Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The making of ..... Leola Felton reveals her secrets

As part of a series of monthly contributions about the birth of the Hit of the Week-Durium Discographies and the release of the Complete Hit of the Week Recordings by Archeophone I introduced you last month  to some .... loose ends, like the  mysterious piano player Leola Felton who recorded for Durium on a (private) recording. This record brings ...... Leola Felton from Connie's Inn ...... , as the spoken introduction of the record says, playing the well known St. Louis Blues.  Up to that entry this was all information we knew about this mysterious piano player - Who was Leola Felton?
The labelless cardboard Durium record, prob. released for the Connie's Inn (NYC)or as a private record for Leola Felton. ( photo courtesy: Ross Shore)

Thanks to Chris Smiths I received a copy of the 1926 Stenton directory, where she is mentioned as a pianist living in 249 N. Willow in Trenton (NJ) and this information was an opener to find some info about a few gigs she must have had during this period with her Troubadours. I wondered if someone could help to solve this puzzle.

This week I was surprised with an article, published last month (!) by Names and Numbers entitled Leola Felton, A Forgotten Stride Pianist, written by Robert Ford and Howard Rye. The latter sent me a copy of that article which throws light on this mysterious pianist. 
Connie's Inn ( photo: nycago.org)

She was born as Leola M. Felton in New Jersey, probably at Madison, around 1901 and she passed away, 63 years later in New York City as Leola H.F. Carter.

Her career, described by Ford and Rye is still as a mishmash of facts and assumptions .....   

Fletcher Henderson - the great band leader ( 1897-1952)

Without enter into details, as the article does, she is labeled as a talented piano player while at High School, accompanying Sidney Woodward, a tenor from New York City. In 1926 she lived in Trenton (NJ), as the register already told us, and she played late 1920s every Saturday night with her Troubadours at the steamer Wm Penn's Moonlight, for a three-hour cruise ... as an advertisement in het Trenton Evening Times of August 1927 suggests. This information was proved by some paper advertisements I published last month.

Young Maurice Waller gets some drink by his father Thomas Fats Waller. (Source: illkeepyouposted.typepad.com)

She moves to New york City and she is mentioned as the organist at the funeral of Mrs. Luler R. Sheperd, the grand mother of Anita Rutherford, who married Thomas Fats Waller in 1926, the mother of Maurice Waller.

 Fragment with some biographical info about Leola Felton I overlooked ( source: Hendersonia - Walter C. Allen)

In  February 1964 she told Harry Pilch, that she ..... had worked on arrangements for many entertainers including Fletcher Henderson and Fats Waller. ( see Hendersonia - Walter C. Allen - p. 499). Fact is that both Fletcher Henderson  and Thomas Fats Waller played at the Connie's Inn. Fletcher Henderson played with his orchestra from the 27th of November ( or 30th of November 1930) up to the 9th of September 1931, while broadcasting for CBS Network (WABC) and WMAQ ( Henderonia p. 262  ); Fats joined him during the last months of 1930 and succeeded in September 1931 in Connie's Inn for some weeks.  Fletcher Henderson had to play during this one year (!) gig, both the floor show ..... and for dinner dancing. They played tangos, waltzes, fox-trots, college songs, current hits, excerpts from the classics in dance tempos, just about everything, Russell Procope remembers. (Hendersonia - p. 253).
 Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra - ca. 1932. (Photo courtesy: Frank Driggs Collection)

Although this steady gig, a good deal, especially at a time when the entertainment business was dropping to its lowest ebb, Henderson excepted several profitable one day gigs, described in Hendersonia ( p. 262). When Fletcher Henderson stopped in Connie's Inn,  September 1931, Fats Waller took his place. The New York Times reads: Fats Waller, co writer of  My Fate Is In Your Hands and other hits, has expended his activities thru organizing a dance orchestra. He has placed his unit at Connie's Inn, replacing Fletcher Henderson's Band. ( Fats in Facts - Laurie Wright (p. 69). Waller's gig at the Connie's Inn ended on the 15th of November, 1931, when he was replaced by Leroy Smith's Orchestra.
Connie's Inn at the 2221 Seventh Avenue at West 131st Street - New York City ( photo: nycago.org)

The second part of this review will be published as The making of .... Leola Felton and Connie's Inn
  Thanks to Howard Rye for forwarding me this information. Congratulations to Names and Numbers, the Dutch magazine, for publishing this in its July edition.(July 2012)  
Deze bijdrage zal ook geplaatst worden in het Nederlands in de Keep (it) Swinging blog als The making of .... Leola Felton onthult haar geheimen.

Hans Koert
 author of the (online) Hit of the Week-Durium discographies hitoftheweek@live.nl


Anonymous Agustín Pérz said...

Well done again, Hans! A very interesting article with serious research.

August 08, 2012  

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