Old timers will fondly recall the popular 11-piece Marion Mercer Band that featured the bandleader’s equally talented sister Nelle on piano. Debuting in the 1930s, this musical ensemble was the only major one in these parts until its success later spawned other groups. Marion Mercer could play a variety of instruments: trombone, vibraphone, violin, accordion, piano, organ and chimes.
Fiddlers’ conventions became popular in East Tennessee and surrounding areas around the turn of the century and grew even more prevalent in the 1920s, 30s and beyond.
Dr. James Bowman is proud of his late brother, Billy Bowman, a native of Washington County and former resident of Johnson City, whose career as a professional musician was outstanding. According to Jim … “After playing Dobro in his early teens in and around Bristol, especially for fiddler Jack Pierce who had been in Jimmie Rodgers’ 1920’s band, Billy moved to Knoxville for his initial full-time employment as a steel guitarist.
The year was 1927. Charles Lindbergh became the first individual to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean; famed New York Yankee slugger, Babe Ruth, hit sixty home runs in a single season; the Ford Motor Company ceased production of its “Tin Lizzie’ in favor of their highly popular Model T automobile; "The Jazz Singer" signaled the end of silent movies, ushering in the first motion picture with a sound track; and Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry launched its first radio broadcast.
For most of this century, the upper East Tennessee region has truly been blessed with a profusion of high-quality old-time musicians. The mere mention of “old-time music” conjures up images of a string band, casually dressed in characteristic mountain attire, playing distinctive deep-south non-amplified toe-tapping dance music on their well-worn and sometimes hand-me-down instruments.
My mother was a huge fan of big band music in the 1940s, preferring “sweet” as opposed to “swing” bands. Although orchestras tended to focus on one genre or the other, most leaders incorporated a blend of each to satisfy their customers’ voracious musical appetites. Mom’s favorites were Guy Lombardo (“The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven”), Sammy Kaye (“Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye)” and Russ Morgan (“Music in the Morgan Manner”).
I was saddened by the passing of Sue Eckstein this past June. She became an ardent supporter of my “Yesteryear” column by acquainting me with numerous local history sources, including a bulky scrapbook that once belonged to her father, Paul Carr, who with his brother, Sam, owned Carr Brothers, Inc.
Earl “Bucky” Buchanan sent me a letter containing a March 26, 1914 program from The W.A. Wright Private School, Department of Instructional Music and his father’s “Student’s Monthly Report.”
Area oldsters will likely recall the musical antics of Spike Jones and His City Slickers in the 1940s and 50s. My uncle, Glenn Cox, owned a collection of the comedic bandleader’s 78-rpm breakable records and introduced me to the group about 1950.
Recently I chatted with Mrs. Carsie Lodter about the time her late husband, Prof. Edward Lodter, played the Majestic Theatre’s Wurlitzer organ after it was relocated to Milligan College for a weekly WJHL radio broadcast.