Winston-Salem native Milt Britton (19894-1948) started playing his horn in vaudeville circa 1914. Three years later he formed a musical duo (trombone and cornet) with Frank Wetzel (1892-1992), who then changed his name to Frank Britton. Over the years, such as accordion player Tito Guidotti joined the outfit, all of them changing their last name to Britton. The band went by many names over the years, usually some variation on “The Britton Band”, “Milton Britton’s Band” or “the Frank and Milton Britton Band.” But their niche in the show business world can be better gleaned by the descriptive taglines in their billing, such as “America’s Craziest Orchestra” and “The Mad Musical Maniacs.” In addition to being a great band, they did comedy slapstick. The band would commence to play a number in the convention fashion, then one musician might trip or bump into another and then pretty soon the whole thing would devolve into a donnybrook.
In addition to vaudeville, the Britton Band played nightclubs like the Brown Derby, venues across Europe and South America, Broadway shows like the Ziegfeld Follies of 1931, radio, and feature films like Moonlight and Pretzels (1933), Sweet Music (1935), and Riding High (1943), as well as their own short subjects like Vitaphone’s Milt Britton and His World Famous Orchestra (1937), and Columbia’s Milt Britton and His Band (1945).
Milt Britton’s death in 1948 brought it all to a screeching halt. After that, Frank Wetzel retired to Malverne, New York, where he became mayor during the 1950s. When he died in 1992 he was nearly 100 years old.
To learn more about vaudeville, please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,