Henry Halstead

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Henry Halstead
Birth name Henry Halstead
Also known as Hank Halstead
Born November 16, 1897
Origin  USA El Paso, Texas USA
Died March 19, 1984
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Bandleader
Labels Victor Records

Henry Halstead (November 16, 1897 – March 19, 1984) was a U.S. bandleader.

Henry Halstead Orchestra

Henry Halstead's Orchestra began in early 1922 [1] and over the next 20 years Halstead's band engagements extended from coast to coast, including the Blossom Room at Hotel Roosevelt, New York City; the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California; the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco; the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago; and a season at "Fatty" Arbuckle's "Plantation" in Culver City where such entertainers as Al Jolson, Sophie Tucker, Gus Edwards, and Leatrice Joy were headliners on his shows. Henry Halstead had from 15 to 20 bandmembers at any given time. Halstead's orchestra appeared in numerous short subjects on the screen and has made over 100 phonograph records, mainly with Victor Records. In addition, Halstead appeared in short films released by RKO Radio.

Following their rise to national fame over the air and in the grill rooms on the West Coast, Henry Halstead and his band gained the reputation as being the "Favorite Band of Movieland". During his career as the West Coast's premier dance orchestra Hank Halstead's boys played for nearly all the movie people at their private entertainments. Among the names of those who became Halstead fans were Sylvia Sidney, Fredric March, Claudette Colbert, Kay Francis, Rudolph Valentino, Roscoe Arbuckle, Maurice Chevalier, Clark Gable, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Clive Brook, Gary Cooper, Marian Nixon, Jack Oakie, Buddy Rogers, and Ruth Chatterton.

Hollywood actor Lew Ayres was discovered in the Henry Halstead band in 1927. Ayres said "I was a member of Henry Halstead's orchestra in 1927 at the Mission Beach Ballroom, San Diego, Calif....summer. My instruments were tenor banjo, long-neck banjo and guitar. After a hiatus, I rejoined Mr. Halstead with a new group, including Phil Harris, on New Years Eve the same year for the opening night of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel... a memorable occasion." Henry Halstead is given credit for making the first Hollywood Vitaphone movie short with Warner Brothers in 1927 called Carnival Night in Paris where Lew Ayres was discovered playing banjo.[1] The three music selections for the Vitaphone production where listed as follows: 1. Volga Boatman, 2. At Sundown, 3. Rosy Cheeks.

Halstead was on the cover of Billboard issue of July 27, 1935 at that time known as Henry "Hank" Halstead and His Cocoanut Grove Orchestra playing at the Hotel-Park Central, New York.

Phil Harris played drums and Red Nichols played trumpet as they were members of Henry Halstead's band in the 1920s.

Cliff Arquette an actor, comedian, was also a night club pianist, and joined the Henry Halstead Orchestra in 1923.

Halstead recorded for Victor Records, and broadcast on all major radio networks, such as Columbia, National, and Mutual Broadcasting Companies. Halstead led his band and played violin. The original Halstead violin still exists and has dozens of band member signatures on the violin. Henry was considered one of the best young band leaders and gave his dance patrons plenty of entertainment. His music maintained excellent rhythm and a crowded floor throughout the night stood testimony that he was playing good dance music.

Henry Halstead was born November 16, 1897 in El Paso, Texas and died on March 19, 1984 in California. As a young boy, Halstead learned to play violin. After studying the violin for 10 years, Hank Halstead turned professional when 19 playing clubs and hotels at the tables. In 1919, Henry Halstead played violin with 2 other men that went on to become famous Big Band Leaders, Abe Lyman and Gus Arnheim. The 3 young men played in a band together at the Sunset Inn in Santa Monica, California. Abe Lyman played drums and Gus Arnheim played piano. Roy Fox, not well known in America but later a ranking bandmaster in England, played the trumpet on occasion with them. Even early on Halstead dressed the part, a tuxedo was a must and he must have worn out a few of them over the next 20 years.

In 1923 Halstead, then director of the Palais Royal Orchestra, predicts for the coming year that even though dance steps may change, the music as far as tempo and rhythm will remain about the same as in 1922. And jazz, minus the shrieking and wailing, toned down with even a touch more of the classical than the case in the year now coming to a close, will continue to reign supreme in the popularity of dance fans. "Balance of harmony is the secret." Mr. Halstead said. "Careful selection of instruments and musicians are next in importance, but unless harmony is perfectly balanced that soft, dreamy effect so necessary in the modern fox trot is lost." The Buescher phone, an unusual instrument for a dance orchestra, is featured in the Palais Royal Orchestra.

Henry Halstead was married to blues vocalist Marjorie Whitney Halter who sang with the King's Jesters. Marjorie was much younger than Henry. She was born on April 5, 1917. Henry and Marjorie had two children. While they were living in San Bernardino California Joan Susan Halstead was born on Dec 3, 1943. Hank jr. was born on April 8, 1946 while the family was living in Big Bear California.[2] Marjorie and Henry divorced in the 1960s. Marjorie died on December 26, 1996.[3] After the divorce Henry did remarry to a Mary Larson on June 20, 1980.

The early Henry Halstead Orchestra during the early 1920s was enormously successful at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco for about three years. This was the early days of radio, and he had the good fortune to broadcast over the very powerful (for those days) KGO in San Francisco. He was "on" for about an hour a night, six nights a week. As a consequence, his band became the best known organization in the western United States and Hawaii.

This band broke up in the late summer of 1925. Hank decided that he would go out on his own - form a new band, literally "hire a hall" and run his own enterprise.. The band consisted of: Ted Schilling, Glenn Hopkins, Ross Dugat, Ernie Reed, Chuck Moll, Abe Maule, Hal Chanslor, Zebe Mann, Phil Harris and Craig Leach. When they joined Halstead in Seattle the band was a huge success. In the spring of 1926, the Halstead band came to Los Angeles to play Miller's Lafayette. Red Nichols joined the band for this opening.

While Henry and his family were living in San Bernardino, California he and his band were playing at some of the local night spots in town. He needed to live close by due to his ailing parents. In March 1944 he was making visits to one of the local mountain communities by the name of Big Bear. He enjoyed the area and was losing many of his band members to the draft. He himself was beyond the draft age and did not serve in World War II. It was a time for change and he moved his family to Big Bear Lake where he bought into a partnership on one of the local night spots known as Navajo Ballroom.[4]

By May 1946 Halstead sold his interest in the Navajo Ballroom and entered into a partnership with Etienne Noir in the local airport.[5] While at the airport he meets an old Hollywood acquaintance by the name of Andy Devine who was active in making western films and tv shows. Devine had a partnership in a pilot school with a Hollywood stunt pilot by the name of Dick Probert. The three of them entered into a partnership in the airport and a local restaurant by the name of the Sportsmans Tavern.[6][7]

Upon leaving the Big Bear area, Halstead and his family moved to San Francisco, where he booked talent at the St. Francis Hotel for a couple of years. For a short time they were in Los Angeles and then by 1953 Henry was working at the Westward Ho Talent Booking in Phoenix, Arizona. From February 1955 to November 1958 Henry was owner and operating broker of a real estate company in the Phoenix area. It is interesting to note that the sign for his real estate office was a large yellow music sign of a music note. Henry was color blind and the only color he could easily see was yellow.

Somewhere in the 1959 to 1960 time period Henry and Marjorie were divorced. Henry continued on with real estate business. He worked with Del Webb in creating the Deer Valley section of Phoenix. Henry was honored by having one of the streets named after him: West Halstead Drive. In the late 1960s Henry moved to California. He lived in San Diego for a short time and died in Hemet, California. He is buried in San Diego.[8]

Many vocalists and entertainers performed with the Henry Halstead Orchestra. Maxine Harding with her deep-dyed blues singing was a Soloist with Henry Halstead's Orchestra. Clarence Rand's voice also was featured, so was Myrtle Harwin, Niela Goodelle, Margaret Reed, Peggy Mann.


  1. ^ a b Lesley L. Coffin (18 October 2012). Lew Ayres: Hollywood's Conscientious Objector. Univ. Press of Mississippi. pp. 9–. ISBN 978-1-61703-638-5. 
  2. ^ The Grizzly 12 Apr 1946 page 2
  3. ^ Nevada Death Index
  4. ^ The Grizzly 26 May 1944 page 3
  5. ^ The Grizzly 24 May 1946 pg 1
  6. ^ The Grizzly 28 Mar 1947 pg 1
  7. ^ The Grizzly 23 May 1947 pg 3
  8. ^ Conversation with Joan Halstead 21 July 2014