We’ve had Christmas and have gotten New Year’s and resolutions out of the way so I was looking for something to write about in my column that might be interesting to our readers. We were watching a television program about Duke Ellington last week and I seemed to remember writing a column about him.
That sent me on one of my never ending searches, then I found the one I was looking for and it wasn’t the “Duke.” It was Lionel Hampton that led into a column on Phil McDade, a brother to Russell McDade, a well-known builder in the Sherman and Denison area a few years ago.
Denisonians seem to have been in the music production business for many years, especially graduates from Terrell School who lived in the Black Community.
Sometime back I wrote about Gladys Hampton, who wasn’t a musician herself, but was married to one of the greatest jazz musicians around. Actually she was Lionel Hampton’s business manager and sometimes booking agent and her ability to manage money made Lionel a wealthy man after she died. Lionel didn’t come from Denison or Sherman, but Gladys was born here as Gladys Riddle.
Discrepencies of her age have been around for a long time, probably not because of the vagueness of her early years, but because she just didn’t want people to know how old she was. Some sources say she was born in 1918, but by 1929 she was a successful modiste (one who produces, designs or deals in ladies’ fashions, according to my dictionary) in Los Angeles. Other sources say she was born in 1914, which is consistent with her obituary. Yet a 1996 book, “Notable Black American Women, Book II,” says that 1910 is a more accurate estimation.
Her age makes no difference. What’s interesting is that she lived in Denison in her early years. She met Lionel in 1932 in California and already was a successful businesswoman who sometimes referred to herself as “just a little dressmaker.” She had become an important modiste for MGM Studios in the 1920s.
She gave up her career and moved with Lionel to New York in 1936 after he was offered a position with the Benny Goodman Quartet. They married on the way to New York when they stopped in Yuma, Arizona. Her reputation as a shrewd manager was legendary during their 35 year partnership. She died of a heart attack in 1971 in New York, leaving Hampton a weathy man.
Gladys had a son, Roscoe C. Riddle, who graduated from high school in Denison and later became a doctor in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
Another bandsman in the 1920s and 1930s came to light thanks to his niece, Rose Pleasant of Sherman. Phil McDade was a brother to Russell McDade, well-known builder in the Sherman and Denison area a few years ago.
Phil was born in 1901 and raised in Denison, the second of 10 children who lived in the Brownville community near the Iron Ore Baptist Church. Rose had been doing research on the Brownville area and promises more information soon about that area near what is now Texoma Parkway and Coffin Street. Her mother was Phil’s sister.
The McDade’s home was on South Maurice on the south side of the church near Brownville Elementary School. Phil then went to Anderson-Terrell school that later became Terrell School. Today Phil would be well over 100 years old.
Rose said that Phil never had a music lesson and everything he played was by ear. He married Anna L. Green in 1919 in Sherman and moved to Columbus, Ohio, taking his wife and his trumpet with him in 1923. That’s where he became “one of Columbus’ best-known bandleaders in the era when swing was king,” according to his obituary that appeared in the Columbus Dispatch in 1982.
He left the bandstand for private business in 1952, but the article said that “echoes of his orchestra playing ‘Stardust’ and ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’” lingered on. Every Friday night, the young people of Columbus looked forward to going to the recreation center to hear his music.
For 30 years, the McDades fashioned an orchestra and a musical reputation that lured jazz and blues crowds from throughout the Midwest. His wife told the newspaper that when they started out, black bands had a hard time getting money, but he and the others just enjoyed getting into their music and would practice night after night at their home until they got a booking.
In 1925, McDade put together a six-piece band with his wife at the piano and called themselves the Phil McDade Combo. They traveled the circuit of dancebands in the black community with their own style of blues.
The combo sprouted two more pieces in the late 1920s and took a new name, “The Slaves of Jazz.” By 1934, that group had become the Phil McDade Orchestra with a positive reputation from Columbus to Cleveland.
They even got involved in booking other bands including Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmie Lunceford, Earl Hines, Count Basie and others. At the same time, McDade used his music to raise money for charity and loved playing at the recreation center to raise money to buy equipment.
His was the first black orchestra to play on WBNS radio with Chet Long on Thursday evenings.
By 1952, the McDades had operated two dance clubs and a skating rink, all with music of course, but were ready for a “quieter life,” so they all but retired, playing only together and with friends. They operated the K and C Window and House Cleaning Company for a number of years.
Put Phil into the class with Clora Bryant, world famous woman trumpetiste who is a 1944 graduate of Terrell High School, and Helen Cole, a drummer who had her own band and travelled all over the world, then completed her major in business and came back to Denison,
A few years ago another young Denison woman, U.S. Army Master Sargeant Marva Lewis, came back to Denison as vocalist with the “Jazz Ambassadors” of the U.S. Army Field Band when they performed at Eisenhower Auditorium.
When she took center stage she honored two Denison women for the part they played in entertaining service members during World War II.
Helen Cole was present that night. Laverne Marguerite Hilliard Bradshaw was also present and the two accepted the Commander’s Award for Public Service for outstanding civilian service to the U.S. Army in 1943 and 1944. Both were full-time students at Prairie View College and members of the all-female big band, “The Prairie View Coed.” Ms. Bradshaw played the trombone. Both had just graduated from Terrell High School, where they developed a taste for music.
Helen Cole had her own groups for many years and played all over the Caribbean Islands, in 14 countries and throughout the U.S. and Canada before retiring in 1970 to come back home to care for her mother.
Clora recorded with Dizzy Gillespie and played with other greats like Louis Armstrong, Carl Perkins, Dexter Gordon and others. In 1989, she was the first woman to travel to the Soviet Union to perform jazz at the invitation of Mikhail Gorbachev. In 2002, she was honored at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., as the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Woman of the Year.
There probably are others who excelled in music, particularly jazz. I don’t know what Terrell School did to produce such outstanding musicians, but they have certainly made their mark in the music world.
Thanks go to Jim Sears, who provided much of the information for this column.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.