Stars of Vaudeville #957: The House of David Band
Wow — you could have knocked me over with a feather when I learned about this one. I’d long known that back in the day there was some kind of outfit on network radio called “the House of David”, because Groucho makes a reference to it in Animal Crackers: “This program is coming to you from the House of David”. I’d long assumed it was a reference to the fact that the brothers were Jewish (and I know that other writers and scholars have made this erroneous assumption because I’ve come across it in books). But here’s what it was really a reference to.
The House of David was actually a Christian religious community founded in Michigan in March 1903, and with roots that go back to the Second Great Awakening in the late 18th century. By 1906, their commune had hundreds of members and 1,000 acres on their commune, with orchards, a cannery, a steam laundry, and its own electrical plant. The House of David also operated a famous zoological garden and amusement park, several semi-pro baseball teams, and — now we get to the crux — several brass bands which toured the Keith, Orpheum and Pantages circuits between 1906 and 1927.
It’s hard to know what to make of a phenomenon like this. An apocalyptic cult which bases its views on The Book of Revelation yet is mainstream enough to have been a household word. There’s something very “1920s” about that. By the way, the religious group still exists; their website is here.
For more on vaudeville history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.