting on two cushions
and appears not much older than 9 or 10.
There are few adult artists with the talent
to master both string and percussion instruments.
He posed in a traditional sailor suit for another postcard,
this time with his brother. 

H. Serfling, Cello- und Xylophon- Virtuos
Ausgezeichnet von mehreren Fürstlichkeiten
(awarded by several Princely personages)

Gebrüder Serfling

I believe Hans is on the right, though his brother on the left, who seems about the same height, may be a fraternal twin. His name is Fritz Serfling and he played the piano, which I know from another postcard that I have yet to buy. Ensembles of family entertainers were very popular in Germany in the 1900s and often promoted the talent of the youngest children. Interestingly I have yet to see, much less find, a photo of a child playing a piano. String, wind, and brass instruments were far more photogenic in this era. 

Both boys in the lower photo seem older, perhaps 12 or 13, while the first photo of Hans playing his cello is surely a bit younger. The confusion of age between the two postcards is compounded by the postmark, 29-7-13 or 29 July 1913 from Hannover, a year earlier than the first postcard. Obviously the age of the boys does not correspond directly with the postmarks.

The same image of Hans Serfling holding his cello
was printed on a separate postcard using just his name as a caption.
Notice the medal on his sailor's tunic. That's likely one of those princely honors.

This postcard was sent in an envelope
but the writer dutifully added a date, 19/7/13,
just a week before the other postcard. 

Just behind Hans is a table with his xylophone. However it's not the familiar rectangular kind with bars arranged like a piano keyboard. This is xylophone is made in a trapezoidal shape with the bars arranged crosswise like the strings of a hammered dulcimer, or a cimbalom, as it is known in Central and Eastern Europe.

Recently I acquired a postcard of German wind and string ensemble called Serfling's Künstler - Orchester. The orchestra leader is the violinist with the grand mustache standing center. He directs a group of 14 musicians, all male, with three trumpets, two horns, a trombone, two clarinets, a flute, three violins, and a contrabass. And on the front right is a young boy standing in front of a trapezoid xylophone. (Note the herald trumpeter on the far left with a straight trumpet about seven feet long. There is an interesting curved handle to balance it when held out.)

This boy has short hair and is clearly only six or seven years old. He has the look of an accomplished professional musician. Is it Hans? The name Serfling and the unusual instrument leads me to think that it is, even though the resemblance is not close. Perhaps it is another brother. Or maybe just an entirely different family. Unfortunately this postcard has no postmark to date it. The printer was Verlag v. Max Kästner, of Bad Blankenburg in Thuringia, Germany. The small orchestra was typical of the kind of Germanic musical entertainment performing as the resident theater orchestra to accompany variety acts, or as the feature group appearing at a high class hotel or restaurant.


This next postcard of a young cellist and her look-alike violinist
might be mistaken as a kind of trick photography.
But these two girls are clearly identified as:
Yours truly.  The Twin Sisters Riponi.

The two girls are dressed in short white frocks with white stockings and shoes, and both have long Italianate hair tied with a white bow. They are obviously identical twins, one with a cello and the other a violin. Between them is small table displaying two mandolins, the quintessential instrument of Italian musicians, most often Naples. This is another pair of professional entertainers, perhaps age 9 or 10.

The name Riponi sounds Italian,
but the postcard was printed
by the Imperial Publishing Co.
of Longstaff, Staffordshire, England.
There is no postmark.

There were more sisters.

Dumfries and Galloway Standard
17 June 1914

On June 17, 1914 a Scottish newspaper, the Dumfries and Galloway Standard, reported on the show at the Electric Theater. There were two dramas, "Thor, Lord of the Jungle" and "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle", and two comedies, "Fooling Uncle" and "How Old are You". In between the silent films were several artistes beginning with The Sisters Riponi, vocalists and dancers.  They were followed by Rene, lady juggler; Vimp and Vera, assisted by Ena, in a smart comedy act.

And the Dumfries and Galloway Standard also reported on the number of washings, 171, at the Baths and Wash-House. 1st class baths, 113; 2nd class baths, 21.

Dublin Daily Express
19 April 1915

In April 1915, the entertainment at the Empire Theater of Dublin, Ireland was given a review in the Dublin Daily Express. Besides a few comic vaudeville sketches, there werre several pleasing numbers including:

The Four Sisters Riponi, instrumentalists, vocalists, and dancers, in a refined drawing room act, introducing violin, mandoline, piano, violincello, and banjo solos, should please everyone who cares for a really high class musical act.

Those who are fond of step-dancing are well catered for by the inclusion in the programme of the Eight Lancashire Lads, who will present several smart eccentric up-to-date dances; while Melville (vocalist) completes a bill that leaves nothing to be desired.

In September 1916, the Palace theater of  Yeovil, England advertised its weekly show. The film was "Cabiria", the unwritten masterpiece of Gabriele D'Annunzio. A Film Triumph – the £40,000 Production. The varieties began with the Four Sisters Riponi, charming vocal and musical act in a delightfull drawing room scena

Western Chronicle
18 September 1916

The Sisters Riponi toured the British Isles from 1914 to 1917. I've found very few references of their name in the newspaper archives, so I would judge that they had limited success and played only the small regional theaters. None of the theater reports or advertisements mention any first names, so it is impossible to make further identification. The coincidence of the name Riponi and the town of Ripon, England is suspicious. I think it is likely a made-up stage name with an intentional allusion to a familiar English place name. They might be daughters of an Italian bandmaster or they might equally be the talented children of a North Yorkshire farmer. In any case they were children of the stage and for a time made a musical career of singing, dancing and performing on mandolins, banjos, piano, violin, and cello.

I've emphasized the dates on these postcards because there is a strange coincidence that the first postcard of Hans Serfling was posted on June 27, 1914 and the Sisters Riponi performed at the Electric Theater in Scotland on June 17, 1914. Just one month later a terrible war set Europe ablaze in what would become a global conflagration consuming millions of people over the next four years. It is impossible to ignore the monstrous calamity that awaits the characters in these old postcards in the summer of 1914. What happened to the Serfling brothers? Did the Riponi sisters change their drawing room program to endorse the patriotic propaganda that swept the British Isles? Did Hans Serfling put away his cello to serve in the Kaiser's army? Did one of the Riponi twins fall in love with a soldier and split up the act?  It is unlikely we will ever know the answers, but I find imagining the questions to be the most valuable part of placing these obscure young children into a real historical context.
That last advert for the Yeovil Palace theater was printed right next to a long column on the latest reports from the war. In September 1916 the newest frightening threat to British civilians came from the bombing raids by German airships , the Zepplins. One recent raid involved 13 of these huge flying gas cylinders. Engaged by anti-aircraft guns and aeroplanes the German bomb attack inflicted only comparatively little damage. One Zeppelin was brought down by a brave pilot, Lieut. Wm. Leefe Robinson. of the Royal Flying Corps, who was awarded the Victoria Cross. The civil authorities considered their campaign of obscuration of lights in the countryside to be very effective in misleading the German Zeppelin pilots and minimizing casualties.

It was a terrible time.
Music helped ease the anxiety and anguish.

Western Chronicle
18 September 1916

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more bedtime stories.

Four Stories from Nebraska

15 July 2016

It's not a flattering perspective.
Looking like a giant grey cinder block,
one side is built for utility
with sensible fire escapes
and unadorned stage doors.
The other side shows
an ornate public entrance
with three caryatids
holding up an elaborate arched window.

But then large city buildings always
present a challenge for a photographer
to fit a grand theater onto a postcard.
The caption reads:

American Music Hall, 18th and Douglas Sts., Omaha, Neb.

The card was posted from Chadron, Nebraska,
a small town nearly 450 miles west of Omaha,
on Aug 15, 1911.
It was sent to
Mr. and Mrs. C. H. Gozllert (?)
of Grand Island, Neb.,
about 145 miles west of Omaha.


Dear Children,
we had a good rain
last week which made
everyone feel better. it is
still very hot. have been(?)
been very buisy with fruit
and not through yet. will
try and write a letter
monday.(?) we are all quite
well. and every boddy
as far as i know
with Love Mother

Omaha Daily Bee
Jan 28, 1911

Apparently fruit pickers enjoyed taking in the theaters of the big city of Omaha. The American Music Hall, or American Theater as it was called in the Omaha newspapers, was still new in 1911, having opened only the year before. It was one of seven theaters offering entertainment that summer. The American ran three shows daily at 2:15, 7:45, and 9:20, with ticket prices from 10¢, 20¢, and 30¢. In January 1911 it advertised vaudeville acts:

Hickey's Comedy Circus, Long and
Cotton, Joseph Callahan, Toney and
Norman, Finn and Ford, Erminie Earl,
and Americanscope

At the Land Show every afternoon and evening, you could see War Dances by Chief Yellow Horse and Twenty Real Sioux Indians for 25¢ which included musical and speaking programs. One of the guest artists was Miss Lora Nettie Reiter, Cornetist Virtuoso. We met Nettie Reiter in my story from February 2015 entitled Cornets and Apples, where in November 1910, she appeared as solo cornetist in Helen May Butler's All American Ladies Grand Concert Band at the Horticultural Show in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

In the same week, the Krug theater, the Home of Folly, promoted the Miller Stock Co. in The Gambler's Wife. The Brandeis Theatre (note its classy spelling), had Countess De Swirsky, an interpretive dancer, and the Orpheum advertised Advanced Vaudeville. The Gayety, "Omaha's Fun Center", said excepting the Land Show, nothing greater in town this week than the mournful, weeping (?) Parisian Widows. They also featured the Musical Gordon Highlanders, whose bagpipes were presumably the cause of much weeping. And finally Boyd's Theater highlighted Eva Lang and her Company in Geo. M. Cohan's musical comedy, 45 Minutes From Broadway.

Omaha did not lack for variety, but its theater world was constantly changing. Later that year in 1911, the American Theater converted from vaudeville to Eva Lang's stock company which performed soapy melodramas with musical interludes and song accompaniments. After 1913 it changed its name and management to the New Morris Theater. In the 1920s it was known as The Strand, and was recognized for presenting the first color movie in Omaha, a 1926 silent film called The Black Pirate, which starred Douglas Fairbanks. The Strand was destroyed by fire in 1927.


The photographer switched to the opposite corner
to take this theater photo.
The postcard is captioned:

5600. Lyric Theatre, Lincoln, Nebr.

There are no caryatids
but the front is more decorated than the side.
The marquee announces
This Week
Power of Truth,

which I believe refers to
a series of Christian Science lectures.

It was mailed on July 22, 1918
to Mrs. Emma K. Christensen
of Elba, Nebr.

Dearest Emma
We just finished
eating supper at the Lincoln
Hotel, Lincoln, Nebs. Was given
this card by the red cross already
stamped. Will be out of here in a
few min.  expect to be in camp by
tomorrow morning. Never was
treated better in my life, accept by
you dear.
with Love      Fred –

Lincoln, NE Evening Journal
June 24, 1918

If Fred had been given any free time
in Lincoln before being sent off to
army boot camp., he might have gone
to the Rialto Theater to see
the Russian actress Alla Nazimova
in a story of realized Romance
called "Toys of Fate".
Five showings a day and
cooled by iced air!

The magnet had a Kitty Gordon film,
"Vera the Medium",
and a Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle
comedy, "The Village Scandal."

The Colonial ran a Fox Special
with Tom Mix in "Ace High".
A story of service with the north-
west and mounted police, comedy,
Satire, Weekly
Coolest Place in Lincoln
Shows at 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9

And the Lyric Theatre offered
vaudeville & photo plays,
All that week, Fred and his mates
could have laughed at
Otis Oliver & Co.
in "The Country Boy"
a Great Play.

The Lyric opened
sometime around 1906,
and continued to show films
in the 1920s after the war.
In 1927 it was demolished
and replaced with a new theater
called the Stuart.

And just so I don't leave
any readers in suspense,
Fred survived his military service.
Both he and Emma were recorded in the
1930 census as living on a Nebraska farm
with their two children.



My third story from Nebraska
returns to Omaha
where the architect cleverly designed
the building with two opulent sides
and a wide corner entrance.
The postcard shows rows of cars
parked along two streets.
A drugstore and other shops
line the lower street level.
The Star Spangled Banner
proudly waves atop the roof.
The postcard's caption reads
Rialto Theatre, 15th and Douglas Streets, Omaha, Nebr.

On July 6, 1927 the card was sent to
Miss Dora Troseu
c/o Northwestern Bell
in Burlington, Iowa

Hello you old Bird! (?)
I fooled you didn't
I?  Well I'm having
a dandy time  Only the
days fly too fast.
Hope your having
a nice time working
& I don't envy you a bit
Tell the gang hello &
So Long

The Rialto, with its romantic connotation of Venice, was a popular name for theaters, especially large ones. The Omaha Rialto Theatre could seat 2,247 patrons, cooled by its special iced air conditioning.
It first opened in 1918 and seems to have lasted into the 1950s, but has been since razed for more modern urban development.

Perhaps Dorothy went to a show there over the 4th of July holiday in 1927. She might have wanted to see Convoy, a photo play film about the American Navy. Mighty Men-of-War ... Marine Monsters at death grips in actual combat.

And as a special treat there was a personal appearance of "Flag Pole" Rex Henton.

Omaha, NE World Herald
July 3, 1927

It wasn't the only theater with a suggested Italian connection. She might have gone to the cool Rivera Theater to hear the latest hot jazz band.

Omaha, NE World Herald
July 3, 1927

Maybe she took in the flick at the Sun Theater, where the Irish and the Jews are at it again, in "Frisco Sally Levy" starring Sally O'Neil and Roy D'Arcy. Giggles and Roars. Thrills Galore.

Omaha, NE World Herald
July 3, 1927

Or maybe Dorothy and her Significant-Other preferred a Western. They might have gone to the Moon to see Tom Mix in Outlaws of Red River. That show included a creepy mystery stage show called "The Bat's Wings", which would surely have scared the girls back at the Burlington Bell Telephone Switchboard. 

Omaha, NE World Herald
July 3, 1927

Or maybe Dorothy just stood on the sidewalk outside the Rialto, along with hundreds of other Omaha citizens, watching as Rex Henton was rescued from the theater's flagpole, after he had hung on for 27 hours!  His wife and mother watched and the photographer for the Omaha World Herald took their anguished picture.

Omaha, NE World Herald
July 3, 1927

The 26-year-old painter had been hoisted to his perch atop the Rialto flag pole the day before as a publicity stunt for two Omaha stores. He was in training to compete for the flag pole sitting record set a week earlier in June 20, 1927, when Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly came down from a Newark, NJ flagpole after 12 days 12 hours aloft.  On Saturday afternoon Henton succumbed to the heat and fainted. At first, it was believed this was just part of the stunt, but his wife and mother feared otherwise and summoned theater management. Twice a theater usher tried in vain to ascend the pole and refasten Henton's safety harness. Finally the fire department arrived and after several attempts succeeded in getting ladders close enough to lower the man in a rope basket.

Omaha, NE World Herald
July 3, 1927

He was revived later that afternoon but insisted he wanted to re-climb the pole and earn his promised $200 prize money. Promoters however were satisfied and promised to pay anyway. He fulfilled his contract by sleeping on a bed that night in the display window of an Omaha furniture store.

The summer of 1927 saw a number of men enter this strange contest of flag pole sitting. On July 10 Leroy "Spider" Haines descended a Denver flag pole after 16 days 2 hours 30 minutes. "Lead me to a bath," were his first words on reaching the ground. "That's the only reason I came down. I'm so dirty I could grow."

A week later on July 16, 1927, "Hold 'Em" Joe Powers came down from a flagpole in Chicago set above the streets at a 637 ft height. He claimed to beat the record of 16 days by a few more hours. Meanwhile on July 17 Victor Crouch of New Bedford, Massachusetts, was forced to continue in order to break the record, which he did on July 19, 1927 after enduring 17 days 2 hours atop another theater flagpole.

It's the first rule of show business.
The show must
go on.

Even when you're hanging by a rope.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link to find your lucky numbers!

Musical Dyspepsia

08 July 2016

Some music makes beautiful art,
evoking passions from the tragic to the sublime.

While other music disturbs the senses
and distresses the listener
with a ridiculously
disconcerting pain.

“Make it stop!
Please, just make it stop!”

Three musicians
a cornetist, a violinist, and a guitarist
demonstrate a musical style rarely seen
in vintage photos — Musical Comedy.
The two men are dressed
in classic clown costumes.
The young woman holds a guitar
that has been modified
with extra bass strings
to make a harp guitar.
The clown on the left
may have a specialty instrument
called an echo cornet
which features a mute attachment
hidden on the far side of the bell. 
They were known as the

Trio Crescendo
Comiques Virtuosos.

A comic act of
the French musical hall tradition.

Their postcard has no date
but the style is similar
to other theatrical photos
from the 1910 decade.
The photographer's florid mark
it difficult to read,
perhaps Boisdon,  Paris.

Music charms with laughter too.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the man on the street always has the last word.

Sax Appeal

02 July 2016

Their sharp uniforms
and bright faces
may attract our eye,

but it's the six saxophones
that command our attention.

Six bandsmen in military cadet style uniforms stand at the ready with smiles and saxophones pointed directly at the camera. It's a large format photo and it's autographed by one of the young men.

With best wishes and
lots of luck to you
always —
Wally E. Hunt

— Pantages Tour 1926 —

They are young men, about college age, but this doesn't look like a typical school band photo. Their hats and short jackets resemble army dress uniforms, but I don't believe the US Army ever included platoons of saxophones. The photographer was Sussman of Minneapolis, a studio noted for producing high quality photographs for theatrical and vaudeville entertainers.

The six men hold a nearly full consort of saxophones from two alto saxophones on the right, followed by two tenor saxophones, a baritone, and a giant bass saxophone on the left. As American musicians, it seems likely that they are using a set of saxophones made by the C.G. Conn Band Instrument Company of Elkhart, IN. At one time this company was the largest manufacturer of band instruments in the world. It was partly through Conn's shrewd and relentless marketing that in the 1920s the saxophone became a popular instrument with American bands, large and small.  

C. G. Conn Band Instrument Catalog
circa 1925
A saxophone is played with a single reed mouthpiece using a woodwind type finger key system. However it is made of brass, which gives it a distinctive strong metallic tone. In the 1840s, the Belgian inventor Adolphe Sax conceived this instrument as a new sound color between the wind instruments made of brass, like trumpets and horns, and those of wood, like clarinets and bassoons. His original saxophone family came in 7 theoretical sizes covering nearly the full range of audible musical notes, from a tiny sopranissimo or soprillo saxophone to a gigantic subcontrabass saxophone. These extreme sizes were essentially imagined designs by Sax and never actually built until modern times. The rare E-flat sopranino saxophone did have a limited production by Sax, and is an octave higher than the alto sax. The Wikipedia entry describes its tone as "notable for its juicy and expressive sound, reminiscent of the sonority of the E♭ clarinet, but with a more tender tone." This hyperbole surely comes from a contributor unaffected by the squeal of chalk on a blackboard. Such shrill high pitch instruments deserve a safety sticker, warning that it could be hazardous to your health.  

The contrabass saxophone, which is twice the length of the baritone, stands 1.9 meters (6ft 4 in) tall, and weighs approximately 20 kilograms (45 pounds), and has never been considered a practical instrument for anything other than honking out bass notes so low that they can only be felt. And not a good way.

Consequently the B-flat bass saxophone became a relatively useful bass instrument in bands, especially in the age before electric amplification. Early jazz bands needed a bass sound that could provide a musical foundation, one capable of making vibrations that could lift people off the dance floor. In the 1925, a premium level B-flat bass saxophone in burnished gold brass cost $510. The smaller  E-flat alto was only $250. The even smaller B-flat soprano and E-flat sopranino saxophone, which are absent from the sextet's photo, were a bargain at only $200. In today's modern bands, the monstrous bass saxophone is rarely played, in part because a new one requires an investment of at least $22,300.

The Conn saxophone line was heavily promoted in the 1920s using professional artists. This sextet was not an unusual ensemble as here are just three typical Conn advertisements from 1919 to 1922 which included photos of other more celebrated saxophone sextets.

Jacob's Band Monthly
February 1919
The Six Brown Brothers, a saxophone sextet from Ontario, Canada, were led by Tom Brown in period comic blackface. They were perhaps the first group of saxophonists to gain broad success on the vaudeville circuits.

Cosmopolitan magazine
August 1920

In this 1920 Conn advertisement, the saxophone sextette pictured in the upper right corner are six bandsmen of John Philip Sousa's Band. Note that the bass saxophonist seated on the left is dwarfed by his instrument.

Illustrated World magazine
March 1922
This advertisement from 1922 shows the Musical Nosses, "hit of Broadway musical shows", with their six Conn saxophones. Four of the group are women. Saxophones were regularly marketed to female musicians in this postwar period when sax and sex appeal were rapidly gaining public acceptance. These advertisements were filled with glowing testimonials; detailed technical specifications; and prominent assurances that Conn saxophones were "Easy to Play for Pleasure and Profit." Who could resist getting one?


The caption that Wally E. Hunt adds at the bottom of the photograph, Pantages Tour 1926, was the best clue for identifying this group. It refers to the Greek American theater impresario, Alexander Pantages (1867-1936), who owned 30 theaters and controlled 60 more in the 1920s. His theater circuit offered the public both live entertainment acts and silent films. His Pantages agency would book vaudeville artists and schedule them to perform exclusively at the Pantages theaters scattered around the country, mostly west of the Mississippi.

San Francisco Chronicle
13 March 1926

In March 1926, San Francisco's Pantages Theater ran a notice of their shows for that week. The feature was a new movie, "The Plastic Age", illustrated with a young woman of the jazz age dressed in barely nothing. It was based on the book that startled America, it had flaming youth, burning love, and mad action even better than the book.

On the stage was Ann Chandler, celebrated American Soprano;  Guy Voyer and Co. in "The Bridal Whirl"; the Bellclair Bros. looping the loop to a hancatch; Jarvis and Harrison in "The Love Burglar"; Lieut. Thetion, the French ace sharpshooter. Henir Lebel provided accompaniment at the mighty Morton organ.

And the middle act was
6 Saxophone Monarchs 6


Anna Chandler, the headline musical act, was a Broadway favorite and a singer of "blues" songs. Her picture appeared on the same page as the theater's ad with a brief review of the Pantages show. It was her first appearance since 1914. Her "blues", sung in satin and fur trim, were probably nothing like Ma Rainey or Bessie Smith, the first African American female blues singers.

The feature film, "The Plastic Age", starred Clara Bow, who had another movie, "Dancing Mothers" showing at the California Theater.  The other acts were short comedy sketches, acrobats, a trick sharpshooter, and the Cadet Saxophone Sextet, Wally E. Hunt's group, performed a program of popular music.

San Francisco Chronicle
13 March 1926

Later in October 1926, the Yost Broadway theater of Santa Ana, California ran a notice of its shows for the week. There was a feature movie, a Western, Zane Grey's "Forlorn River", a Paramount Picture with Jack Holt and Arlette Marchal. At the midweek, a Harry Langdon comedy, "The Strong Man." Music for these silent films was provided by Bartley Sims at the mighty organ, and Alexis Parlova's Concert Band. There were also special vaudeville acts. The Hollins Sisters in "Mirthful Moments". Monty & Carmo, "Minature Comics."

And headlining the live show was the Cadet Sextette, "Monarchs of the Saxophone".

Santa Ana, CA Register
05 October 1926

Helena, MT Independent Record
06 May 1928

Wally's Cadet Saxophone Sextette proved enough of a success to continue touring through 1928 when they made an appearance in Helena, Montana. The local newspaper ran picture of one of the musicians holding the largest saxophone in the world, a contrabass. It stood taller than the player, who is dressed in a West Point style uniform with a tall shako and crossed white belts across his chest.


The Cadet Sextette were booked for Appleton, WI in June 1928. The newspaper there ran a photo similar to the 1926 Pantages Tour photo with all six men standing in line with their saxophone armament.

Appleton WI Post Crescent
15 June 1928

The Cadets worked the vaudeville circuit until 1929, with even a brief appearance on radio schedules. By 1930 they, like so many traveling entertainers, fell victim to the seismic technology change in American culture that came with the advent of free radio, cheap 78rpm records, and 10¢ movies with sound.  This was Show Business — sell tickets or find another job. Vaudeville theaters remodeled into big screen cinemas that no longer needed organists and orchestras to accompany the now outmoded silent films. The live acts - melodrama companies, comedians, jugglers, and saxophone sextets were displaced by Hollywood films that came with their own voices and music. The Cadet Saxophones just evaporated, and the American public hardly noticed.

So far, Wally E. Hunt, (Wally = Wallace or Walter?), has proven impossible to accurately identify in the usual records. He was likely too young to be working as a musician in the 1920 Census, and by the 1930 Census he probably had moved on to another vocation. My best guess is that he signed his name over his position in the line, which would make him the alto sax player, second from the right.

Did he ever claim to be a graduate from West Point's music academy?


It did not take long to find the right video to accompany this story. A contemporary saxophone sextet called The Moanin' Frogs posted a fantastic performance that captures a full saxy sound with a flashy stage presence that surely matches the boys of the Cadet Sextette. Here they play that quintessential music of all virtuoso instrumentalists, The Flight of the Bumble Bee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.



And as a special treat
for my many British readers
who may feel this week
that their government
are nothing
but a bunch
of clowns
and jokers
chasing after themselves.

Maybe this will bring a smile.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the like for more sax and violins


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP