Monday, September 03, 2012

The making of .... Leola Felton and Connie's Inn

 Connie's Inn ( photo:

Last year the final album of the Complete Hit of the Week-Durium Recordings, a four 2cd-set has been released – the crowning glory of 20 years collecting and research. In a monthly article at the Hit of the Week blog I love to look back to The Making of ….. One of the rare private recordings that was released at the Durium label was a live (?) recording by Leola Felton, who, according to the spoken intro, must have played at the Connie’s Inn
 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)

  This Leola Felton has been a mysterious piano player, but thanks to Robert Ford and Howard Rye, who recently published an article in Names and Numbers, entitled Leola Felton, A Forgotten Stride Pianist, unknown information was found ….. Although the article is not a complete biography of her musical career, thanks to some isolated facts it is possible to learn more about her career during the first half of the 1930s when the “private” record was made.

 Connie's Inn at the 2221 Seventh Avenue at West 131st Street - New York City ( photo:

  In a previous blog, entitled The making of … Leola Felton reveals her secrets, I told you about her early career as a piano player and her cooperation with Fats Waller and Fletcher Henderson. Today more about her work at Connie’s Inn. Fletcher Henderson, as was told in the previous blog, played in the Connie’s Inn with his orchestra for almost a year (late November 1930 up to September 1931) and Fats Waller, who took over the bandstand for two months ( October - mid november 1931), also joined Fletcher Henderson’s band for some weeks late 1930.

Manhattan ( 1930s)

 Leola Felton must have moved to New York City somewhere during the late 1920s and she is mentioned for the first time in New York City at an appearance at the YWCA on the 14th of May, 1930 … A year later, November 1931, she played the organ at the funeral of Mrs. Luler R. Shepherd, in fact the grandmother of Fats Waller’s wife Anita Rutherford, he had married in 1926. Maurice Waller, who wrote a book, in cooperation with Anthony Calabrese, about his father, was their son …..
The fact that Leola was invited to play the organ at that funeral seems to be an entry that learns that she must have been (closely) befriended with the Waller’s.  Fats Waller himself is not mentioned to be present at this ceremony – fact is that he was playing at Connie’s Inn during that time in one of his last weeks at the club. Leola Felton must have been working at the Connie’s Inn during the period that Fletcher Henderson and Fats Waller were the leading bands there – mind that the bands had to play both the floor show and at the dinner dancing.        Each week the Fletcher Henderson’s Connie’s Inn Orchestra  was part of a direct broadcast by CBS Network (WABC) and WMAQ.  Maybe that explains the spoken words on the record, which seems to be part of a radio program: This is a Durium record. Again we bring you Leola Fenton from Connie’s Inn and this time she’s going to play for you her favorite number the St. Louis Blues …  Could she have been one of the artist to perform at one of those live broadcasts?  The host suggests that it isn’t the first time that she was part of this specific or a previous radio broadcast ………
 Hal Bakay or Bacquet ( source: Keepyouposted)

Leola Felton again plays the organ late November 1931 when Hal Bakay, also listed as Bacquet, who was wounded during a fight between Spencer Williams and Jesse Coleman about a chorus girl, named Consuella Harris about a suggested lesbian relation between Consuella and another chorus girl. 
Hal stepped between the two fighting men. It is said that Spencer Wiliams set up Bakay after his show at the hallway of a house at 220 W. 131st St. and wounded him with a knife.  Hal was brought into hospital and was unable to indentify his attacker …. Hal Bakay, 21 years old, was a popular headlining singer, dancer and master of ceremonies ( Emcee) of Connie’s Inn - a respected vaudeville artists of the Leonard Harper revue , ….. up to the attack by Spencer ( 7th of November 1931) and his death four days later …. (12th of November, 1931)

 Thomas Fats Waller ( 1904-1943)

Leola Felton seems to have been one of the musicians part of the Connie Inn’s cast in the early 1930s …. And the rare, unlabeled Durium record might have been part of one of the live broadcasts with Fletcher Henderson ……. Mind that Howard Waters mentions a sponsored radio program, early 1930, entitled Durium Hours, of which I haven’t found any information except that Bert Lown’s Hotel Biltmore Music was one of the bands broadcasted (April 1930) and you might understand that it could be possible that the record of Leola Felton was recorded during one of those sponsored radio programs … – if true, they could have been broadcasted too from Connie’s Inn ………. I’m sure there must be experts in early 1930s radio programs who can inform me about those Durium hours shows …..
Mrs. Olive Blackwell-Bakay, widow of Hal Bakay faints at the funeral.  Who's the lady in the doorpost? (source: Keepyouposted)

  We still haven’t found any photo of Mrs. Leola Felton – It would be great is an image of her would turn up ….. but we have a photo of Bakay’s widow who fainted during the funeral and was brought out by a few friends ….. inside, invisible for us, Leola Felton must have been behind the organ ……  maybe she’s the headless woman in the doorpost - Isn’t that thrilling?

This contribution will be published in Dutch at the Keep (it) Swinging blog as: The making of .... Leola Felton en Connie's Inn

Hans Koert
author of the online Hit of the Week-Durium Discographies