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 Three Weston Sisters

05 January 2019

Some portraits shine.
Whether it's a flashing tilt of the head,
a twinkling gleam in the eye,
or a dazzling sparkle of the smile,
there's a brilliance that catches our attention.

For this young violinist
radiance is both natural and practiced.

It's also runs in the family.

Arranged in a triangle are three lovely young women.
The violinist now on the left holds one
of their three cornets at the ready.

They beam with charm and charisma
that comes from a class act.
A trio of real troupers, they are

The Three Weston Sisters

The first young lady is dressed in an elegant ruffled tiered dress
just short enough to reveal a graceful twist of her satiny pumps.
Her violin hangs at rest in her right hand
as if she's just finished a solo.

The second photo has two cornetists
placed either side of an ornately carved chair
on which the third and perhaps oldest woman sits
with a cornet in her lap.
All three wear the same costume dress.
Though the black and white photo doesn't give us a color,
the sepia tone suggests the fabric's hue is the same for all three.

The two photos are unmarked
but I know who the first woman is
because there was a third photo of the same violinist
offered by the dealer, but which I was unable to win at auction.
Fortunately I preserved a copy of this photo
(which I demur from publishing online)
which noted on the back
that her name was
Juliette Weston
of the 3 Westons.

That forfeited photo was marked as produced by the DeHaven Studios, Chicago while these photos were taken by Bloom, Chicago. In fact both studios were operated by David Hyman Bloom and his younger brother Samuel Bloom. Dehaven was their first business name in the early 1910s and then later changed to just Bloom. Their studios specialized in portraits of theatrical artists who performed on Chicago's many vaudeville, dramatic, and opera theaters. In February 2012  I wrote a story about three photos of another similar vaudeville group called the Verdi Sextette. The velvet curtains behind them may be the same drapery behind the Weston sisters.

In August 20, 1905 Keith's theatre in Philadelphia offered Continuous Vaudeville, 1 to 10:30 PM, cooled by Ice Air. The headliner was the European Novelty Sensation, the five Ballatzer Sisters, "Queens of the Flying Rings", a unique and daring exhibition in mid-air.  There was Dan Sherman and Mabel De Forest in a nonsensical burlesque entitled "The Fall of Port Arthur"; Josephine Gassman and her Funny Pickaninnies; Jane Courthope & Co. in a one-act farce, "A Fisherman's Luck"; Wm. Cahill, "The Man from Ireland"; Le Roy & La Vanion, comic bar performers and knockabout artists; Thompson & Vidocq, conversational comedians; Mirzl von Wenzl, Tyrolean singer from the Winter Garten, Berlin; the Bootblack Quartette in high class and comedy vocal numbers; Sid Baxter, aerial cyclist; and much more including a Kinetograph. Prices: 25¢, 50¢, 75¢. Box seats: $1. Blasius Pianos used here.

Halfway down were the
3–Westons–3, Carrie, Florence, and Juliette,
a musical offering

Philadelphia Inquirer
20 August 1905

Only a week before, Juilette Weston and her two sisters appeared at the Keith's Theatre in New York City. The New York Tribune ran a photo of the three Weston Sisters.

New York Tribune
13 August 1905

Show business was in their blood as their father was Sam Weston, a celebrated minstrel musician and comedian. In the 1870's he traveled the theater circuits as a musical team with his brother Morris Weston in the Smith, Waldron, Morton, & Martin's Big Four Minstrels. Sam and Morris were accomplished performers on a variety of instruments but especially the cornet and banjo. As minstrels they appeared on stage in burned cork makeup, or blackface, which was the dominant musical theater form of the late 1800s. The minstrel shows were built around a number of cliche comedic skits and many of the stars made their comic reputation on recognizable funny bits. Sam Weston's catchphrase was, "Are You Ready!" — "Let 'er Go!"

National Police Gazette
6 June 1885
In the 1885 the two Weston brothers set off to tour with their own company in a comedy-drama they called the "The Way of the World." A review described the show as giving the brothers ample opportunity to display their remarkable ability on various instruments. Morris Weston's imitations on the violin and selections on flute, piccolo, and saxophone, and Sam Weston's cornet solos and great laughing song with banjo accompaniment were features that invariably received most hearty applause.

Springfield MA Republican
27 November 1898

Born in Philadelphia in 1855, Sam Weston married Adelaide Weston in 1882 and together they had six children, five living at the time of the 1900 US Census. The oldest was Carrie, or Catherine, age 16, born 1883, followed by three more daughters, Florence, age 15 - 1884; Juliette, age 12 - 1888; May, age 8 - 1891; and one son, Saul, age 7 - 1893.

Sadly in about 1896, Sam began to lose his sight and by 1897 was completely blind. At the end of January 1897 his friends in New York City put on a special benefit concert which included dozens of star entertainers from the vaudeville and minstrel stage. The revue was considered a great success by raising $2,500 for Sam and his family.

But it was not enough to support five children for very long , so despite his blindness, Sam Weston was soon back on the boards with a comic-musical act that used his two eldest daughters, Catherine and Florence as his assistants. Sometimes Sam played a stereotyped jokester in a short skit, and at other times the three performed as an musical trio, often on cornets. Sam's blindness was always cleverly disguised and within the boundaries of the footlights he never needed any help. They toured for a number of years and in July 1900, a New York critic wrote:

Sam Weston and his two little daughters got an encore from an audience who had probably never heard of them before their appearance. A recall of this sort means something. It is a pity that they cannot get hold of some jokes less suggestive of the early days of minstrelsy than these. It is more to be regretted that they talk at all, but they play as well as some much higher priced acts, and the younger of the two children (Florence) is developing into a very clever player upon string instruments. If she will keep at work on her music it will pay her. For a child she does remarkably well, and her sister keeps her end up.

_ _ _

Sometime around 1904, Sam retired from the stage. The Westons then lived in the Bronx borough of New York City and were listed in the 1905 New York Census. At age 50, Sam Weston's occupation was Theatricle (sic) Manager, wife Adelaide - HouseWork, and daughters, Catherine, Florence, and Juliette - Actress. The youngest, May and Solomon were at school.

Samuel Weston and family
1905 New York State Census - Bronx

Des Moines IA Tribune
13 March 1909

Over the next few years, Catherine, Florence, and Juliette took their musical act to theaters on the northeast and Midwest vaudeville circuit. The 1905 photo of their cornet trio was used again for an appearance in Indianapolis in February 1907. In March 1909 a photo of Catherine Weston helped to promote a run of the Three Weston Sisters at the Majestic Theatre in Des Moines, Iowa.

As single women traveling the country as professional entertainers they may have been accompanied by their mother or uncle, but no chaperone is mentioned. With cases for violins, cornets, and other instruments, as well as trunks for costumes and ordinary clothes the three women must have found rail travel a challenge on their own.

 _ _ _

_ _ _

Oshkosh WS Daily Northwestern
14 April 1909

In Oshkosh, Wisconsin the three Westons were the headliner act at the Bijou Theatre In a Dainty Musical Offering which presumably was vaudeville lingo for their short physical stature. They were followed by the Lukens, 8 performing bears; Glen Burt, that Yiddish Loafer; the Dancing Mitchels; and James Chase singing "Jungle Moon", published by Victor Kremer Co. of Chicago.

That plug for a song was another way music was advertised in this era before sound film, radio and television. Gramophones were just beginning to find a place in American homes but in 1909 the real profit in the music industry came from sheet music and not 78 rpm records. The best way to get the public to appreciate a new song or dance tune was with a live musical performance.

_ _ _

Around 1909 the Weston sisters were sometimes described in theater reports as the daughters of the late Sam Weston, the celebrated minstrel man, so it seems that sometime between 1906 and 1909 he had died. Unfortunately I've been unable to find any public record or newspaper obituary of his passing. In the 1910 census his wife Adelaide Weston was listed as widow and head of the household that included Catherine, Florence, Julette, Marie (May), and Saul (Solomon).  The three oldest girls had the same occupation, Theatrical Musician. Saul, the youngest,  worked as an Office Boy at a Real Estate Office. Interestingly all the children  magically erased a few years off their age, a practice that not surprisingly was very common with show business people. It makes the earlier 1900 census particularly valuable because it recorded everyone's birth month and year as well as age. 

Adelaide Weston and family
1910 US Census - Bronx, NY

Denver CO Rocky Mountain News
18 April 1911
The sisters continued to tour the country playing Dallas, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; Washington, D.C.; Sioux City, Iowa; and Lincoln, Nebraska. In 1911 a photo of Juliette Weston with her cello was used in the Denver, Colorado Rocky Mountain News to advertise the Weston sister's performance at the Orpheum theatre. The following year the trio appeared in Fon Du Lac, Wisconsin at the Idea theater and the local newspaper ran an artfully framed photo of the sisters with their first names in the caption.

Fond Du Lac WS Commonwealth
16 November 1912

By the second decade of the 20th century the American public considered minstrel shows and blackface entertainers like Sam Weston old fashioned. This racist theatrical form would still remain somewhat popular until the 1940s but it was no longer the trendy musical style favored by young people, who preferred ragtime and Broadway shows. Though the Weston Sisters were never part of the minstrel show genre, they certainly grew up in the tradition. In 1913 they got a big break when they joined a company formed by another former minstrel man, Billy "Single" Clifford, who was producing a touring variety show that was a little different. The Westons would add a refined musical act to round out his entourage. The sisters' portraits also made good publicity. This next image appeared in the Manhattan, Kansas Morning Chronicle in March 1913.

Manhattan KS Morning Chronicle
20 March 1913
The Dallas, TX Morning News ran a review of their April 1913 show.

Misses Catherine, Florence, and Juliette Weston entertain delightfully in a dainty musical act, showing talent as performers on the violin, trombone, violoncello, saxophone, piano, throwing in a ragtime song or two to lighten the more serious part of their work, and making one of the most pronounced hits of the entire entertainment.

Evidently Billy Clifford had a good agent as his booking took the show seemingly from one corner of North America to another. The 1913 tour began in Ft Wayne, IN near Clifford's home. In March it was in Kansas and Oklahoma. By August it was in Calgary, Canada and Vitoria, British Columbia. The show was in Montana and South Dakota by September, reaching Joplin, Missouri in October. Christmas shows were in Utah, followed by Texas and Arizona in the new year 1914. They returned to Ft Wayne in April, moving south for South Carolina in October, and finally St. Petersburg, Florida in December 1914.

The El Paso, TX newspaper advertised Billy Clifford's show for January 1914 with a photo of the three Weston sisters holding cornets very like their pose in the Chicago photo.

El Paso TX Herald
24 January 1914

What made Billy Clifford's show unique was way he surrounded himself with female performers. Beside the Westons there were two or three women singers and dancers to accompany Clifford's comic antics. By 1914 he advertised the show as traveling with the Louverne Ladies' Band and Orchestra. It's possible that the Weston sisters may have put on a band uniform and joined in the street parade that often preceded the show. This grainy photo of 13 female musicians appeared in te Lumberton, NC Robesonian in October 1914.

Lumberton NC Robesonian
15 October 1914

The performances were always described as refined and without the coarse humor of the minstrel shows, even though Billy Clifford affected the style of a minstrel dandy with a monocle, top hat,and long coat. The centerpiece of his show was always a farcical play not unlike an operetta or musical comedy that gave Clifford an opportunity to dress in costumes, make dialect jokes, sing silly songs, and flirt with the ladies. The Weston sisters often took a part in these plays in addition to providing instrumental numbers. A quarter-page avert in the Tampa, FL Tribune for November 1916 included Billy "S" Clifford's photo. The show was a Monster Benefit for the Tampa Fife and Drum Corps and the play had the alliterative title "Linger Longer Lucy."  

Tampa FL Sunday Tribune
12 November 1916

One reason for the success of Clifford's tour was that he engaged a private rail car for his performers. After each show the cast could return to their own train coach with comfortable accommodation and personal service that followed the show's schedule and not the usual railroad timetable. By March 1917 the show was back in Missouri and photos of  the three Weston sisters were added to the advertisement.

Macon MO Chronicle-Herald
5 March 1917
After four years with Billy "S" Clifford's show, the Weston sisters were undoubtedly tired of traveling, and it seems that Clifford was too as his show was finished after the 1917 season. Perhaps it was an effect of America's entry into the war in Europe or a decline in ticket sales. In any case the Westons looked for a change and returned to finding vaudeville engagements on their own.

Evansville IN  Press
13 April 1918

In April 1918 the Three Weston Sisters played the Grand Theatre in Evansville, Indiana. The silent film at the Princess Theatre that week featured Rupert Julian playing the title role in "The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin." The Evansville paper's amusements page displayed his menacing scowl, oddly clean shaven, and next to it was a photo of the three Westons. The women are without instruments but their gowns are identical to their Chicago photos even with the addition of hats. The velvet curtain backdrop behind them also leads me to believe this image matches the two photos taken by the Bloom brothers in Chicago. Assuming these photos were produced in late 1917 or 1918 it is another reason why their dress and hairstyles seem more modern than the publicity photos used in their earlier career. It was the dawn of the jazz age. Female hairstyles and hemlines were becoming ever so shorter. 

The Weston sisters had been performing on the vaudeville stage for nearly 20+ years. They were still pretty and dainty, but young? Not so much. Newspapers had less room for photos of instrumentalists especially as new celebrity film stars began taking over column space from the increasingly passé music hall entertainers. In August 1920 the Weston sisters got one last flicker of the spotlight with a caricature advertising a show at the Walnut Street Theatre in Vicksburg, Mississippi. 

Vicksburg MS Herald
26 August 1920

A new decade began
but the three Weston sisters' name
disappeared from newspaper theatrical notices.


It's rare to discover so many great newspaper photos and reports from this era that support a story about three female musicians. As I've often noted, women in this time did not hold the keys to power and were generally suppressed from achieving true success in most professions. To a limited extent  show business offered talented women more opportunities than other employment. But music theater was a tough competitive work environment for women, and ultimately it was still a male dominated world.

I feel confident that the extra newspaper images prove I have identified the right Weston sisters in my two photos. There were a number of false trails beginning with some Weston sisters who were abolitionists in Massachusetts in the 1850s, and a radio singing group in the late 1930s and 40s called the three Weston sisters. Even Sam Weston had a younger actor clone of the same name who kept appearing in search results, years after Sam Weston, minstrel man, was surely deceased. But all that is what makes photo detective work fun.

What I am not 100% certain is whether I have properly identified Juliette Weston. I very much regret not having won that third photo which has her name on the back, as even though the woman in that photo does have a violin and looks very like her, she might be the other sister Florence who was often described as a talented violinist. In the Fond Du Lac photo of the Weston sisters, Juliette is the shortest, but in my photo the woman on the left that I think is Juliette is the taller. The Denver newspaper also showed Juliette on cello, not violin. The notation on the back of the missing photo may have been written by a theater manager who got the first name wrong. And newspaper captions are not always accurate either. So there are my reservation. Maybe some descendant will read this and help with a definitive answer.

But there's a bit more to the Weston sisters' story I want to tell. With the many internet resources available now for public records, I feel I'm never finished until I can find the final date for any musician in my photo collection. Born in the 1880s and living in New York City, the Weston sisters should have been easy to find – if they were men. But as women lose a surname when they marry it is more of a challenge to find them. Unless they don't marry.

Adelaide Weston and family
1920 US Census - Chicago, IL
In the 1920 US Census, Adelaide Weston is now living in Chicago with her five children, Carrie, 33; Florrie, 31; Juliet, 30; May Wilkie, 28; Saul, 27; and a grandson Earl (or Carl) Wilkie, age 7. The oldest daughters list their occupation as Actress Theatrical. Saul does Wire Work at the Long Shade Co.

Living in Chicago made sense for vaudeville entertainers who did a lot of traveling as Chicago was the major hub for rail roads connecting both north to south and east to west. It also made sense to get their publicity photos made by the Bloom studio in Chicago. Using this new location helped me find that elusive information I sought.

On the 29th of March 1922, the Chicago Tribune carried an obituary for Mrs. Florence Powell, beloved wife of Paul Powell, fond daughter of Mrs. S. S. Weston. The husband was Paul Badollet Powell, born in Chicago in 1885, his occupation on his 1918 draft card –  Booking Agent,  Paul B. Powell Agency, 1200 Majestic Theater, Chicago, IL.

Coincidence? I don't think so. And sadly without Florence one more reason why the Weston sisters were no longer on stage.

Adelaide Weston and family
1930 US Census - Chicago, IL
For the 1930 US Census, Adelaide Weston at age 67 was still head of the household. But only Catherine, 42; Juliet, 39, and Saul, 35 made their home with her. Catherine's occupation was Musician, General. Juliette's was Saleslady, Dept. Store. Saul was a Laborer, Wire Plant. It seemed this might be the end of the trail as I couldn't find anything else. Then I tried a fuzzier approach to my newspaper search terms and widened the time line.

On November 15, 1963 the Chicago Tribune ran an obituary for Juliette Powell, beloved wife of the late Paul; fond sister of Carrie Barnes, Mae Wilkie, and Saul Weston. All the names connected but they included a surprise. At some time after 1922, Juliette Weston married the widower of her older sister Florence. It's a curious personal history that seems oddly as if I've pried too much into someone's private affairs. As far as I know there were no children.

With the added names, it was now possible to get the last dates.  Paul B. Powell, husband to both Florence and Juliette Weston, died in Huntsville, Alabama on February 14, 1946. His occupation was listed as Salesman. On November 10, 1965, the Chicago Tribune had an obituary for Saul Weston,  fond brother of Carrie Barnes.

And in February 1976 Catherine "Carrie" Weston Barnes, the oldest daughter of Sam and Adelaide Weston, passed away in Chicago at the age of 92. Her husband was Adam Barnes, born 1888, died 1950. They had one son, Alfred J. Barnes, born 1922 but who was tragically killed in action in February 1945 while serving in the US Army in France.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more ideal models


Wendy said...

I hope one day you find a picture of Gertie Cochran the Mental Wonder. I'm sure that's a story to tell! And also please find the Yiddish Loafer. The names of those acts just crack me up.

Barbara Rogers said...

Another of your great musical family have so many details of their professional life, and then you perservered to get the personal touch at the end of the post. I was quite interested in the census reports which tied their lives together off-stage. And since they moved all over the country, they were an amazing family. Thanks!

Sue McPeak said...

What an amazing group of photos, documents and memorabilia. So interesting, your family musical history. Details make this a very enjoyable and informative writing. I noted that we have a connection of losing an ancestor in 1945 in France. I have a cousin who lost his life in France and is buried there. Thanks for visiting CollectInTexas Gal and commenting on My Grandmother's Fur Coat. I imagine it was some sort of short, smooth fur animal...from the looks of it in the picture. I remember my Mom thought it was mink.

La Nightingail said...

My goodness! You always amaze me with how much information you're able to find having to do with your Sepia Saturday subjects! Well done.

Tattered and Lost said...

A question came to mind while reading this. You list a lengthy group of performers for a show and I'm wondering if you have any idea how long these shows ran each day? Did they do more than once performance? And how strict were the theaters about letting people come and go during the performances? I can imagine people dropping in for a few acts and then leaving, but maybe that was discouraged.

Molly's Canopy said...

Mike, you've outdone yourself on this post. What a trove of photos and news clips! And the census reports you have been able to identify for the Weston sisters is impressive. I have in my family tree a similar example of an older sister marrying the widower of her late younger sister, which may have been more common at that time than we might think. Nice job!


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP