Tal Henry and His North Carolinians

July 10 is the birthday of big band leader Tal Henry (Talmadge Allen Henry, 1898-1967). Born in Georgia, Henry didn’t became a North Carolinian himself until he moved to Eton College, Burlington, N.C. to follow up on his earlier studies at the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music.

In 1919 he moved to Greensboro and played violin in a band led by Frank Hood. Henry took over the act in 1924, renaming it Tal Henry and His North Carolinians. The first several years of the orchestra’s existence were spent as the house band at Greensboro’s O’Henry Hotel. In time they managed to secure bookings in hotel ballrooms all over the country, as well as vaudeville engagements, radio spots, recording contracts, and,in 1928 two Vitaphone shorts. By the ’30s, they were a nationally known concern, with hit records, regular national radio broadcasts from the New Yorker Hotel, and coverage in national magazines.

By 1938, several years into the Great Depression, the expense of maintaining a full orchestra grew too great and the North Carolinians disbanded. This early break-up of the act may be one of the reasons Henry’s band is less well known today, whereas the ones who were able to press on into the 40s or beyond, like the Dorsey Brothers (who’d played with Henry on occasion), or Kay Kyser (Henry’s exact contemporary, and a fellow North Carolinian) continue to be known today. Henry worked as an agent and manager for a few years, and then led bands for U.S. Army Special Services during World War Two. After the war, he returned to North Carolina, where he continued to work as a violinist. A biography of Henry written by his daughter-in-law, was published in 2008.

For more on the vaudeville history, including big bands like Tal Henry and His North Carolinians, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever fine books are sold.

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