Withrow Minstrels

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The 1960 Withrow Presentation Orchestra
Opening Ponies, 1960
Take Me Along, 1960
End Men, 1958

The Withrow Minstrels was a popular musical variety show that ran for 35 years at Withrow High School, Cincinnati, Ohio. It was known as "The Minstrels". 200 performances were staged, between 1931 and 1965.

History[edit]

The Minstrels was created in 1931 by the school’s 22 year-old band director, George G. "Smittie" Smith, and performed under "Smittie’s" direction each year in the late spring. The Minstrels is recognized as one of the nation’s first high school performing arts programs,.[1] At the first performance in May,1931, The depression era crowd was thrilled by the polish and professionalism [2] of the cast of 12-17 year old kids [until 1970 the six Cincinnati public high schools comprised grades seven to twelve]. The curtain closed on the last performance on Saturday, May 8, 1965, when Smittie retired from teaching (Enquirer, 6/26/1982). It initially ran for 6 nights, always drawing sell-out crowds in excess of 2000 people per performance. (Enquirer, 5/12/60). In 1956 the Cincinnati Board of Education ordered the school to cut performances to 5 nights, citing "concern" that the show took up too much student time.[2]

Withrow Presentation Orchestra and Staging[edit]

The centerpiece of The Minstrels was the Withrow Presentation Orchestra, a 60 piece, Paul Whiteman style (American Musicians II, pp 497–8) big band composed of brass, woodwinds, strings, and percussion [drums, tympani, chimes, vibraphone]. This swing orchestra performed polished renditions of tin-pan alley and other contemporary music in accompaniment to student vocal and dance performance. Elaborate staging featured sophisticated lighting and special effects. (Cincinnati Post, 7/17/85). All aspects of the sets and lighting were constructed and wired by students (Cincinnati Post, 7/17/85). Student performances ranged from solos to complex, multi-number themed production numbers involving solo singers, solo dancers, ensemble singing, special effects, and a Rockettes style “pony chorus”.[1] Each show ran almost three hours without intermission.

No stock sheet music was used in The Minstrels (Cincinnati Enquirer, 5/12/60). Smittie personally arranged every instrumental note of every show, and Ansel C. Martin, the school’s Choir Director, arranged all vocal scores. Every arrangement was unique to The Withrow Minstrels.[3][4]

Russell Dale Flick, writing in The Cincinnati Post, observed that “Smittie’s Minstrels gave many of his student performers their one-and-only exposure to the bright lights, costumes, make-up, and rapturous applause of the musical stage”.[1]

In his book American Musicians II: Seventy-One Portraits in Jazz, noted jazz critic Whitney Balliett quotes the noted bass player Michael Moore (bassist),who performed in the Withrow Presentation Orchestra while a student at Withrow High School: "I became part of the Withrow Minstrels, a high-caliber musical organization ... run by George Smith ... a legend in Cincinnati ... his shows were practically Paul Whiteman Productions." [5]

Sheet music from The Withrow Minstrels of 1934 is in The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.[6]

The Music[edit]

No stock sheet music was used in The Minstrels (Cincinnati Enquirer, 5/12/60). Smittie personally arranged every instrumental note of every show, and Ansel C. Martin, the school’s Choir Director, arranged all vocal scores. Every arrangement was unique to The Withrow Minstrels.[3][4]

Representative Numbers from the Withrow Minstrels


Outstanding musicians heard on these tracks include, on brass: Bruce Rhoten, Herman Wilson, Nick Weber, Ray Craycraft. R. Thomas Davidson, Jay Ferguson, Dick Todd; Reeds: Richard C. Johnson, Elbert "Skip" Haungs, Dave Pfeiffer, Ron Davisson; Bass: Michael Moore; Percussion: Tom Walker, Greg Eversull, Ted Ruffin, Stephen R.S. Martin.

The Opening Chorus – Withrow Presentation Orchestra, The Choir and Male Chorus,Lovette Trio, and the Pony Chorus Line

The thematic material for the Opening, from the 1958 &1963 Minstrels, is taken from the First and Fourth Movements of the Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony. After the climax is reached, the tempo and character changes abruptly with a harp glissando modulating into “My Heart at That Sweet Voice” by Camille Saint-Saëns, featuring saxophones, woodwinds, and strings. The Opening is brought to a close as the Lovette Trio, Choir and Male Chorus, and Opening Ponies are introduced in Youman’s “Hallelujah”, taken from the 1960 show. Recorded in Performance May 4, 1963 and May 21, 1960.

63 60 Opening

Take Me Along, 1960: Dianne Gibson, Male Chorus, Pony Chorus, Bonnie Heimann. Recorded in Performance May 21, 1960

01-Take Me Along Wiki edit

Ain't Misbehavin', 1962. Recorded in Performance May 3, 1962

Czardas, 1962, Bruce Rhoten, Trumpet. Recorded in Performance May 5, 1962 File:5. Czardas 1962 & One Date.ogg

Ragtime Cowboy Joe, 1955 & 1962: Rhythmettes-Judy Baioni, Marty Hitchens, Marsha Jackson; Eddie Eggers; Girls Chorus; Male Chorus; Harmonettes- Karen Dills, Carlen Schueler, Ray Sersion; Pony Chorus. Recorded in Performance May 20, 1955 and May 3, 1962. File:9.Ragtime Cowboy Joe 1955 & 1962.ogg

From La Bohéme, Act 2: Aranci, Ninnoli! Caldi & Quando M'en Vo, 1962: Angela Hudson. Recorded in Performance May 4, 1962 File:8. Quando Men Vo 62 & Monkey 65.ogg

Surrey With the Fringe On Top from 1955 and 1962. 1962: Marsha Jackson, Girls Chorus, Ponies; 1955: Bill Hatfield, Male Chorus, Ponies. Recorded in Performance May 5, 1962 and May 20, 1955.

It's A Marshmallow World, 1959: Jan Mills, Allen Fisgus, Male Chorus, Pony Chorus; Winter Wonderland, Happy Holiday, 1963: Pony Chorus, Madrigal Singers

File:Marshmallow World 59 & Winter 63 w- cross bear.ogg

Victory At Sea [Richard Rogers], 1961: The Withrow Presentation Orchestra recorded in Performance April 29, 1961

Victory At Sea from WIthrow Minstrels

If I Loved You, 1965 [Richard Rogers]. The Omegas: Clyde Tate, Gerald Brown, Harry Curtis, Donald Posey. Recorded in Performance May 8, 1965

If I Loved You 1965

Tiger Rag, 1960; Dixieland Combo: Tom Walker, drums; Dave Pfeiffer, Clarinet; Dick Todd, Trombone; Nick Weber, Trumpet; John Arnn, Piano; Fred Howard, Sousaphone.Recorded in Performance May 21, 1960

Tiger Rag

Roarin’ Twenties, 1955 & 1961. a. Sweet Georgia Brown: Judy Baioni [1961] b. Charleston: Pony Chorus c. Johnson Rag: Male Chorus, Quartet [1955] -Paul Glen, Ray Lewis, Kenneth Smith, Roland Sloan d. Sweet Georgia Brown: Mabel Andress [1955] and Judy Baioni. Recorded in Performance May 20, 1955 and April 29, 1961.

Roarin' Twenties

Traditional Closing and Finale a. May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You, 1960: Angela Hudson, Choir.Recorded in Performance May 21, 1960 b. Smittie’s Farewell, 1965. Recorded in Performance May 4, 1965. c. Finale:"We Are The Minstreleers". Recorded in Performance May 21, 1960

File:19. Finale & Closing 60, Smittie Farewell 65.ogg

Noted Minstrels Alumni[edit]

Minstreleers who went on to distinguished entertainment careers include Carole Black, CEO and President of Lifetime Entertainment; R&B singer Otis Williams, of Otis Williams and the Charms; prominent jazz bassist and composer Michael Moore (bassist), who has worked with, among others, Woody Herman, Bob Brookmeyer, Zoot Sims, Chet Baker,the Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall Reunion Concert, Herb Ellis, and the Dave Brubeck Quartet; Bruce Rhoten, Principal Trumpet of the NDR Radiophilharmonie; and Richard Johnson, Principal Oboe Emeritus of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Recordings of the Minstrels shows 1955 to 1965 can be obtained from the Withrow Alumni Association, http://www.withrowalumni.com/ .

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c The Cincinnati Post, "Before the School for Performing and Creative Arts, the Withrow Minstrels", 7/17/85
  2. ^ a b The Cincinnati Enquirer, "Withrow Minstrels to Observe Their 30th Birthday Next Week", 5/12/60
  3. ^ a b The Cincinnati Enquirer, "'Smittie' Is Still Making Music at 72". 6/26/1982
  4. ^ a b The Cincinnati Enquirer, "Smittie, the Loss of a Legend", Editorial, 7/9/85
  5. ^ American Musicians II: Seventy-One Portraits in Jazz, Whitney Balliett, Oxford University Press, pp 497-8
  6. ^ http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.natlib.m1508.63688/default.html
  • The Cincinnati Post, "Before the School for Performing and Creative Arts, the Withrow Minstrels", 7/17/85
  • The Cincinnati Enquirer, "Withrow Minstrels to Observe Their 30th Birthday Next Week", 5/12/60
  • The Cincinnati Enquirer, "'Smittie' Is Still Making Music at 72". 6/26/1982
  • The Cincinnati Enquirer, "Smittie, the Loss of a Legend", Editorial, 7/9/85