Even some of Wayne’s old-timers have forgotten the connection between the Men’s Club Minstrels and the Radnor High School band. The fact is that the band owes its existence to the Minstrels. Originally the net proceeds of each show were put into the Organ Fund with the hope that this fund would grow to such proportions that an organ could be purchased and installed in the Radnor High School Auditorium. This was to be a memorial to the alumni of the School who lost their lives in World War I.
Although the Minstrel Shows were staged on a lavish scale and the cost of production was always high, nevertheless each year showed a profit, until in 1930 there was the sum of $1050 in the treasury. Then it was decided to convert the Organ Fund into the Band Fund, since at this time there was no High School band in Wayne. At the Radnor-Lower Merion football games it was even necessary to hire a band. The latter did not compare very favorably with the splendid school band or our neighboring community! Townspeople and students alike longed for a school band of Wayne’s very own. It was then that the Minstrel Men turned over more than $1000 for this purpose, and Radnor High School’s Band obtained its start.
The 1930 Minstrel Show was the last of the “gorgeous era” ones. This was in the first years of the depression and the returns from seats selling at $1.50 and $1.00 had to pay for the show. Although it was a gala one, attendance was off to such an extent that the Minstrels were several hundred dollars in the red. Fortunately, the Main Line Kiwanis Club had contracted for a show in Ardmore, and the proceeds from this made up the deficit.
Ironically enough, since the depths of the depression had not even been reached in 1930, the show of that year opened with the rousing song “Happy Days Are Here Again”. The Minstrel Men were evidently doing a bit of wishful thinking! The atmosphere and scenery were Spanish, with gay senoritas and matadors doing their parts in bright colored raiment. “Bub” Park, playing on the end of the circle for the first time, captivated his audience with the song “Me and the Girl Next Door”, while Ted Park followed with “The Load Is Heavy”. “Willie” Shuster repeated his great success of the previous year by singing “He Went In Like a Lion”, while “Doc” Standen made a hit with his song “I Can Get It for You Wholesale”. Among chorus numbers were “The Troubadours”, Victor Herbert’s “Moonbeams”, “Bells of the Sea”, and “Gunga Din” with the solo part sung by Bill Dowdell.
A playlet entitled “The Yankee Toreador” was the very amusing feature of Part II of the program, particularly the “bull”, as played by Dave and “Bunny” Hunt! And then there were Spanish dances by Hal Reese with “Doc” Standen and Ted Park as caballeros! Noteworthy among the soloists were Jimmy Smith and George Orr.
Since the 1930 show had gotten by financially only with the help of the extra performance in Ardmore, the Minstrels decided not to venture on a 1931 performance, particularly in view of the fact that the days of the depression were still upon the country. But in 1932, even operating under a budget cut some 50 percent, a very creditable performance was given. While not as lavish in costume and stage effects as its predecessors, it was still “a typical show of beautiful music, lively dancing and sprightly comedy”. That they did it at all is still much to the credit of these Minstrel Men. Perhaps it was partly because they knew the pleasure it would give to hundreds of spectators, perhaps it was the enjoyment of close fellowship on a common endeavor, certainly it was something of both that prompted them, for each show took months of work and preparation in assembling talent and in working out the details of the programs.
C. Linn Seller, of Haverford College, had now succeeded the well-loved maestro, Ed Hunt, as musical director. The chorus, always the keystone of these shows, sang “Winter Song”, “Buss Frog Partrol”, and “That’s Why Darkies Were Born”. Among the soloists were Lou Garratt, who sang, “River, Stay ‘Way From My Door” and Jimmy Smith, who sang both the “Serenade” from “The Studen Prince”, and “Uncle Rome.” Of the latter, one commentator has said, “A picture that will never fade in the memory of many was Jimmy Smith as the enfeebled and trembling old darky singing in the moonlight, “Uncle Rome”’.
(to be continued)