Ragtime · Blues · Hot Piano
 WWI Draft Registration Cards and Essays
 Jelly Roll Morton · Relatives · Associates · Musicians
 Ragtime Composers · Bandleaders · Authors · Broadcasters

WWI DRAFT REGISTRATION CARDS AND ESSAYS
Introduction  ·  Jelly Roll Morton  ·  Relatives  ·  Associates
Musicians  ·  Ragtime Composers  ·  Bandleaders
Authors  ·  Broadcasters  ·  References  ·  Kudos

INTRODUCTION

The Selective Service Act 40 Stat. 76 was passed by the Congress of the United States of America on 18th May 1917 on the nation’s entry into World War I. The Act gave the President the power to draft men for military service. By the end of World War I about 24 million men had registered for the draft, and some 2.8 million were inducted into military service.

There were three stages in the draft registration process:

1.  —  5th June 1917 for all men between the ages of 21 and 31.

2.  —  5th June 1918 for those men who turned 21 after 5th June 1917, with a supplemental registration on 24th August 1918 for
          those who turned 21 after 5th June 1918, and:

3.  —  12th September 1918 for those men aged from 18 to 45 inclusive who had not previously been required to register.

World War I Draft Registration Cards are available in digital image format from the holdings of the National Archives at Atlanta, Records of the Selective Service System. [NARA] The Draft Cards are a valuable source for jazz researchers and historians, because of the information given about the birth date, occupation, residence and physical characteristics of each registrant.

Our search for World War I Draft Cards of jazz musicians, and their associates, effectively spanned three continents — North America, Europe and Australia — and involved persistent and concentrated efforts by Millie Gaddini, Brian Goggin, Mike Meddings and Peter Hanley. We have obtained high-quality images of the cards of some important and well-known musicians who were later in the forefront of the jazz world.

In addition to my essays accompanying the Draft Cards of Jelly Roll’s relatives, associates and fellow musicians, Mike will be inviting leading researchers to provide their essays about other musicians and composers in the World War I Draft Card project.


Special thanks to Prof. Lawrence Gushee, Brian Goggin, Mike Meddings, Guy Hall, Henry Smith, Aaron Mountain, Alex Adan, Shane Bell and James J. McSweeney.

© October 2006 Peter Hanley

Jelly Roll Morton

FERD JOSEPH MORTON

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Ferd Joseph Morton

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

Jelly Roll’s WWI Draft Card eluded researchers for many years. When it was discovered in November 2005, it was easy to understand why. Jelly Roll registered at Draft Board #17 in Los Angeles on 12th September 1918 and the card was sent to Draft Board #50 in Chicago to be filed with the other cards registered at Draft Board #50. The reason for this is that Jelly Roll gave his permanent address as 545 Aldine Square, Chicago, Illinois, which gave Draft Board #50 in Chicago administrative control over his registration.

The birth date on the card of 13th September 1884 adds yet another variation to the number of different birth dates for Jelly Roll on the public record.

The location of the address of Jelly Roll’s residence at 545 Aldine Square (which leads off Vincennes Avenue, just south of 37th Street), Chicago has been identified by Millie Gaddini and independently verified by Prof. Gushee. Millie has provided the superb period photograph of apartments and street scenes in Aldine Square.

Jelly Roll listed his occupation as “Actor” and his employer as the “Levi Circuit, San Francisco, Calif.” It was not unusual for featured musicians on the vaudeville circuit to list their occupation as an actor (for example, Bill Johnson and Eubie Blake). The “Levi Circuit” was actually Bert Levey Circuit of Independent Vaudeville Theatres, which operated, as an agent for vaudeville artists and independent theatres, from the Alcazar Theatre in San Francisco with branch offices in London, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Denver and Los Angeles. Bert Levey was born in California on 1st August 1885 and ran his theatrical agency business from about 1910 to at least 1930. He died in Los Angeles on 30th September 1972.
[PH 1]

© November 2005 Peter Hanley

Relatives

NELUSCO J. ADAMS

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Nelusco J. Adams

WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917

Nelusco John Adams was the son of Joseph Adams and Laura Péché, and was Jelly Roll Morton’s uncle, even though they were born only a few months apart. Nelusco was born in New Orleans on 12th June 1890, and baptised at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church at Annette and Claiborne Avenue in 1894 as Pierre Adams.

The unusual name of “Nelusco” (incorrectly written as “Nulesco” on the draft card) is taken from the name of the slave, Nelusko, in the opera L’Africaine (The African Girl) by the German Jewish composer, Giacomo (originally Jakob) Meyerbeer, which was posthumously produced in Paris in 1865.
[RR 1]

Adams was a carpenter by trade, working for various building contractors in New Orleans. Although brought up in the same household, Jelly Roll and Nelusco were far from friends. Conflict arose between them over Nelusco’s harsh treatment of Jelly Roll’s sisters, Amède and Frances, and his habit of wearing Jelly Roll’s clothes. After the death of his mother, Jelly Roll was very protective of his sisters, and had zero tolerance of Nelusco’s attitude. When Jelly heard that Nelusco had mistreated Frances on a particular occasion in 1906, he flew into a rage and gave his uncle a severe beating. This was the beginning of the end for Jelly Roll in the Adams’ household.

In later years Nelusco called himself John and registered for Social Security under the name of John Adams. He left New Orleans permanently in the 1950s to live in Chicago where he died in March 1963.
[PH 20]

© June 2007 Peter Hanley

IGNACE COLAS

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Ignace Colas

WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917

Ignace Colas was Jelly Roll Morton’s brother-in-law. He married Eugénie Amède Mouton, the elder of Jelly Roll’s two sisters, in New Orleans on 15th October 1913. Registered for the World War I Draft in New Orleans on 5th June 1917, Colas was born in Edgard, St. John the Baptist Parish, on 31st July 1891 (the date on the draft card) or on 19th June 1892 (the date on his death certificate).  At various times, he was a carpenter and labourer, and suffered from indifferent health in later years.

Alan Lomax interviewed the Colas family in 1949 while he was finalising his material for “Mister Jelly Roll”. Ignace and Amède moved to California in the early 1950s so that they could be near their elder daughter, Louise, and her husband Frank Bozant and their grandchildren.
[PH 12]

© February 2007 Peter Hanley

EMILE DOMER

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Emile Domer

WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917

Emile Domer (originally D’Omer) was the son of Emilien Joseph D’Omer and Hortense Péché, the second youngest child of Pierre Péché and Félice Baudoin. He was, therefore, a first cousin of Louise Monette, Jelly Roll Morton’s mother. Born in New Orleans on 22nd November 1890, Emile was at various times a warehouseman for the California Wine Association, a labourer and a truck driver doing general haulage work. He married Bertha Thompson in New Orleans on 8th January 1910, and moved to Chicago with his family in the 1920s. [PH 23]

© October 2007 Peter Hanley

ARTHUR FRANK GUICHARD

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Arthur Frank Guichard

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

Arthur Frank Guichard Jr. married Jelly Roll Morton’s younger sister, Frances Mouton, in New Orleans on 25th April 1917. They had only one child, Julian Guichard (1918-1994), and separated and divorced in the mid 1920s. A freight handler for the Southern Pacific Railroad at the time of registration for the draft, Guichard later became a small transport operator. Born in New Orleans on 9th March 1898, he died there about 1939. [PH 24]

© October 2007 Peter Hanley

EDWARD JOSEPH LAMOTHE Jr.

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Edward Joseph Lamothe Jr.

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

Jelly Roll’s father, Edward Joseph Lamothe (1865-1938) married Olivia Mary Warnick in New Orleans in 1897, and two sons were born of this marriage. The elder son, Edward Joseph Jr., was born on 7th February 1898 and followed his father into the building trade, but as a carpenter. The draft card records that, like Jelly Roll, he was tall and slender. He left New Orleans in the 1920s and ended up in New York where he died in October 1981. [PH 25]

© October 2007 Peter Hanley

ISIDORE JOSEPH LAMOTHE

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Isidore Joseph Lamothe

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

Isidore Lamothe was the younger son of Edward Joseph Lamothe, Jelly Roll Morton’s father. He was also a carpenter by trade, but, unlike his brother, lived in New Orleans for all of his life and died there in January 1973. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Isidore live in New Orleans to this day. [PH 26]

© November 2007 Peter Hanley

ARTHUR JOSEPH MONETTE

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Arthur Joseph Monette

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

Arthur Joseph Monette was born in New Orleans as Arthur Delfort Monette on 26th January 1882. He was the elder surviving son of Julien Monette and Philomène Poydras, and was a half-brother of Louise Monette, Jelly Roll’s mother. He followed the occupations of Pullman porter and waiter at a clubhouse during most of his working life. Married in 1909, Monette and his wife Deborah had six children between 1910 and 1927. Arthur Monette died in New Orleans on 20th June 1934, a few days before his half-brother, Neville Monette. [PH 27]

© November 2007 Peter Hanley

AUGUSTE REYNOLDS MONETTE

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Auguste Reynolds Monette

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

The details of Gus Monette, Jelly Roll Morton’s favourite uncle, were incorrectly recorded on his draft card as Auguste Ranold Monnette with a birth date of 28th August 1877. His birth certificate records his name as Auguste Reynolds Monette, and he was born at 151 Urquhart Street (old numbering), New Orleans on 28th August 1876.

Auguste Monette was a barber by trade, and married Octavie Lavigne in New Orleans on 5th November 1900. He employed Jelly Roll and endeavoured to help him after his mother died in 1906. Jelly mentioned him, not that favourably, in his interviews with Alan Lomax in Washington D.C. in 1938.
[MJR 22-23]

Auguste Monette owned a house at 1320 St. Bernard Avenue in the Seventh Ward, and he and his family lived there for over thirty years until they moved to California. He died in Alameda, California on 27th August 1958. [PH 21]

© June 2007 Peter Hanley

HENRY OSWALD MONETTE

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Henry Oswald Monette

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

Henry Oswald Monette was the eldest of the three brothers of Louise Monette, Jelly Roll Morton’s mother. His birth certificate, issued in Orleans Parish, records that he was born in New Orleans on 24th March 1874, the same date he gave when registering for the draft on 12th September 1918.

In his early years, Henry worked as a cigar maker, following in the tradition of his Péché ancestors and relatives, and as a teamster, before joining the Citizens Industrial Life Insurance Company as an agent about 1914. Citizens Industrial was owned by the now defunct Acme Life Insurance Company, and Monette represented the group for more than thirty years.

Rudi Blesh visited New Orleans in 1944 to further his research on Jelly Roll and contacted Henry Monette, at Big Eye Louis Nelson Delisle’s suggestion, to arrange an interview with Jelly Roll’s sister, Amède Colas. Blesh described Henry as a truly Dickensian character, very light coloured and easily able to pass as white, who seemed to know everyone in the Creole section of the city.

During his research for Mister Jelly Roll in 1949, Alan Lomax spent an afternoon with Ignace and Amède Colas and Henry Monette, whom Amède referred to as Uncle Henry. He was able to unravel Jelly Roll’s (and his) ancestry for Lomax, correcting his nephew’s mistaken memory of the names of Pierre Péché (his maternal great-grandfather) and Julian Monette (his maternal grandfather).
[MJR 29-38]

After retiring as an insurance agent, Henry Monette ran a wine cellar in New Orleans for some years. He died in February 1963, shortly before his eighty-ninth birthday. [PH 19]

© June 2007 Peter Hanley

NEVILLE JOSEPH MONETTE

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Neville Joseph Monette

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

Neville Joseph Monette, as he preferred to call himself, was the youngest of the Monette brothers mentioned by Jelly Roll Morton when discussing his ancestors and relatives on the recordings he made for the Library of Congress in 1938. [AFS 1640-A]

Neville was born at 153 Urquhart Street (old numbering), in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans on 20th February 1879, and his birth certificate certified that his name was “Joseph Roscoe Neville Monette, the natural son of J.J. Monette and Eleanora Peché.” He was a barber by trade, operating his own business.

On 4th December 1899, Neville married the eighteen-year-old Adelaide Marquez, who was also a native of New Orleans. By the time he registered for the draft on 12th September 1918, he had purchased a house at 1476 North Claiborne Avenue, from which he operated his barbershop until his death.

Shortly before his death, Neville suffered from chronic myocarditis and endocarditis, and collapsed and died at Milneburg, near the Light House, on 26th June 1934.
[PH 22]

© July 2007 Peter Hanley

SEYMOUR J. MONETTE

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Seymour J. Monette

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

Seymour Monette was the younger surviving son of Julien Monette, Jelly Roll’s maternal grandfather, and Philomène Poydras. He was born in New Orleans on 5th February 1885 as Seymour Benjamin Monette. An assistant chemist in a food laboratory, he married Aurelia Oubes in New Orleans in 1904. Seymour died in New Orleans on 6th April 1948, and, interestingly, his death certificate records his race as white or Mexican. [PH 28]

© November 2007 Peter Hanley

JOHN HENRY PRATTS

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

John Henry Pratts

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

John Pratts, born in New Orleans on 18th April 1877, was a blacksmith by trade although his occupation at the date of his registration for the draft was given as labourer. He was the son of the Spanish born J. W. Pratts and Maria Louisa Gravel, and his birth, registered in Orleans Parish, confirms the birth date on his draft card. He married Louise Monette’s first cousin, Charlesia Péché, the daughter of Emile Péché and Elizabeth Mindibourg, in New Orleans on 25th July 1898. Pratts died in New Orleans in 1940. [PH 29]

© November 2007 Peter Hanley

Associates

WILLIAM BENBOW

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

William Benbow

WWI Draft Registration Card
11th September 1918

William Benbow (generally known as Will or Bill Benbow) was a pioneer of black vaudeville entertainment in the southern states in the early part of the twentieth century. He began his career in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1899, moving on to Pensacola, Florida in 1900 [AM 41], and joined the well known Allen’s Minstrels in Birmingham, Alabama in the early part of 1902. About 1906, according to Jelly Roll Morton, Benbow was an actor at Mobile’s Dixie Park when he planned a small road show, which consisted of himself, Mrs. Benbow of that period, and Jelly Roll. Benbow was versatile and “would do straight, blackface, dance, sing duets” and mind reading with the young Mister Jelly. The troupe nearly came to grief in Pine Hill, Alabama when they narrowly escaped a gang of well-armed rednecks who were on their way to kill every one of those “black bastards.” Jelly said that, “Will Benbow was the kind of fool that never thought anything was the matter that he couldn’t talk his way out of . . .” and had to be persuaded to leave in a hurry. [OMJ 49-51]

In September 1907, Will Benbow opened the Belmont Street Theater in Pensacola, Florida with a larger show, Will Benbow’s Chocolate Drops Company, which included Mrs. Alberta Benbow, the comedian Lee Cobb, a young buck and wing dancer by the name of Johnny Stevens, and a pianist admired by Morton, Frank Rachel from Georgia, who led the augmented orchestra. [IF 261007] The company included Jelly Roll on piano in 1908, and, in April 1909, Benbow introduced a young Butler May (String Beans) and Gertrude “Ma” Rainey (1886-1939), one of the truly great blues singers, at the Belmont Street Theater. Also in the cast was Stella Taylor, Jelly Roll Morton’s girlfriend at the time, and it is quite probable that Morton himself was playing there in the orchestra. (The Indianapolis Freeman, 17th April 1909)  Jelly Roll told Alan Lomax in 1938 that String Beans “was the greatest comedian I ever knew, and a very, very swell fellow. He was over six feet tall, very slender with big liver lips, and light complexioned.” [OMJ 50]

Morton said that he toured with Benbow intermittently for several years, probably from 1908 to the latter part of 1911. They played Louisville, Winston Salem, Richmond, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Kansas City, St. Louis, and New York, where a young James P. Johnson heard Morton play in 1911. [MJR 143-144]

Jelly Roll recalled that Edna Benbow sang the blues in one of the Benbow shows he toured with in this early period of his career. This must have been in 1911 when The Indianapolis Freeman reported that Edna Landry Benbow, the then current Mrs. Benbow, made a big hit [IF 220711], as Edna was only fifteen-years old at the time. Edna Landry was born Edna Landreaux in New Orleans on 14th October 1895, the daughter of Victor Landreaux. Several years after she left Benbow, who was a notorious womaniser, Edna Landry moved to Chicago in the early 1920s where, in 1923 and 1924 as Edna Hicks, she made over two dozen recordings issued on a variety of labels (Victor, Columbia, Brunswick, Vocalion, Gennett and Paramount). She died on 16th August 1925 as a result of a tragic accident in her Chicago apartment. Lizzie Miles (1895-1963), the well-known blues singer, was her half-sister. Edna’s brother was the fine trumpet-player, Herb Morand (1905-1952), who made a memorable record, Forty and Tight coupled with Piggly Wiggly (Vocalion 1403), with Johnny Dodds, Frank Melrose and Baby Dodds in a small group called the “Beale Street Washboard Band” in Chicago in 1929. He later played with the “Harlem Hamfats” and recorded extensively with them in Chicago and New York from 1936 to 1938.

Will Benbow was an important mentor to String Beans (Butler May) who, in his short career, became the shining star of the black entertainment world. Wherever he appeared, from the South to Chicago and all the way to New York, String Beans created a sensation. In February 1916 Benbow teamed up again with String Beans to form Beans and Benbow’s Big Vaudeville Review, which debuted in St. Louis and toured until February 1917. They both signed on as a feature in C.W. Park’s Colored Aristocrats from July to early October 1917, the last major tour of String Beans before his tragic death in November 1917 cut short a brilliant career. A number of stories were circulated about the circumstances of his death, but it appears that he was being initiated into a Masonic lodge in Jacksonville, Florida on the night of 10th November 1917 when the initiation ritual got physically out of hand, and May’s neck was broken, leaving him completely paralysed. He was taken to a hospital in Jacksonville where he died on 17th November 1917.

Although living in Washington D.C., Will Benbow registered for the World War I draft in Newport News, Virginia on 11th September 1918. He gave his date of birth as 15th October 1881, and his occupation as a self-employed actor. His nearest relative was recorded as his brother, Lawrence Benbow, who lived at West Belmont Street, Pensacola, Florida. The birth date above is in contrast with Benbow’s World War II Draft Card, which records that he was born in Montgomery, Alabama on 15th October 1882, and was five feet four inches tall, weighing 175 pounds. By the time of the 1920 U.S. Census, Benbow was lodging at 257 South Fourth Street, Memphis with a new Mrs. Benbow, a twenty-year old actress from Tennessee by the name of Beulah.
(1920 US Census, Tennessee, Shelby County, Memphis, 5th Ward)

Benbow continued in vaudeville for the next two decades. In both 1925 and 1926, he produced a show called “Get Happy” with a troupe of eighteen men and women, which had a good run including a week at the Douglass Theatre in Macon, Georgia. The 1926 cast included the New Orleans trombonist, Alvin (Zue) Robertson. Benbow registered for the World War II Draft on 8th April 1942, and was living in Indianapolis where he ran a show at a nightclub, called the Cotton Club. When he died in Indianapolis in 1951, notice of his death appeared as an item in The Chicago Defender. (courtesy of Lawrence Gushee)  [PH 33]

© April 2008 Peter Hanley

MARTIN BLUMENTHAL

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Martin Blumenthal

WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917

Martin Blumenthal was the real name of Marty Bloom, who was a partner in the music business of Melrose Bros. for a period of time in the 1920s. Born in Chicago on 9th November 1893 into a Jewish family, his parents were Max and Rose Blumenthal who had migrated from the Russian controlled Poland in 1891. Marty Bloom began his career in the music world as a pianist in Chicago saloons, and later became an actor on the vaudeville stage.

Bloom’s work with Melrose Bros. included a brief stint at managing the career of Jelly Roll Morton, no easy task for either the experienced, or the inexperienced. It is said that he introduced Morton to the fledgling Music Corporation of America in 1927, probably motivated by a desire to pass the responsibilities of looking after the brilliant but difficult Creole to a more experienced manager. Nevertheless, Marty’s association with Jelly Roll yielded an impressive collaboration (also with Charlie Rider) in the 1926 publication of Cannon Ball Blues. Bloom also handled the sound effects on “Jelly-Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers” 21st September 1926 recording session for Victor.  He is heard on Sidewalk Blues and Dead Man Blues.
[RHP]

Marty Bloom was also a songwriter in his own right, and published a number of songs, including the popular standard Melancholy in 1927, still played by jazz bands today. His most successful song was the novelty collaboration with Billy Rose and Ernest Brever, published as Does the Spearmint Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight in 1924. The English skiffle maestro, Lonnie Donegan, revived the song with great success in the 1960s as Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight.

Fats Waller was managed by Bloom in 1932 when Waller was making the stage shows swing at Connie’s Inn in New York. It was the end of the prohibition era, and the New York gangsters were pushing to control the sale of alcohol to the Harlem clubs, resulting in a war between the gangs of Vincent (Mad Dog) Coll and Arthur (Dutch) Schultz. Mad Dog Coll unilaterally decided that Connie’s Inn was his territory, and kidnapped George Immerman, one of the members of the family, which owned the club, holding him for ransom. When Coll took Immerman to the Inn to collect the money, the police were waiting. In the resulting shoot-out, Coll got away, but without collecting. All this was too much for the Immerman’s who sold Connie’s Inn despite it being a profitable landmark in New York entertainment. It was safer that way.

It was also too much for Marty who decided that the overwhelming Waller character, not to mention the gangsters who frequented his appearances, were best left to someone else. He persuaded Phil Ponce to take over and went back to the relative peace of Chicago to produce shows at the Sherman Hotel. After a long and successful career, Marty Bloom died in Highland Park, Lake County, Illinois in December 1974.
[PH 8]

© February 2007 Peter Hanley

HARRY EDWARD DUNN

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Harry Edward Dunn

WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917

During his years on the Gulf Coast between 1906 and 1910, when he travelled extensively in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, Jelly Roll Morton nurtured the ambition to become a sharp shooting gambler. At that time the main card game played was Georgia Skin, which Jelly Roll described as a game that had “so many different kinds of cheats right in front of your eyes. It’ll take a magician to catch ‘em, and maybe not even him.” [AFS 1679-B] Jelly Roll’s tutor in Georgia Skin was a tall, thin, light complexioned mulatto by the name of Harry Dunn. After a short period of tuition, the Morton confidence turned into over-confidence, and the pair set out from Biloxi with another friend to win some money in a railroad camp in a two-horse town called Orange, Mississippi. Their amusing, but near fatal, adventure in Orange was recounted in detail on the Library of Congress recordings. [AFS 1679-B] - [AFS 1680-A] and [AFS 1680-B]

Harry Dunn was born in Moss Point, Mississippi, the birthplace of that fine pianist and composer of modern ragtime, David Thomas Roberts. Harry Dunn and his elder brother, Spencer, and young sister, Sarah, were brought up by their grandmother, Sarah Brown. The family were recorded in Moss Point in the 1900 U.S. Census as white, but were described as black in the 1910 U.S. Census when Harry was working as a waiter in a restaurant in that same town.

On 5th June 1917, at the Draft Board for West Biloxi, Dunn registered for the World War I draft. The draft card records his full name as Harry Edward Dunn, his place of birth as Moss Point, and his date of birth as 9th June 1917. His description as tall and slender accords with Jelly Roll’s description of him above. At the time, he was working as a cook for the White Hotel Co., which was more correctly described as the White House Hotel Company. The White House Hotel was built as a large residence by Walter A. White, a Mississippi lawyer and later Circuit Court Judge, and his wife Cora on an ocean front property in Beach Boulevard, Biloxi in the late 1890s. The Whites took in boarders to increase their income and later extended their house to a row of seven Victorian residences, which became the White House Hotel, the finest and most popular hotel in Biloxi, often called the Riviera of the Gulf Coast. The hotel was run by the White family until 1940 and Harry Dunn was employed there as a cook until at least the 1930s. It is now on the Register of Historic Places.

Harry Dunn was called up for the draft on 15th July 1918, and served in 15th Company, Fourth Regiment, U.S. Marine Corps in the Dominican Republic, rising to the rank of Private First Class. At the time of his discharge on 21st April 1919, he was hospitalised in the field hospital at Sand Pedro de Macoris, about fifty miles east of Santo Domingo. After his return to the United States and discharge from Army service, Harry resumed his employment as a cook at the White House Hotel.

He continued to live in Biloxi until his death there on 28th November 1964. As a veteran, Harry was buried in Biloxi National Cemetery on 7th December 1964.
[PH 31]

© March 2008 Peter Hanley

JOHN FRANCIS FORD

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

John Francis Ford

WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917

John Francis (Jack) Ford was the common-law husband of Anita Gonzales (born Bessie Johnson in Montgomery, Alabama in 1883) from 1924 till her death in 1952. Anita was the love of Jelly Roll Morton’s life, and he described her as the only woman her ever loved. On Jelly Roll’s death in 1941, she became the principal beneficiary of his estate.

Jack Ford was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming on 22nd September 1892, the son of Michael Ford and Susan Elizabeth Maley. According to the 1900 U.S. Census, Michael Ford had migrated from Ireland in 1859 when he was only a few months old. However, one of the two entries for him in Utah in the 1910 U.S. Census lists him as born in Pennsylvania. Whatever the case, both parents were of strong Irish descent, and Jack was proud of his Irish heritage.

Working in mines in Utah from an early age, Jack went to Arizona about 1915 to work in the rich copper mines in the central part of the state. He registered for the World War I Draft on 5th June 1917, at Miami, Gila County. In the wild and wicked town of Jerome in Arizona, while a foreman at one of the mines there, he met Anita Gonzales. Anita, always with an eye for a quick dollar, was involved in a number of business enterprises in Jerome. Known as the Cuban Queen, she ran a popular bordello and Jack became her star boarder. They befriended a young Mexican family by the name of Villalpando, and it appears that Anita employed the father to manage a billiard saloon. The father was killed in a gun battle with another Mexican, leaving his youngest son in the care of Jack and Anita who left Jerome and went to Canyonville, Oregon where they purchased a property on the South Umpqua River and established a restaurant, motel, and petrol station.

Jack and Anita brought up the young Mexican child, Enrique Villalpando, as their own, and he became known as Henry Ford. The Fords prospered and the restaurant, located on the old Pacific Highway 99, became a landmark in the area. In the 1940s, Anita and Jack purchased a motel, the Topanga Beach Auto Court, at Topanga Canyon, near Malibu, and went to live there in 1947. After Anita’s death in 1952, Jack continued to run the motel. He went on a trip to England and Ireland in 1956, and died at Topanga Canyon of a heart attack on 31st July 1956, soon after his return.
  [PH 11]

© February 2007 Peter Hanley

LOUIS AUGUST LA MAR

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Louis August La Mar

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

Louis August La Mar (Lew La Mar) was a French Canadian, born in Quebec on 11th December 1873. He migrated to the U.S. with his parents prior to 1894. He was white — not African-American. He registered for the WWI draft on 12th September 1918. The draft card records his occupation as a Theatrical Actor for the Western Vaudeville Association, Majestic Theatre Building, Chicago, the same vaudeville group that employed Bill Johnson. [PH 2]

On 4th June 1927 Lew La Mar joined “Jelly-Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers” in Chicago to participate in a Victor recording session.  He is featured on Hyena Stomp and Billy Goat Stomp. [RHP]

Dave Peyton reported in The Chicago Defender, dated 18th June 1927, that “Lew La Mar was the polite and jovial master of ceremonies and kept things on the hum at all times.” [CD]

© October 2006 Peter Hanley

LESTER MELROSE

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Lester Melrose

WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917

Lester Franklin Melrose, the second eldest of seven children of Frank and Mollie Melrose who owned a farm near Sumner, Lawrence County, Illinois, was born on 14th December 1891. He began his working life as a deliveryman for a dry goods store, and had ambitions of becoming a star baseball player. When he went to Chicago to live in 1912, he tried out as a catcher for the White Sox baseball team, but without success. In 1914, he opened a grocery store on the South Side at 37th Street and Vincennes. He was still running this store when he registered for the draft on 5th June 1917, but had to give it up when he was drafted into the army in 1918.

After his army service, the 1920 U.S. Census recorded his occupation as a grocery salesman (probably for Marshall Field’s department store at State Street and Randolph). About 1922, he joined his brother, Walter, as a partner in his music store at 6311 South Cottage Grove Avenue, on the South Side of Chicago. Marty Bloom, a pianist and vaudeville actor and the composer of the popular standard Melancholy, joined the partnership later. In 1924, Lester married a sixteen-year old girl of French Canadian descent by the name of Blanche.

Melrose Brothers Music branched out into music publishing after they became associated with Jelly Roll Morton in 1923. Wolverine Blues, Milenburg Joys, King Porter Stomp and a host of other Morton numbers put them on the road to financial success. In 1925, Walter Melrose took over the music publishing business and moved to the more affluent North Side. Lester acquired the music store, financed by Walter. When Lester got into financial difficulties, Walter called in his note and sold up the business. Neither family nor friendships stood in the way of Walter Melrose when money was concerned.

After struggling for several years, Lester climbed the ladder of success again when he promoted many African-American blues artists who became popular, recording them mainly in Chicago and, at the same time, demanding that they transfer the copyright in their songs absolutely to him. He ultimately became the owner of the copyright to some 3,000 tunes. Such was the way of both the Melrose boys.

After a successful career in the promotion and publication of music, the musically illiterate Lester Melrose retired to Florida with his wife Blanche and died there in April 1968. Blanche died sixteen years later in 1984.
[PH 7]

© January 2007 Peter Hanley

GEORGE EUGENE PEYTON

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George Eugene Peyton

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

Jelly Roll Morton’s early travels took him to Texas on two occasions, about three years apart. His second visit was a lengthy one, and is documented by an item in The Indianapolis Freeman of 9th August 1913 when he was playing at the Vendome Theatre in Houston in an act with Rosa (Rosie) Brown. [TIF]  When he was not playing on the vaudeville circuit, Morton played in the sporting district at the bordello of Thelma Denton (born Texas 1885) at 807 Lion Street, Houston; while Fred Washington, who later played with Kid Ory in California, was the professor at 803 Lion Street owned by Josie Sasser (1877-1944) who had originally invited Jelly Roll to Houston.

As a front for his activities in the sporting district, Jelly Roll opened a tailor shop and, after an altercation with his girl friend Rosie Brown, Detective Peyton visited Jelly Roll at the shop and threatened him. Morton retaliated, with the result that Peyton walked into the tailor shop a few days later and said: “Jelly Roll, you’ve got to shut this place and blow town.”
[MJR 146] Jelly Roll and Rosie, as Morton and Morton on the vaudeville circuit, moved north.

A search of the 1910 U. S. Census revealed that George Eugene Peyton, a white man, was a detective on the Houston City Police, and was living with his wife Drue and their three children, Alpha, Eugene and Allie. According to his World War I Draft Card, Peyton was born on 18th April 1881, and other records indicate he was born in Austin, Texas, the birthplace of Alan Lomax. By the time of his registration on 12th September 1918, Peyton had left the police force, and was working as an inspector for the Houston Electric Co. This is confirmed by the family entry in the 1920 U. S. Census at 42 York Street.

Jelly Roll was not the only African-American musician who ran up against Peyton and his detective partner, John E. Boone (born, Texas, 1873). The inimitable Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, was imprisoned at Sugarland Prison Farm (Central State Prison Farm), which was located across the Brazos River in the bottomland about twenty five miles west of Houston. In The Midnight Special, his famous song about a train on the Southern Pacific Railroad that left Houston every night a few minutes after eleven heading west to San Antonio and beyond and passing very close to the prison farm buildings, Leadbelly often used these stanzas:

Let the Midnight Special shine her light on me,
Oh, let the Midnight Special shine her ever-lovin’ light on me.

If you ever go to Houston,
Boys, you better walk right,
And you better not squabble,
And you better not fight.

Bason and Brock (Benson Crocker) will arrest you,
Peyton and Boone will take you down,
The Judge will sentence you,
And you Sugarland bound.
[LLL 84]

George Peyton died in Houston, Texas on 29th August 1960. It is a pity he was not interviewed by Alan Lomax, a fellow Texan also born in Austin. He would not have been too hard to find in Houston, and his story would have been interesting, to say the least. [PH 37]

© February 2009 Peter Hanley

HARRISON G. SMITH

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Harrison G. Smith

WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917

Harrison Godwin Smith was a minor song plugger and promoter in New York for fifty years, beginning his career in the 1920s. About 1930, Jelly Roll Morton took him into partnership in an unsuccessful music publishing business, which ended in a bitter and acrimonious dispute, the effects of which still rankled Smith forty years later. Alan Lomax outlined the strange events concerning the dispute, [MJR 223-228] referring to Smith as the West Indian to prevent him taking any action for libel.

Smith had no known connection with the West Indies. He was born in Washington D.C., the son of Henry and Cathel (Catherine) Smith who were both from the state of Maryland.

According to Smith, he started in the music business in New York in 1913. When he registered for the draft on 5th June 1917, his occupation was listed as assistant janitor at the premises of The Peoples Trust Company (established 1886) at Nostrand Avenue and Herkimer Street. His date of birth on the card, 15th May 1893, was only one of a number of different birth dates for him on the public record: July 1891 in the 1900 U.S. Census, 1894 (age 35 on 1st April 1930) in the 1930 U.S. Census, and 15th May 1895 on his World War II Draft Card and in Social Security records (SSN 119-12-7429).

Smith claimed in two articles, published in the Record Research magazine in 1957, that he was co-composer (mainly with Ben Garrison) of nine songs recorded and copyrighted under Morton’s name, and further claimed that twelve songs and instrumentals, copyrighted under Morton’s name, were not composed by Morton, but by other song writers.
[RR]  Be that as it may, Jelly Roll told Lomax that Smith’s musical ability was non-existent. Smith was apparently camera shy, and, to my knowledge, there is only one published photograph of him. William Russell, who took photographs of just about everyone, was not able to coax him before a camera lens when he interviewed him in 1970.

Harrison Smith died in Brooklyn, New York in September 1982, still bitter and vindictive about his association with Jelly Roll Morton.
[PH 15]

© March 2007 Peter Hanley

BENJAMIN F. SPIKES

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Benjamin F. Spikes

WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917

Benjamin F. Spikes was born in Dallas, Texas on 31st October 1888, as mentioned on his draft card. The 1900 U.S. Census places his birth in October 1889, which is supported by the 1920 U.S. Census, while the 1930 U.S. Census and his Social Security Death Index record both support the birth date on the draft card. He registered for the draft in San Francisco and his employer is given as the “The Portola Louvre café”. This café, which was located at 18 Powell St. near the junction with Market St., was a well-known restaurant and venue at the time in San Francisco. The famous pianist and composer Ferde Grofé (born Ferdinand Rudolph von Grof, 1892-1972), who played with Paul Whiteman’s orchestra for many years, also played at the venue and gained a reputation there.

Benjamin was the youngest child of Monroe and Madora Spikes. Monroe had a barbershop in Dallas until his home and business premises were maliciously burned down in 1897. The family then moved to Los Angeles. Benjamin had a very mixed heritage. In addition to his Negro lineage, he also had Irish, French, Norwegian and American Indian blood in him. His father used to call him “Rebel” when he was a small child. Eventually, this was shortened to “Reb”, which remained his nickname thereafter.

He worked on building sites in Los Angeles before moving to the Barbary Coast, in San Francisco in 1907 and 1908 to visit his older half-brother Tom (born c. 1865), who also ran a barber’s shop. Apart from Tom, all of his siblings were pianists, but Reb preferred painting. He took up music in his late teens when his brother, John Curry “Johnny” Spikes (1881-1955), bought him a set of drums. Johnny was a multi-instrumentalist who specialised on piano and trumpet. The brothers then worked as a piano/drums duo around the Southwest and Midwest, including Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. Soon after, with Johnny’s guidance, Reb too became a multi-instrumentalist. He specialised on saxophones, but he also played clarinet, trombone, drums, and a little piano for working out ideas and compositions.

The Spikes brothers first met Jelly Roll Morton in 1911, while they were managing “The Pastime Theatre” in Muskogee, Oklahoma, less than fifty miles from Tulsa.
[JJSB 12] Reb always had a high opinion of Morton’s musical abilities: “Jelly Roll was the greatest piano player I ever heard. Jelly’s the best I ever heard in that Louisiana-style or ragtime or jazz or whatever you want to call it. The first time I heard him in Tulsa, I knew he was great.” [JBC 52-60] Subsequently both Spikes brothers and Morton worked in the minstrel show “McCabe’s Troubadors”. Morton did a blackface act in the show. Reb recalled, “Jelly wanted to be a comedian. He thought he was a funny man and, my God, he was as funny as a sick baby. He never made nobody laugh. He’d black up (he was very light, you know) and come out and sit at the piano and tell jokes and play some rags and nobody ever laughed and so one day I told him to cut out the funny crap and stick to the piano crap and he’d do all right.” [MJR 144]

Reb Spikes returned to San Francisco again in 1914 and later he joined pianist and bandleader Louis Sidney “Sid” LeProtti (1886-1958) on baritone saxophone. LeProtti’s band was called “The So Different Jazz Band”, because the pianist had originally started his band at “The So Different Place”, so they used the name after they left that venue. Incidentally, Sid LeProtti’s WWI draft card also gives his employer as the “The Portola Louvre café”. Spikes said they moved to “The Portola Louvre” from “Purcell’s” because they were all sick of that establishment. Spikes was billed as “The World’s Greatest Saxophonist” with the band. [JBC 73] The band, no doubt, had great pride in the fact that a cabaret owner from Watts, Los Angeles named Baron Long, travelled to see them and cancelled the Original Dixieland Jass Band to book them instead! [JJSB 12]

The saxophonist eventually returned to Los Angeles in 1919, following four or five months in Oakland where Jelly Roll joined him again, and from this time, he ran a music shop with his brother Johnny at 1203 Central Avenue. Spikes Bros. was far more than just a shop — it became the centre of jazz activity on the West Coast. It was practically the only outlet there for jazz records and was a hangout for local musicians. The brothers handled bookings, wrote arrangements, published music, and had their own record company, “Spikes Bros. Phonograph Co. Inc.” and their “Sunshine” record label. “Kid Ory’s Creole Orchestra” recorded under the name “Spikes’ Seven Pods of Pepper” for them in June 1921 in Los Angeles, using the Nordskog company’s equipment. There has been disagreement about the precise recording session date, with most sources giving a date of spring or summer 1922 rather than 1921. While Reb Spikes gave both years on different occasions, the late Floyd Levin stated that 1921 was the year given in the company’s files. The records appeared in Nordskog’s catalogue in November 1922, so this may be the reason for the conflicting session dates. [NGD3 204] and [CJFL 14-24] These records were the first commercial jazz records made by a black New Orleans band. Hattie McDaniel (1892-1952), the first black person to win an Oscar for her role in the 1939 film “Gone With the Wind”, was also a client of theirs. In addition to his business and musical interests, Reb also ran a few clubs. [JBC 73-79]

The Spikes brothers composed Someday Sweet Heart, which Jelly Roll Morton recorded in 1923, and again in 1926. They also published and wrote lyrics to Morton’s Wolverine Blues and Froggie Moore Rag. Reb Spikes only recorded two sessions under his own name, “Reb’s Legion Club Forty Fives” for “Hollywood” in November 1924 and “Reb Spikes Majors and Minors” for “Columbia” in October 1927. The 1924 session was the recording debut of reedman Les Hite (1903-1962) and Lionel Hampton (1908-2002) on drums. For many years, Jelly Roll Morton was, erroneously, thought to be present, but Laurie Wright finally put paid to this idea in his indispensable book, “Mr. Jelly Lord”. [MJL 191] The session produced Steppin’ High, along with a stomp, My Mammy’s Blues, and a blues, Sheffield Blues, which recalled an overly zealous local police officer, Maceo B. Sheffield (1897-1959), who later became an actor.

Spikes spent most of the 1930s working as a promoter, including helping his old sidemen Les Hite and Lionel Hampton on their way as bandleaders.
[SM 103] In late 1940 and early 1941, he again teamed up with his old friend Morton, who returned to Los Angeles in the hope of resurrecting his career and launching a big band. Spikes and Morton were planning to launch a publishing business, but unfortunately, Morton’s rapidly declining health and subsequent death ended their plans. [OMJ 551] Some time later, severe illness restricted Spikes’ activities. When he had recovered, he attempted to resurrect the “Sunshine” label in the mid-1940s. However, with no new material to release, the venture was one of his very few business failures, and he resumed talent scouting.

Reb Spikes died in Los Angeles on 24th February 1982, aged 93.
(California Death Index 1940-1997) On 29th January 2005, the William Grant Still Arts Center opened its February exhibition entitled ‘JazzGenesis: Benjamin Franklin “Reb” Spikes and the Central Avenue Jazz Scene, 1919 to 1945’. The exhibition, which included a discussion by Floyd Levin, was set up in recognition of Spikes’ historic importance, including his role as one of the first black record producers. [BG 17]

© December 2008 Brian Goggin

Note: See also the article titled: Kid Ory’s Legendary Nordskog/Sunshine Recordings by Floyd Levin, which was published in the Jazz Journal International magazine, dated July 1993, Vol. 46, No. 7, pages 6—10.

JOHN CURRY SPIKES

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

John Curry Spikes

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

John Curry Spikes was born on 22nd July 1881, as per his draft card. The 1920 U.S. Census gives his age as 35, which would imply a birth date about three years later than that on the draft card, while the 1930 U.S. Census gives his age as 50, suggesting a birth date about two years earlier. His California death record concurs with the birth date on the card and by his own admission, Spikes was 31 years old in 1913, which is also consistent with the date on the draft card. [OMJ 552] Even though there was only seven years between them, his younger brother and business associate, Benjamin F. “Reb” Spikes (1888-1982) thought that John was about twenty years older than himself! [JBC 58, 77]

Johnny Spikes was a multi-instrumentalist, who could play most wind instruments, piano and percussion. He specialised on piano and trumpet though. He had trouble with his eyes from 1906, and while an operation in San Francisco in 1907 restored some sight in one of his eyes, the other one remained blind. [JBC 58]  His draft card notes that he was blind in his left eye.

Along with his brother Reb, Spikes worked with Jelly Roll Morton in the minstrel show “McCabe’s Troubadors” in the Midwest in 1912. He spoke very highly of Morton’s musicianship: “He played both by ear and from notes. He was the greatest improviser I ever heard. That’s what made him so different, the way he could take any number — I think when this whole thing is checked up or down they’ll find out that Jelly Roll was one of the truly great musicians.”
[OMJ 552]

Unlike his brother, during his time away from Los Angeles, Johnny did not play the Barbary Coast, but he did play in Oakland for a while around 1920. [JBC 58] From 1919, the Spikes Bros. music shop that Johnny and Reb ran from 1203 Central Avenue, Los Angeles was the centre of Jazz activity on the West Coast of the U.S.A. With Johnny’s disability, much of the work to be carried out in the shop fell to Reb. As a result, Johnny mostly wrote the arrangements for the music they published and played, while Reb handled the business side of the operation. It would seem, therefore, that Johnny was probably responsible for the lion’s share of the work on the published arrangements for Someday Sweet Heart, and for Morton’s Wolverine Blues and Froggie Moore Rag.

In addition to his duties in the shop, Spikes also gave music tuition on piano, trumpet and sax, and sometimes he led his own bands. At one time, he had “The Spikes-Hegamin Band” which included Bill Hegamin, who was Lucille Hegamin’s husband.
[JJSB 13] This was the same Bill Hegamin who took two jobs from Jelly Roll Morton in California, one at the Cadillac café in Los Angeles, and the other at an establishment owed by one George Brown in Watts, a town near Los Angeles. [AFS 2488-B] Johnny recalled seeing Jelly Roll play at the “Cadillac”. [OMJ 552]

By 1936, after thirty years of eye trouble, Johnny Spikes was completely blind. His spirits were still high though, according to his brother, who said that he married after this time and he also continued to verbally dictate music for arrangements and compositions. [JBC 58] Johnny Spikes is not known to have recorded. He later moved to Pasadena and in the last years of his life, he worked on an opera. [JJSB 13]

On 3rd March 1955, attorney Hugh Macbeth (1884-1956) conducted an interview with Johnny Spikes, who by that time was gravely ill. Macbeth was the executor of Jelly Roll Morton’s will and he conducted the interview in order to obtain material for a film about Morton that M.G.M. and Jose Ferrer were interested in making. [OMJ 552] Despite their efforts, the film did not materialise. Three months later, Johnny Spikes died in Los Angeles on 28th June 1955, aged 73. (California Death Index 1940-1997) [BG 18]

© December 2008 Brian Goggin



EZRA C. A. WICKEMEYER

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Ezra C. A. Wickemeyer

WWI Draft Registration Card
23rd May 1917

Ezra C. A. Wickemeyer registered for the draft in New York City on 23rd May 1917, and his draft card was subsequently sent on to the Draft Board for the 6th Precinct of Richmond, Indiana, the city of his home address. [PH] The date of birth of 25th March 1893 given for Wickemeyer on the draft card tallies with the data recorded for him in the U.S. Census entries of 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930; his 1920 marriage record and his WWII draft card. His name, however, was incorrectly entered as “Wickmeyer” and “Wickoneyer” respectively in the 1910 and 1920 U.S. Censuses.

Ezra was born to William Henry Wickemeyer, a German immigrant born in Hanover in 1862 and his wife Ida K. (born 1865), a native of Indiana. He appeared in the news shortly before his 12th birthday, due to a “Laurel and Hardy” style incident in the family home on 24th February 1905, when a plumber and gas company employee struck a match to locate a gas leak. The family home was wrecked in the resultant explosion and both Ezra and the two workers were injured. The house, which was located at 300 South Third street in Richmond, Indiana was severely gutted by the explosion, as shown in a surviving photograph of the aftermath.
[WH] (courtesy of Mel Helmich and Rick Kennedy)  The event was reported in The Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel on 1st March 1905. [FWS]

By 1910, Ezra was working as a grocery salesman in Richmond, Indiana. Wickemeyer must have had a good ear for music and head for figures. His 1917 draft card states that his occupation was “Recorder, Phonograph records” with The Starr Piano Co., and his 1920 U.S. Census entry records him as a bookkeeper in a piano factory back in Richmond. He married Katherine M. Helmich (1890-1981) on 29th September 1920. (Indiana Marriage Collection, 1800-1941, Book C-17, OS page 268)

The Starr Piano Company’s name and management regime as it stood during Ezra Wickemeyer’s first years in employment there had been in place since 1905, following over fifty years of reorganisation, relocation, renaming and business manoeuvring. The original ancestor of the company was a small piano factory founded by Alsatian immigrant George M. Trayser in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1849. Trayser subsequently transferred business to Ohio, first Ripley around 1865, and then Hamilton, in 1871. He moved to the Quaker town of Richmond, Indiana and joined forces with Irishman Richard Jackson and Richmond native James Starr to form the Trayser Piano Company in 1872. Trayser’s departure in 1878, followed by Jackson’s death in 1881, and the addition of Starr’s brother Benjamin to the ranks in 1884, led to the company being reborn as James Starr & Co.

The firm had a convenient working relationship with the St. Louis based Jesse French Co., who were pioneering piano retailers with music stores across the Southern states. French’s father in law, Englishman John Lumsden, and his Italian American brother in law, Henry Gennett (1852-1922); were close business associates of French. In 1892, Lumsden and Gennett began merger negotiations with the Starr brothers, culminating in the formation of the Starr Piano Co. on 7th April 1893, with all five men sitting on the board of directors. By 1905, Henry Gennett, along with his sons Harry, Clarence and Fred were running the company, which became a national leader in the piano manufacturing and retail industry.
[JRBH 2-7]

In 1915, the Gennetts expanded to manufacture other equipment, and by 1916 they had entered the recording business with a studio in New York. They had premises at the address on Wickemeyer’s draft card, 56 West 45th street, and at 9-11 East 37th street. In 1921 they opened a six storey manufacturing and pressing plant in Richmond, and subsequently used a single storey shed alongside a line of the factory’s buildings as the recording studio for the “Gennett” label. [JRBH 19-22] Here, Ezra Wickemeyer supervised the recording of music in several different genres, but the studio is best remembered for some of the most historically significant, pioneering sessions of the early and mid-1920s, during which some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time recorded their wares.

The artists involved included “The New Orleans Rhythm Kings”, Jelly Roll Morton, “King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band”, “The Wolverines” including Bix Beiderbecke, and the prolific composer Hoagy Carmichael. Wickemeyer appears in a photograph with “The Wolverine Orchestra” taken outside the Gennett studio after the recording session of 6th May 1924. In fact, history was made several times in this single storey shed, which was witness to the first sounds of King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, the Dodds brothers and Bix Beiderbecke to be captured on record. Jelly Roll Morton recorded with the “New Orleans Rhythm Kings” there in 1923, and unusually for Gennett, some alternate takes survive. He also made seventeen piano solos in 1923-1924, sixteen of which were released.

As chief sound engineer, E. C. A. Wickemeyer went to great pains to achieve the correct balance in the sessions he worked on. Several “demo” recordings were made to test the balance and achieve the optimum positioning of the musicians. When this was achieved, the sessions proceeded, with three masters, or sometimes four, being made for each tune recorded. The master deemed to be the best was selected and the remainder were usually destroyed, much to the absolute dismay and disgust of modern day collectors. Despite his painstaking adjustments, Ezra Wickemeyer was well regarded by the musicians he recorded. Bandleader Marion McKay recalled, “Wickemeyer was a good guy to work with, pretty reasonable. They
[the Gennett staff] didn’t give you any problems; they had plenty of their own problems getting the right sound and balance. You had to be pretty patient sitting through all the playbacks. But nobody minded since recording was such a new thing to everybody. We didn’t know any different.” [JRBH 32] Wickemeyer was no fool and certainly not a doormat for the company’s management either. On one occasion when the assistant sales manager Clayton Jackson took $400 from two Ku Klux Klan members to enable them to make 1,000 records, Wickemeyer walked out and quit in disgust. Harry Gennett was very angry about this treatment of his chief recording engineer when he heard about the incident, and Wickemeyer subsequently returned. [JRBH 37-38]

Wickemeyer and the branch staff in Richmond had been criticised for not always achieving optimum results, both by the New York branch of the company at the time, and some commentators in recent years. However, this is very harsh, considering that the Richmond Gennett-Starr studio was a far smaller operation, with less staff, less facilities and less material at its disposal than the New York branch, or the main companies in the business such as Victor or Columbia. Also, the latter two companies secured exclusive contracts with their artists, whereas in Richmond, Gennett were reliant on musicians passing through, or making the long trip from Chicago or elsewhere. In addition, there were certain parameters that were out of Wickemeyer’s control, such as noise and vibrations from trains passing nearby, along with stifling heat in the summer, all of which hindered progress. His work must ultimately have been admired in the business circles, as Wickemeyer left in early 1927 to join one of Gennett’s larger competitors. He may also have done some work in the hat industry, as the following appeared in the Classified Ads (Wanted) section of the The Laurette Manufacturing Company in two issues of The Vidette Messenger in November 1927:

District Manager—The Laurette Manufacturing company wants a man as district manager, also several ladies to sell a snappy line of ladies’ hats to their friends; no canvassing. A profitable, permanent position, all year round. If you are interested and can qualify write E. A. Wickemeyer, 158 Grove street, Blue Island, Ill. for personal interview appointment.

On 21st November 1928, Wickemeyer and Edward A. Feltman filed an application for a patent on a “Glare Eliminator” for spectacles, and the patent was granted as U.S. Patent 1,804,922 on 12th May 1931. By 1930, according to his census entry, Wickemeyer had moved to Chicago and was still working as a recording engineer, but by this time he was in the moving pictures industry. His nephews recalled that he worked in a firm that produced early colour film, and this work involved testing the equipment outdoors. He also worked for Brunswick for several years. [RK 1] Wickemeyer was unemployed by 27th April 1942, when he registered for the World War II draft as Charles Esra (sic) Wickemeyer in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. He must have been scarred by the 1905 incident as the “Other obvious physical characteristics that will aid identification” are given as “Burns on face & hands”. The Wickemeyers moved to Cincinnati shortly afterwards, where Ezra initially worked for Wright Aeronautical until 1945. This plant was located on the same site where General Electric stands today. Wickemeyer subsequently joined The Dracket Company, which was a chemical firm. They later moved to nearby Reading, Ohio and lived over a savings and loan firm owned by relatives, where Ezra worked as a custodian. [RK 1] In 1951, Wickemeyer may also have been involved in sales, as the following advertisement appeared in the “Arrival of Buyers” section of the New York Times, 23rd January of that year:

RICHMOND, Ind. — Adam H. Bartel Co.: E. W. Coate, men’s furnishings, gloves, knit goods, underwear; E. A. Wickemeyer, piece goods; 56 Worth (Independent Wholesale D. G. Assn.).

Ezra C. A. Wickemeyer died suddenly in August 1956 aged 63; and his wife, Katherine, died aged 91 in Norwood, Norfolk, Massachusetts on 11th July 1981. (Social Security Death Index, issued Ohio before 1951, SSN 268-28-5511) The Wickemeyers were both buried in Lutherania Cemetery, Richmond. They had no children. Ezra Wickemeyer was a true “jack of all trades” who had turned his hand to many jobs during his lifetime, including being a book-keeper, recording engineer, inventor and photographer. In the words of his nephew Robert Helmich, who passed away in 2008, “Uncle Ez was known as a guy who could put things together”. [RK 2] Robert’s brother, Mel Helmich, who lives in Ohio, recalled of his uncle, “He always wore a straw hat and was a chain smoker.” [RK 1] Sure enough, one of the very few surviving photographs of him, taken in the 1930s, shows Ezra on the far right with his straw hat and a cigarette. [SHP] (courtesy of Mel Helmich and Rick Kennedy)

Eighty years after the groundbreaking “Gennett” recordings, Wickemeyer appears briefly as a minor character in “Oh, Play That Thing”, a 2004 novel by Irish writer Roddy Doyle. Doyle is best known for his 1987 novel “The Commitments”, which was made into a film in 1991 and received a BAFTA award, along with a Golden Globe and a Oscar nomination. In “Oh, Play That Thing”, the novel’s main protagonist is an Irishman who goes on the run to the USA following the Irish Civil War (1922). He then gets involved in activities in prohibition USA, and becomes Louis Armstrong’s manager. [BG 24]

© September 2009 Brian Goggin

Special thanks to Rick Kennedy for information about Ezra C. A. Wickemeyer’s later years and to Mel Helmich for the rare photographs.

ZACK WILLIAMS

Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Zack Williams

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

Zack Williams registered for the draft on 12th September 1918 at local board #17, in Los Angeles. Jelly Roll Morton submitted his details for the draft at the same board and on the same date, so given their association around this time; there is a possibility they traveled together to register.

The draft card shows his date of birth as 6th October 1883. In the 1900 U.S. Census he was recorded as Zacherus Williams, born in Louisiana in October 1886. His 1920 U.S. Census entry gives his age as 36, which is consistent with the 1883 birth date, while the 1930 U.S. Census records his age as 43, which is in agreement with the 1886 birth date. His California Death Record gives yet another birth date of 6th October 1884.
[CDR]  Incidentally, in both the 1920 and 1930 U.S. Censuses, his occupation is given as a movie actor.

Zack’s occupation, at the time of his registration, was a Pullman Porter. Interestingly, regardless of their real name, “Pullman Porters” were called “George” by the passengers. This tradition finds its origins after the name of the company’s founder, George Pullman. At this time “The Pullman Company” was the largest employer of African-Americans in the United States.

On the Library of Congress recordings, Jelly Roll Morton describes Zack as follows: “I had a fellow runnin’ the place for me from New Orleans that I had a lot of confidence in. He was the first fella that played the part of Tarzan in the moving picture — a great big black fella, standing almost seven feet high.  And he must weigh at least three-hundred pounds, all solid meat. . . .”
[AFS 2489-A]  Morton can be forgiven for the hyperbole, because with his draft card recording an imposing frame of 6' 3" and 260 lb., Williams was indeed an extremely large man.

Movie actor Zack Williams was one of the pioneers in the organization of the Screen Actors Guild. He appeared in twenty-six movies during the years 1920-1948. He is probably best remembered for his portrayal of Elijah, one of the Tara plantation field hands, in “Gone With The Wind” (1939). Among his many other screen appearances were roles in “The Yankee Clipper” (1927) with William Boyd; “Kid Millions” (1934) with Eddie Cantor, Ethel Merman and Lucille Ball, and “Professor Creeps” (1942) with Flournoy E. Miller and Mantan Moreland.
[MG 1]

Zack Williams died in Los Angeles County, California on 25th May 1958. [CDR]

© November 2007 Millie Gaddini

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