Archive for the Marches Category

The House of David Band

Posted in AMERICANA, Marches, Music, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2016 by travsd


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 historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. 

James Reese Europe and His Orchestra

Posted in African American Interest, Marches, Music, Ragtime, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , on February 22, 2011 by travsd


“No inconsiderable part of our success was due to his wonderful playing…”

— Irene Castle

James Reese Europe (born today in 1880) can be thought of as the W.E.B. DuBois of American music, not just an accomplished musician, but a relentless teacher, theorist and advocate for the cause of widespread acceptance of African Americans as the equals of whites in the field of serious music.Europe had studied music seriously as a youngster in Washington, D.C., moved to New York, and quickly made a name for himself organizing bands for society parts, which is where he met Vernon and Irene Castle, who hired him to be their musical director.

Not surprisingly, the Europe Orchestra and their alumni were among the first African Americans to tread the vaudeville stage without the mask of burnt cork. Dressed in evening clothes, this crack ensemble of highly trained musicians infused their music with elements of ragtime and what was then coming to be known as jazz. Two of its more sophisticated alumni, Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake (author of “I’m Just Wild About Harry”) would form their own team called the “Dixie Duo” and become Palace headliners themselves, in addition to creating the seminal Broadway show Shuffle Along. Others he collaborated with included Walker and Williams, Cole and Johnson, Will Marion Cook and Ernest Hogan.

When the U.S. entered the World War in 1918, Europe further distinguished himself by organizing an all-black regimental band. This patriotic group bravely entertained doughboys throughout the theatre of war until the armistice, at which point they returned home for a triumphant U.S. tour. It was on the last performance of that tour in 1919 that one of his own musicians, over some perceived slight, stabbed Europe to death.

For more on Europe’s incredible contributions, go here.

And here he is with his orchestra playing the Castle House Rag (named of course in honor of the dance team who helped put him on the map). The Castle House was the name of their dance school:

To find out more about the history of vaudeville, please consult my critically acclaimed book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other fine establishments.


And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc


John Philip Sousa in Vaudeville

Posted in AMERICANA, Marches, Music, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , on November 6, 2010 by travsd


Surreal perhaps but nontheless true — John Philip Sousa trod the vaudeville stage.  Thoughts of a uniformed marching band in variety inevitably conjure visions of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Remember, too, that vaudeville coincided with the Spanish-American and First World Wars. No doubt Sousa’s blood pumping musical artistry was at its apex of demand in such periods.

Sousa was born and raised in our nation’s capital. His father had been a trombonist in the U.S. Marines. Born in 1854, John Philip was a prodigy. He studied at a Washington music conservatory, where he developed his intense love for military bands during the Civil War.

Sousas fils and pere were an intense couple of dudes. Once, when Sousa’s mother wouldn’t give him enough donuts, he sat outside in the rain until he caught pneumonia. He was laid up in bed for one and a half years. When the lad was 13, his father caught wind that he intended to run off and join the circus. The next morning, dad walked him down to the Marine recruiting office and signed him up for a 7 ½ year hitch. I want to party with these fellahs. These are boys who know what they want.

Upon emerging from the Marines well on the other side of childhood, Sousa played as violinist in various orchestras and wrote numerous Broadway operettas. In 1880, he was appointed conductor of the U.S. Marine Corps Band, and reenlisted. Of course he did! He’s John Philip Sousa! For the corps, he composed many of his famous marches: Stars and Stripes Forever, Semper Fidelis and innumerable others. He was with the Marines until 1892, then toured with his own band. The band played the Palace on numerous occasions and in 1927, played the Paramount for ten weeks straight. See Eva Tanguay’s entry for an anecdote that tells us more about her than it does him.


To find out more about the history of vaudeville, including musicians like John Philip Sousa, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever terrific books are sold.


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