Ted Weems

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Ted Weems
Ted Weems publicity photo
Ted Weems publicity photo
Background information
Birth nameWilfred Theodore Wemyes
Also known asTed Weems
Born(1901-09-26)September 26, 1901
Pitcairn, Pennsylvania
DiedMay 6, 1963(1963-05-06) (aged 61)
Tulsa, Oklahoma
GenresJazz, big band
Instrument(s)violin, trombone
Years active1923–1953
LabelsVictor Records, Bluebird Records, Mercury Records

Wilfred Theodore Wemyes, known professionally as Ted Weems (September 26, 1901 – May 6, 1963), was an American bandleader and musician. Weems's work in music was recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[1]


Born in Pitcairn, Pennsylvania, Weems learned to play the violin and trombone. Young Ted's start in music came when he entered a contest, hoping to win a pony. He won a violin instead and his parents arranged for music lessons.[2] He was a graduate of Lincoln School in Pittsburgh. While still in school at Lincoln, Weems organized a band there, initially providing some instruments himself. His teacher offered young Ted and his band a penny each if they would play when the alarm sounded for fire drills. Weems kept the monies of the band and in turn charged each band member a penny for membership. He used the money to purchase better instruments than those the band started out with. When the family moved to Philadelphia, young Weems entered West Philadelphia High School. He joined the school's band and became its director.[3]

He attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he and his brother Art organized a small dance band that became the "All American Band". The brothers sought the most talented college musicians for the group. The All American Band soon started receiving offers to perform in well-known hotels throughout the United States. Weems, who had originally intended to become a civil engineer, found himself being attracted to a musical career. His band had a contract to play four weeks at a Philadelphia restaurant; the owner was able to keep Weems and his band there for four months by making Ted a partner in his business.[4] They were one of the bands that played at the inaugural ball of President Warren Harding.[3] Going professional in 1923, Weems toured for the MCA Corporation, recording for Victor Records.[5] "Somebody Stole My Gal" became the band's first #1 hit in early 1924. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.[6]

Weems was a Victor band from 1923 through 1933,[7] although the final three sessions were released on Victor's newly created Bluebird label. He then signed with Columbia for two sessions in 1934 and subsequently signed with Decca from 1936. Weems also co-wrote several popular songs: "The Martins and the McCoys", "Jig Time", "The One-Man Band", "Three Shif'less Skonks", and "Oh, Monah!", which he co-wrote with band member "Country" Washburn.[8][9]

Ted Weems and his Orchestra on the Fibber McGee and Molly NBC Radio show, 1937.

Weems moved to Chicago with his band around 1928.[5] The Ted Weems Orchestra had more chart success in 1929 with the novelty song "Piccolo Pete", which rewarded him with his second Gold Record, and the #1 hit "The Man from the South". The band gained popularity in the 1930s, making regular radio broadcasts. These included Jack Benny's Canada Dry program on CBS and NBC during the early 1930s, and the Fibber McGee & Molly program in the late 1930s.[8][10]

In 1936, the Ted Weems Orchestra gave singer Perry Como his first national exposure; Como recorded with the band (on Decca Records), beginning his long and successful career. Among Weems's other discoveries were whistler-singer Elmo Tanner, sax player and singer Red Ingle, Marilyn Maxwell, who left the band for an acting career; and arranger Joe Haymes, who created the band's unique jazz-novelty style. Weems also signed 14-year-old ventriloquist Paul Winchell to a contract, after seeing him with one of the Major Bowes touring companies.[11] The first season of the Beat the Band radio show (1940–1941) included Weems and his orchestra as part of the cast.[12][13][14]

In 1940, Weems and his orchestra were featured on Beat the Band on the NBC-Red radio network.[15]

In November 1942, Ted Weems and his entire band enlisted in the United States Merchant Marine, directing the Merchant Marine Band.[16][17] Reorganizing his big band in 1945,[18] he made records for Mercury, including the hits "Peg O' My Heart" and "Mickey". However, the biggest hit of Weems's career was a reissue on his former Decca label: the Weems Orchestra's 1938 recording of "Heartaches" topped the national charts for 13 weeks.[5][19]

Ted Weems (right) with William P. Gottlieb, WINX Studio, Washington, D.C., ca. 1940.

For his August 4, 1933 session, Weems recorded six tunes, including "Heartaches". Since Victor wanted the recording made quickly, Weems and his band had time for only one rehearsal session prior to this. Weems did not like the song at first, and decided to have Elmo Tanner whistle rather than use a vocalist. While rehearsing, someone came up with the idea of trying the song at a faster tempo than it was written for. The fast-tempo recording attracted very little attention after its release.

In 1938 Weems recorded a new "rhumba fox trot" version of "Heartaches" for Decca Records. This version again featured Elmo Tanner's whistling, and the tune was played briskly but not at the breakneck tempo of the 1933 version. In 1947 an overnight disc jockey named Kurt Webster, at station WBT in Charlotte, North Carolina, found the 1938 version in a box of old records he had recently received. He played it on the air and the radio station's phones never stopped ringing; the callers wanted to hear the song again. The calls continued, now joined by record stores wanting to know how to order copies of the record. Other radio markets began playing the song, prompting Decca to press new copies.[20] Since the Weems orchestra had also recorded "Heartaches" for Victor, that company decided to re-release its own version of the song. Both labels shared credit on the charts. "Heartaches" topped the Hit Parade on April 19, 1947; nine years after it was recorded. In a 1960 interview, band member Elmo Tanner related that he and Weems received nothing for the reissue as both men had let their contracts expire while they were in the Merchant Marine.[21][22]

The new-found popularity of the 1938 "Heartaches" came at a time when Weems was struggling to re-form his band; many former members had other music-related jobs, others were no longer interested in performing. Two of his band members were killed in World War II. Weems was then able to recruit new band members and was again being asked to play at the same venues as before the war.[23] Ted Weems made front-page news in 1947 when he publicly repaid his debt to disc jockey Kurt Webster, who had revived "Heartaches" and thus Weems's career. Weems staged a benefit performance by his band on June 6, with all proceeds going to war veteran Webster.[24] Decca cashed in on Weems's new popularity by reissuing another oldie, "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now" with vocals by Perry Como, which became another major chart hit.

Despite this sudden surfeit of popularity, the hits dried up after 1947. Weems toured until 1953. At that time he accepted a disc jockey position in Memphis, Tennessee,[5] later moving on to a management position with the Holiday Inn hotel chain. Perry Como played host to his old boss, Elmo Tanner, and three other Weems band members on his Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall show of October 18, 1961.[21][25]

Ted Weems died of emphysema in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1963.[26] He had been operating a talent agency in Dallas with his son which also served as his band's headquarters.[27] Weems was in Tulsa with his band for an engagement the day he was taken ill.[5][28] His son Ted Jr. led a revival band at times during the 1960s and 1970s.


  1. ^ "Ted Weems-Hollywood Star Walk". LA Times. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
  2. ^ Knight, Ben (24 July 1953). "Well, It Takes Only One To Hit It, They Say, Weems Did". Daily Times. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
  3. ^ a b "Ted Weems Got Music Start Here". The Pittsburgh Press. 27 September 1931. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
  4. ^ "Ted Weems Got 5 Cents Week on first Music Job". Youngstown Vindicator. 9 December 1940. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d e Walker, Leo, ed. (1989). The Big Band Almanac. Da Capo Press. p. 480. ISBN 0-306-80345-3. Retrieved 12 December 2010.
  6. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 14. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  7. ^ "Ted Weems And His Band At Aldine". The Pittsburgh Press. 11 July 1925. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
  8. ^ a b "Ted Weems and his Orchestra". RedHot Jazz.com. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  9. ^ "Ted Weems". Oldies.com. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  10. ^ Cochran, Marie (26 March 1937). "Mr. Weems' Mr. Gibbs Comes Home, Tells All". The Toledo News-Bee. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  11. ^ Lawson, Tim; Persons, Alisa, eds. (2004). The magic behind the voices:a who's who of cartoon actors. University Press of Mississippi. p. 367. ISBN 1-57806-696-4. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  12. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). Oxford University Press, USA. p. 75. ISBN 0-19-507678-8. Retrieved 10 June 2010.
  13. ^ Herzog, Buck (15 October 1962). "Along Amusement Row". The Milwaukee Journal.
  14. ^ "Stars of 'Beat The Band' Will Be Heard In Person". Youngstown Vindicator. 10 December 1940. Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  15. ^ "Program Reviews: 'Beat the Band'" (PDF). Billboard. February 10, 1940. p. 7. Retrieved 21 April 2017.
  16. ^ "Ted Weems, Seven Of Band Sworn In". The Palm Beach Post. 30 November 1942. p. 6. Retrieved 31 October 2010.(subscription required)
  17. ^ "Weems And Band To Join Sea Unit". The Miami News. 19 November 1942.
  18. ^ "Ted Weems Opens At Green's Friday". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 20 June 1945. Retrieved 31 October 2010.
  19. ^ Bruning, Bill (20 March 1962). "Elmo Tanner full of 'Heartaches'". The Evening Independent. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  20. ^ Swing Magazine, WHB Broadcasting Co., Kansas City, MO; April 1947, p. 85.
  21. ^ a b "Elmo Tanner To Appear With Como". St. Petersburg Times. 13 October 1961. Retrieved 31 October 2010.
  22. ^ Bartlett, George (14 February 1960). "'Heartaches' Made Him Famous Coast-To-Coast". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 31 October 2010.
  23. ^ Helgesen, Ray (22 June 1947). "Miracle Mystery of "Heartaches"". The Milwaukee Sentinel.
  24. ^ Variety, "Weems Knows Value of 'Heartaches', a Disc," May 28, 1947, p. 1.
  25. ^ "Kraft Music Hall". Classic TV Archive. 18 October 1961. Archived from the original on December 24, 2010. Retrieved 31 October 2010.
  26. ^ "Bandleader Ted Weems Dies at Age 62". Eugene Register-Guard. 7 May 1963. Retrieved 12 June 2010.
  27. ^ "Whatever Happened To..." Daytona Beach Morning Journal. 21 October 1958. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  28. ^ Recer, Paul (7 May 1963). "Bandleader Ted Weems Dies Of Lung Ailment". The Sumter Daily Item. Retrieved 31 October 2010.

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