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 }

Three Talented Young Violinists

27 November 2021

 My favorite photographs of young musicians
contain a subtle quality that reveals
a musical talent that we may not hear,
but through the camera lens, we can see it.
We first notice a relaxed youthful posture
that exudes graceful poise and mature assurance.



There is no awkward stiffness in the hands and arms,
nothing inept in the control of the instrument.
The youth's eyes are direct and confident.


 The young musician displays no callow inhibitions,
no self-conscious immaturity. 
They seem read to perform with a certainty
that they are one with the music. 

Today I present three young boys,
all violinists with talent,
and all whose native language was French.

 * * *

My first violinist is a boy pictured on a postcard in an oval portrait. He is dressed in a light color shirt and short pants with a striped belt. He stands in front of a table on which there is music stand, a cornet and another violin. The lad looks to be about age 10 or 11. The reason I believe he speaks French is because the back of the postcard has his name, his awards, and a date written in French.


The postcard looks similar to others produced in France, but it is possible that the boy is from Quebec or Belgium. The quick cursive handwriting makes it challenging to read the letters. I think his name is Henri Norrisson or Vouisson. He won a Medaille de Cuorye (?) and a diploma in solfege and theory on 6 July 1913, or maybe 1915. Solfege is the technique of applying syllables, Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti, to music. Despite using different spellings, I'm unable to extract the full meaning of the note, but clearly this boy was a prize winning violinist (and cornetist) and a student of music. Maybe one day I'll solve this mystery and discover his full name.

 * * *

My second violinist is a younger boy, perhaps 8 or 9 but with a very mature face. His photograph is on a small carte de visite produced by the photography studio of A. Machaberts in Franco-Belge, or Belgium. He stands in front of a doorway and is dressed in an all black, or maybe dark navy blue, shirt and short pants with high-top shoes that have a high polish. 
The cdv format remained popular in Europe until about 1910. Unfortunately there is nothing on the back of this boy's photograph to better identify the location or time. My best guess is that it was taken around 1898 to 1905. 

 * * *

My third young violinist is also on a cdv photograph. He sits on a photographer's studio chair with his feet barely touching the floor and his violin on his knee. His hair is long but cropped close on top, in the manner of a famous musical artist such as Franz Liszt or Niccolò Paganini. Like the other boys, he wears short pants buckled below the knee, but his outfit has a short formal jacket, white vest, and watch chain. His shoes are made of fine leather with a gleaming shine and laced above the ankle. 


The photographer was  A. Le Michel of 6-bis, Rue de Bel Air, in Rennes, France. The back is marked with an elaborate backstamp showing the studio was founded in1864 and present at the 1887 Rennes Exposition. The city of Rennes is the prefecture of the region of Brittany in northwestern France, about 220 miles west of Paris. In 1886 its population was 66,139. My estimate is that this boy's photo was likely produced some time around 1887 to 1892.     



* * *



The quality of talent is hard to measure, but I believe these three French/Belgian boys had musical talent far beyond what their young ages might suggest. Their portraits show a maturity and self-confidence that is not typical of boys this age, and I believe they were experienced entertainers, maybe even professional. Certainly the last boy from Rennes appears in a costume suitable for the music hall stage. My hunch is also based on their shoes, as ordinary boys of this era would be unlikely to be fitted with such expensive footgear.
The late 19th and early 20th century was a time when audiences in Europe and America would flock to hear a musical prodigy, a Wunderkind like Mozart, play the violin, the most difficult of instruments. I have featured other similar photos and postcards of young talented violinists in my stories:



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the youth of yesterday are forever young.

Like Father, Like Son

20 November 2021


It's a photo game we all play.
Look at their faces and spot the difference.
Do they share eyes and nose? Yes.
Chin and ears? Maybe.
Hair? Definitely.



Even with people we've never met,
we still guess at similarities we think we see.
From the curl of the hair
to the shape of the brow,
we marvel at what the camera reveals.

This is especially true
with photos of father and son.
What manly traits were passed down?
What mark in a likeness deserves remembering?
A grandfather's chin?
A mother's cheeks?
Today I feature two musical duos.
Both unknown fathers and sons
but handsome portraits just the same.



My first image is of two cornetists, father and son, on a cabinet card photo taken by the Blake studio of Bellows Falls, Vermont. The son, around age 10 or 12, stands beside his seated father, who may be in his mid-twenties. To judge from their carefully oiled hair, both have just visited the town barber. Their cornets gleam with fancy engraving. The photo is in superb condition with gold edging on the card stock. I estimate that it dates from about 1895 when the population of Bellows Falls, a village in south central Vermont, grew 40.3%, from 3,092 in 1890 to 4,337 in 1900.


My second son and father pair is a bit unusual for two reasons. The first is that both are dressed in top-line band uniforms, and the second is that both are holding fifes. The boy, again about 10 or 12 years old, stands next to his father who sits in a typical 1890's photography studio's rattan chair. This cabinet card photo was taken at the J. W. C. Floyd studio of the Kreamer Block in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, probably around 1895 like the other photo. Lock Haven, a county seat, is on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, about 100 miles north of Harrisburg. In 1890 its population was 7,358.


Their uniforms are modeled after a military cadet style, with flat kepis, trim tunics decorated with braid and a gold stripe along the trouser legs. The fifes are very simple wooden pipes with metal ferrule ends and six or maybe seven finger holes. This instrument has none of the complicated keys of flutes and piccolos, and is designed with a recorder-like metal whistle for the sound production. This makes it easier to play than traditional fifes and flutes which require blowing across a tone hole. 
The cap badge on their hats has four initials, CH DC.  but I haven't found a group that matches those letters. Many fraternal societies of this era organized fife and drum corps to accompany the society's members when marching in formation. American cities and towns of the 1890s-1900s seemed to host a parade every month, and detailed parade orders were regularly printed in newspapers. It's likely that this father and son commemorated a parade in Lock Port with a nice photograph to remember the occasion.

Wouldn't you like to hear these two father son duos play?



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you can always bet on a pair to win.

Music for a War

13 November 2021

 The world was at war.
The bellicose armies of Europe
mobilized to the clarion calls of trumpets.
Troops marched into battle
following the steady cadence of drums.


Yet there were occasions when soldiers
took up musical arms with violins, flutes, and horns
instead of rifles, guns, and cannons.

For these actions, the soldiers
did not follow a general's orders to attack the enemy.
Instead they obeyed the commands of a conductor
whose baton directed them
to make battle with musical notes. 
The casualties were few,
and never fatal.

Today, I present
three photos of small military orchestras
from the Great War of 1914-1918.

* * *

The first ensemble is a group of eleven musicians wearing uniforms of the British army. This is not a postcard, but a photograph, 5½" x 8", and somewhat faded which necessitated a correction for the poor contrast. There are five string players with three violins, a cello, and a double bass, as well as a trombone, two cornets, piano, and drums. Seated center is the conductor holding a slender baton. The men appear to be on the stage of a very small theater, but the wall drapery behind them is a painted illusion, I think. In the upper corner are a few strokes from an ink pen which might be letters or numbers, but it is unclear.
Most of the men are young, in their 20s, and wear enlisted rank uniforms, but two men are older and wear a Sam Browne belt fastened diagonally across their tunic, which, I believe, makes them officers. I don't think mixing ranks like this was a common activity, if at all, so this may have been an unofficial amateur musical ensemble. The photo does not have any note to identify when or where they are, but their uniforms are definitely from the 1914-1918 period. The camera did not have a good lens so the print is grainy and a bit out of focus, but there is enough contrast on the violinist seated third from left, to pick out some detail on his regimental cap badge.

The design is a circular wreath, which is a less common shape, and in the center is a three point shield-like emblem with a curved banner below. It's a very good match for the Cap badge of the Northamptonshire Regiment, an infantry regiment first organized in 1881. During WW1, different battalions of the Northamptonshire Regiment served on the Western Front in France, as well as in the Gallipoli campaign, and in Egypt, and Palestine. My hunch is that this photo was taken in France, but there are no more clues in the photo to confirm that. But at least we can trust that the men all came from the East Midlands of England.

Cap badge of the Northamptonshire Regiment.
Source: Wikipedia

* * *

My second photo is a postcard that shows another group of eleven musicians, this time dressed in Austrian army uniforms. They are posed outdoors with four women in the wooded garden of a house. Two large beer steins are in the foreground, one empty and the other half-full. The ensemble's instrumentation has five string players, four violins and a double bass, with one cornet, a horn, a rotary valve trombone, a flute, and an E-flat clarinet. One musician, fourth from right, has no instrument but he doesn't look like the conductor. More likely he is the drummer. The soldiers look relaxed, maybe because of the beer, but the women seem a bit reserved in their expression. Perhaps they have a family connection with one of the men, or to the location of the house and garden where the little orchestra has performed. 

The armed forces of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire were a confusing blend of regiments from several nationalities, the two largest being Austrian and Hungarian. But this group is Czech, I think, as the sender of the postcard writes in the Czech language. The postmark on Kaiser Franz Joseph's stamp is dated 29 VIII 15, and the card was sent by a soldier, presumably one of the  men in this photo, to his beloved parents who lived in Ostroměř , a small village in the Jičín District of the Hradec Králové Region which is now in the north central part of  the Czech Republic. Historically this was known as Bohemia before WW1, a region well known for producing great musicians like Bedřich Smetana (1824–1884), Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904), and Leoš Janáček (1854–1928). 

* * *

The third group was also pictured on a postcard and is the largest ensemble with 19 musicians. These soldiers are in German military uniforms, but without helmets or caps, as they are posed inside a large paneled room. The instruments are not all visible, but there are at least seven string instruments, five violins, a cello, and a double bass, along with a flute, a clarinet, two trumpets, a trombone, and a piano. This is large enough to make a pretty decent sounding orchestra.

The back has a note in German that is difficult to read, but I believe it identifies them as part of the Infantry Regiment No. 121 with a year date of 1918. The second line may read Offiziers Kasino(?) which would be a good reason for an army orchestra to provide entertainment at some officer's social affair.

* * *

During this era, most musicians in military bands were equally capable of playing string instruments as well as woodwind and brass instruments. For the troops, band music was best suited for outdoor concerts, and, of course, parades where marching was required. But officers preferred indoor performances with more subdued dynamics, so it was common for bandsmen to switch over to string instruments and play at their officers' dinners and social events. 
Unfortunately we will never know what kind of musical program these little orchestras performed. Certainly there was no jazz or ragtime for these musicians, but instead lots of waltzes, polkas, and folk songs, with maybe an occasional music hall tune. But exactly what was played is not recorded. I like to imagine that Johann Strauss Jr.'s dance music was played on both sides of the Western and Eastern Fronts, and maybe his Blue Danube Waltz could have been a musical diplomat for world peace.

But if we look at the shoes of the German and British musicians,
we get a small clue as to what a musician's life was like in wartime.
These hobnailed boots were made for marching.
Marching and slogging through the mud of Flanders and France.
A two-step that no one really enjoyed dancing.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where soldiers serve and protect.



The Side Show Altohorn

06 November 2021


The poor E-flat alto horn never gets much respect.
It probably doesn't help that it is called
a tenor horn in Britain and an alto horn in America,
where it was once a common instrument in traditional brass bands.
Even though an alto horn is perfectly capable of playing a melody
its place is always in the brass chorus
rather than up front as a solo voice.
Today, with the exception of British brass bands,
it has been displaced in modern school and concert bands
by bigger and more versatile brass instruments.

In times past, alto horns show up regularly
in antique photographs of brass and wind bands,
but portrait photos of individual alto horn players are not common.
The few that I've found are postcards like this one,
taken at a studio and purchased to send as
a souvenir picture to a sweetheart or to the folks back home.
 However what makes this simple portrait unique
is that this handsome bandsman with his alto horn
is a young African-American man
wearing a very fancy uniform
decorated with toggle buttons and braid, a cape,
a shako with tall plume, jodhpurs, and faux high boots. 

It's not the typical outfit for a musician in a town band.
This the uniform of a professional entertainer.

His name was George Lekord.


George's uniform may seem unusual today, but a century ago it was recognized as a kind of Hungarian or British military fashion for a Hussar or light cavalryman. In November 1916 there was a proposal to change the dress uniform of the District of Columbia's National Guard, the "President's Own", to a European hussar style. I don't know if it was ever adopted, but President Wilson probably had a lot more on his agenda in 1917 than military accouterments.

Little Rock AR Democrat
27 November 1916

In one of my first stories on this blog, A Bandsman from Harrisburg, PA, I featured a postcard of a trombonist dressed in a hussar uniform very like George's, as well as a large photograph of the Municipal Band of Harrisburg with 36 musicians all wearing hussar uniforms, that dates from April 1917.  
A Bandsman from Harrisburg, PA

Hussars in the Rain

In July 2013, I posted a story about hussars featuring a 1905 postcard of a military parade in York, England, Hussars in the Rain. That story included a postcard of another well-dressed trombonist who was a member of the band of the 10th (Prince of Wales's Own) Hussars. The proper term for their distinctive fur headgear is a Busby, and before World War One, variations on hussar apparel were worn not only by British soldiers, but many units of cavalry and artillery in German, Russian, Dutch, Belgian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Austro-Hungarian, Serbian, Spanish, and Italian armies.

However George Lekord's Busby was not military issue.
Just above the ubiquitous musical lyre on his hat badge
is a name embroidered into the lambskin.
 The uniform was curious enough,
but the name of an Italian bandmaster
made George's photo a real mystery that I had to solve.

Stanford KY Interior Journal
8 September 1916

Beginning in the first decade of the 20th century America's amusement parks, fair grounds, and theatres seemed overrun by a throng of Italian concert bands touring the country, each led by a flamboyant leader. Signor Ernesto Natiello was one of these talented Italian conductors who helped made a mark on America's musical culture. Born in Italy in 1878, Ernesto was trained on cornet by his father, a musician who immigrated to the United States in 1884 to become bandmaster on a U.S. Navy battleship. When Ernesto was eleven he was sent back to Naples to finish his musical training. After obligatory service in an Italian army band he returned to America where he started his own concert band. By 1916 Natiello's Royal Hussar Band was featured at the Kentucky State Fair. According to the Stanford, KY newspaper, all 35 men would be attired in white hussar uniforms. Ernesto is pictured in one, that otherwise looks identical to George Lekord's. 
The report says Maestro Natiello's motto was "Give the people the music they want.", so his programs were a mix of popular and classical pieces that, like his Italian bandleader compatriots, introduced American audiences to the great music of Rossini, Verdi, and Puccini. His band also included an unusual instrument called the Una-Fon, said to have a rich tone that could be heard a great distance. This was actually a glockenspiel-like metallophone made in Chicago that used actuator mallets controlled by an electric keyboard. 

Natiello's conducting style was described as free of the wild gymnastic motions used by the other Italian bandmasters. But I noticed that he also distinguished himself by being clean shaven without the typical grand Italian mustachio. To check out the other Italian bandleaders' impressive hair styles and uniforms, see my August 2019 post, An Atlantic City Love Story, part 2
In this next photo, dated September 1909, Ernesto Natiello and his band pose on wide stone steps and wear modest cadet style uniforms, not unlike the kind worn by other professional bands. Ernesto's uniform is all-white, which was a popular fashion in this era for most bandleaders. The band's hussar uniform may have come later, perhaps a design offered by one of the big tailoring companies that supplied costumes for the hundreds of bands and theatrical companies that traveled on the concert circuits every season. Evidently by 1910 Natiello ran an entertainment enterprise with a business partner which presented four different bands, each of which may have used a variety of wardrobes to clothe its musicians. 
Ernesto Natiello and his Band, September 1909
Source: Indiana Historical Society

But as we can see in this photo, the musicians in Natiello's band are all white men. During this hateful period in American history, discrimination, racism, and segregation permeated every part of society. George Lekord never played in this ensemble. But he is clearly wearing one of Natiello's hussar band uniforms. Why?

Part of the answer may lie in the tragic fate of Ernesto Natiello.
A victim of a terrible disaster
at the Knickerbocker Theatre
in Washington, D.C.
in January 1922.

Philadelphia Inquirer
30 January 1922

Crandall's Knickerbocker Theatre in Washington was a popular place on a Saturday night, even in January. Despite a record winter storm that had already dropped over two feet of snow on the city two days before, hundreds of people bought tickets to see the latest movie. Earlier in the week the headliner was Harold Llyod's new comedy, "A Sailor-made Man". On Saturday the feature was "Get-Rich Quick Wallingford" starring Sam Hardy and Doris Kenyon.   

Washington D.C. Times
21 January 1922

The films, of course, were all silent and the Knickerbocker maintained an orchestra to accompany them. For the 1922 winter season it hired the famous Italian bandleader, Ernesto Natiello to conduct it. Completed in 1917, the Knickerbocker Theatre was one of Washington's new lavish cinemas with all the modern amenities. On 28 January 1922, just after 9:00 as the feature was about to begin, the ceiling of the theater suddenly collapsed onto the people seated below. The immense weight of snow on the theater's flat roof was too much load for the roof supports to bear, fracturing the metal beams. 

According to contemporary reports 109 people perished in the catastrophe and 134 were injured, though the Wikipedia entry has different numbers, listing 98 people killed and 133 injured. Among the victims was Ernesto Natiello, the orchestra's conductor, along with three other musicians. Ernesto's brother, Oreste Natiello, a violinist and French horn player, survived, but lost his right arm, severed by a falling girder.

Interior of the Knickerbocker Theatre, Washington D.C.
after the collapse of the roof on 28 January 1922
Source: Wikipedia

Rescuers were hindered by the freezing cold and deep snowfall that blocked Washington's streets. The military was called out to assist, but it took many hours to recover people trapped beneath the snow and rubble. Area hospitals were overwhelmed, and nearby churches were turned into emergency medical sites. Since many patrons at the Knickerbocker that night were there with family members, the newspapers were filled with terrible news of children, couples and spouses killed in the collapse.

On Monday, the newspapers ran long lists of names of the casualties along with their addresses, relations, jobs, and sometimes even the nature of a victim's horrible mutilations. A number of prominent persons who worked in the federal government or military were killed or injured. Initially Ernesto and his brother were reported under a wrong name, but after it was corrected the Natiello name became forever linked with this tragedy.

Washington D.C. Herald
31 January 1922

One of the Washington papers reported that the Knickerbocker Theatre orchestra was softly playing "Sweet and Low" at the moment the roof collapsed. Ernest Natiello was just 43 years old. He is buried at the Saint Louis Cemetery, in Louisville, Kentucky.

Washington D.C. Times
30 January 1922

Several investigations were undertaken after the tragedy to find a cause for the theater's collapse. Some 
witnesses gave accounts that the theater's employees had considered removing accumulated snow from the theater's roof but then decided that it was unnecessary. The primary conclusion was that the building suffered from a faulty design in its roof construction. Despite a number of lawsuits, the courts did not find anyone liable for the collapse. In 1927 Reginald Geare, the architect of the Knickerbocker, whose career was ruined by the disaster, took his own life. Ten years later in 1937 the theater's owner, Harry Crandall, also died by suicide. 

In the postwar era of the 1920s, many bandleaders like Ernesto Natiello were finding good work conducting theater orchestras. Of course at the time they could not anticipate how the introduction of sound films would eventually eliminate live music in cinemas, but compared to amusement park and fairground bandstands, or weeks touring with a circus, a theater made a much better concert environment. I think just prior to his death, Ernesto may have started a career change in favor of more orchestra conducting, possibly with developing a bigger musical connection to the film industry. 

My suspicion is that after the end of WW1 in 1918, the American fad for European hussar uniforms greatly diminished, so that in 1919 or 1920 Natiello's agency decided to off load its surplus costume wardrobe. If his bandsmen's busby hats had been unmarked I might never have found George's band. 

But fortunately Natiello's Italian name on the hat
was a small detail included in the description of a photo
kept in the digital archives of the University of Texas at Arlington Library. 

Source: Basil Clemons Photograph Collection, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.
Natiello African American band, Breckenridge, Texas, 1921

It's a wonderful photo of 10 African-American musicians standing outside the entrance of a traveling carnival and wild west show in Breckenridge, Texas. All the men in this small brass band wear dark hussar uniforms that are identical to George Lekord's, from the fur busby with Natiello's name, down to the cape over one shoulder and the fake high cavalry boots. The photo is identified by the photographer, Basil Clemons, on the negative as H. W. Campbell's United Shows, Breckenridge, Texas, Season 1921

There is a battered brass instrument, front left, resting on the dirt, but I think it is a B-flat baritone and not an alto horn. It looks connected to the short man second on left, but he doesn't look like George Lekord. Instead, though I can't be certain, I think the trombonist standing center at the back has a strong resemblance to the man in my postcard portrait. Yet even if George is not in this photo, it seems very certain that he was once a member of this side show band. 
The Billboard
24 January 1920

In the 24 January 1920 issue of The Billboard, the weekly trade magazine for the entertainment industry, H. W. Campbell of Augusta, Georgia ran an advert seeking performers for the upcoming season of his United Shows. 

Can Use Colored Band and Performers, offering them best of car accommodations; White musicians, Menage Horse Riders, Boss Hostler, Electrician, Trainmaster, Teamsters, Polers, Workingmen, Door Talkers and Grinders, Lot Superintendent. Will furnish best Wild West outfit en tour to reliable party. This outfit consists of double wagon front, hand carved, and new canvas throughout. Will also furnish new wagon fronts and complete outfits for any money-getting Shows, particularly good Athletic Show. Have flashy, hand-carved front and wagon platform for good Platform Show. Want to buy Bears or Bear Act, Bucking Horses, Black Top. Have some Canvas for sale. Will book Pit Show, Platform Show or any good, strong Ballyhoo Show. Can place Concessions. Want Laugh Shows or Thru the Falls. Have Dining Car for sale. Our Territory is the best and we offer a season of forty weeks with a thirty-car show. Best of equipment throughout. Will feature parades as heretofore.
Considering that Mr. H. W. Campbell lived in Augusta, Georgia, it's intriguing to see that the first group of entertainers he wanted was a "colored band and performers." The offer of "best of [train] car accommodations" was a silent acknowledgment to the difficulties African-American entertainers endured when traveling through the southern states where strict segregation rules made hotel rooms unavailable to them.
Source: Basil Clemons Photograph Collection, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.
H. W. Campbells United Shows, Breckenridge, Texas, Season 1921.

The Breckenridge photographer Basil Clemons had a good camera and even better eye for capturing a great photograph. A second image of H. W. Campbell's United Shows from 1921 shows six musicians of the Natiello brass band riding in one of those "flashy, hand-carved wagons." The trombonist who looks like George Lekord sits on the left. The wagon is pulled by a team of six black horses, beautifully combed and sporting white plumes. In the background on the other side of the dirt street is a Ferris Wheel, and a wooden tower that I will explain later. 
Source: Basil Clemons Photograph Collection, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.
H. W. Campbell's United Wild West show. 1921

Here the Natiello brass band is standing on a flat bed wagon in front of a different entrance where a large crowd has gathered. The center banner behind the band reads: South American Kid's Wild West, while other banners have painted pictures of horses and cowboys. It looks like the cowboy stars are being introduced as a few of them wave their ten-gallon hats in the air.
One of them, just in front of the small tent on left, has a black complexion, and I think he is the African-American cowboy in this next photo, named in the caption as Willie McGee of the NoWata Slim's Wild West with H. W. Campbell's United Shows, again from the 1921 season. Nowata is a small town in northeast Oklahoma where folks tend to be slender. 

Source: Basil Clemons Photograph Collection, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.
Wild West show, Breckenridge, Texas, 1921

The town of Breckenridge is about 100 miles west of Fort Worth. It was originally named Picketville when it was founded in 1854. But when Stephens County was established in 1876 the new county included Picketville and the town was renamed Breckenridge (though using an alternate spelling) in honor of former U.S. Vice President and former Confederate Army General John C. Breckinridge. The population of Breckenridge then was probably less than 400 citizens, but in the 1920s it became a center for the Texas oil boom. This jumpstarted its population to 1,846, and by the next census in 1930 it reached a peak of 7,569. Today Breckenridge, TX has a modest 5,423 residents. 
The wooden tower near the bandwagon was an oil derrick. In 1920 they were everywhere you'd turn in Breckenridge. It's possible that Basil Clemons climbed to the top of one to take this next photo of a improvised rodeo arena. The town's wooden buildings cover the flat plain out to the horizon and looking like church steeples, hundreds of oil derricks point to the sky. 

Source: Basil Clemons Photograph Collection, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.
A Wild West show, Breckenridge, Texas. 

It's not clear if this photo was taken at the same time as H. W. Campbell's United Shows, but it is dated 1921 and better shows Breckenridge's gritty boomtown appearance. I imagine the folks there preferred cowboys over fancy hussars. 

The digital archives at the University of Texas at Arlington Library have an amazing collection of thousands upon thousands of images. And unlike some archives, these images have no restriction for fair use, so I was able to include several more to better illustrate this story of a black professional musician in the early 20th century. I recommend taking an hour (or two) browsing the Texas history that Basil Clemons recorded with his camera.

The Billboard
22 January 1921

Despite my usual due diligence searching for a proper identification, I have been unable to find a record on any George Lekord in official state and federal archives. It's possible that the name on the postcard is misspelled, perhaps written by someone other than George himself. But Natiello's name was correct and that clue opened up two very different stories tied together by George's uniform.

He probably joined the side show band of H. W. Campbell's United Shows sometime around 1920-21. The shows were an eccentric combination of carnival rides, rodeo displays, minstrel shows, and circus acts. It was tough work, traveling together in 30 train cars for 40 weeks, setting up the tents and performance spaces every day in a new place. But as these pictures show, working in the crazy world of a carnival show offered a young black man in this era maybe a bit more accepting situation than a job on a farm or in a factory. At least you got a nice uniform.

Portraits are special mirrors into a moment of a person's life. This young man likely wanted his photo to make the best impression, so he showed up at the photographer's studio dressed in his hussar band uniform and with his instrument. I imagine he thought he looked pretty dapper. He wanted his mom and dad, his old classmate, his favorite girl to exclaim with pride, "Well, would you look at old George. Doesn't he look fine. I sure wish I could hear his band play." 

I think the photographer got it just right.


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where donkey rides are free all weekend.  


And for a special Sepia Saturday treat
here is a photo of my wife Charlotte
with a special friend she met 
at the seaside in Worthing in 1953.


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