Reg Kehoe and his Marimba Queens
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The lasting legacy of Reg Kehoe and his Marimba Queens is in "A Study In Brown", a two-minute black-and-white film made in early 1940 (link below).
One of hundreds of "Soundie" films, they were printed backwards (mirror image) so they could appear correct when played in a Panoram machine (an early film jukebox about the size of a refrigerator) which employed a series of mirrors to reflect an image from a projector onto a 27-inch, reverse-projection, etched-glass screen in the tight, enclosed cabinet. The popular machines were first produced in 1939 by the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago, Illinois (which also made art-deco, fancy slot machines), and found their way into countless soda shops, taverns, bus and train stations and other public places across the nation. The specially made 16 mm films ran in a continuous loop and stopped when an in-line metal strip passed a sensor. The patron then put another nickel (or dime) in the machine to run the series of four to six 2- to 3-minute films again. The Panoram mechanics were housed in art-deco, high-quality wood cabinets and played Soundies, 8- to 12-minute films that typically showed jazz and other musicians of the day, as well as dance troupes and other acts. With the beginning of World War II, production of the Soundies and Panoram machines was drastically reduced due to a wartime raw material shortage and the Mills Panoram's 1940 success quickly faded.
"A Study In Brown" was also shown in movie houses as a bonus before the main feature. Reg Kehoe and His Marimba Queens played from about 1938 to 1955 and was a hugely popular act, starting and ending each yearly tour with appearances at Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania. In between, the troupe played up and down the East Coast and throughout the Midwest, traveling by bus ala the Big Bands and making the rounds of all the major dance halls—including in Chicago The Aragon, Willowbrook (Oh Henry Ballroom), Melody Mill, Midway Gardens and Trianon.
Stealing the show in "A Study In Brown" was 'hep-cat' bass player Frank DeNunzio, Sr., of Hershey, Pennsylvania, who played his standup–slap bass almost until his death in February 2005. The woman playing the marimba next to the maraca player, Grace Bailey, in the film is Reg's wife, Fern Marie, who died in July 2006. On the back marimba is Joyce Shaw on the upper, Ruth Hauser on the middle octave, and Janet Yonder on the lower. On the side marimba, Madee Greer is on the upper and Polly Weiser on the lower.
The reappearance of a grainy copy of the haunting "A Study In Brown"—which is now in the public domain—on Internet video sites has sparked a resurgence in curiosity and interest among a new legion of fans, and has rekindled the band's notoriety. Most viewers notice the sound is not necessarily synched to the video; this is because when making Soundies the artist first recorded an acceptable copy of the audio, then various camera takes were made using different camera angles and closeups as the performers lip-synched the lyrics and acted as if they were playing the instruments. The results were edited to create the appearance of several cameras doing the filming, when in most cases only one camera was used. This films was shown at many Army Camps.
No other Panoram recordings made by Reg Kehoe and his Marimba Queens are known to exist. However, thanks to their two-minute "soundie", the legacy of the Marimba Queens lives on.
The band played its last engagement at the Bedford Springs Hotel, Bedford, Pennsylvania in 1962.
NOTE: Reg Kehoe and his Marimba Queens did make additional recordings in the 1940s. There are 18 "glass" records of music and two "glass" records of live interviews with Reg and some of the band members.
- Madee Greer (left marimba)
- Polly Weiser (left marimba)
- Joyce Shaw (center marimba)
- Ruth Hauser (center marimba)
- Janet Yoder (center marimba)
- Fern Marie Kehoe (right marimba)
- Grace Bailey (maracas)
- Reg Kehoe (marimba, electric vibraphone)
- Frank DeNunzio, Sr. (double bass)
(Note: Positions are reversed in the movie)