Remembering my dad, Peter A. Grendysa

Dad: “Here I am on my way to see Little Richard on stage in 1957. Oh, I was cool! Bright green sport coat, black shirt, white tie, and a ‘cigareette’! Because I was working at Music Mart I got discounted tickets for afternoon shows. Not a full-house at that show. Great show, and I got to meet the stars who later came to our store to sign autographs.”

A couple weeks ago, my dad broke his hip and didn’t tell anyone at first. We got him to the hospital and were more alarmed and worried than he was, considering he was talking non-stop and claiming it was no big deal (“Nature fixes things itself!”).

My dad never got sick, you see; he just periodically broke things, usually through bicycling on the trails. One hip, the other hip, a wrist, a collarbone…one time, it had been a patch of wet leaves. Another time, my dad had rung his bicycle bell and called “On your left!” to alert an oncoming trail pedestrian that he was going to pass him; at the last moment, the pedestrian instead stepped right into my dad’s path, who naturally tried to avoid him, and then, per my dad, stood stupidly by as my dad was trying to extract himself from his crashed bicycle.

My dad counted it a good ride if he didn’t encounter the three Fs: “No falls, flats, or fangs!”

While in the last five years he’d switched to indoor biking only, he still hopped on it twice a day for a half hour each. “I may not be noble, but I’m mobile,” he would quip.

But this time, he’d fallen off his indoor bike while dismounting. This time, he was 82.

The hospital stay was annoying for him with all its fuss and bother, not to mention surgery (immediately after which he was insisting he wanted to go home and actively trying to get up, despite the fact that he could put no pressure on his right leg). Following the protocol I enacted last time he’d landed in the hospital, I brought in his favorite rhythm’n’blues CDs to listen to. Music soothes all manner of savage beasts and dads are no exception.

We had a grand time, or as much as you can in a setting like that, playing music loud enough to spill out into the hallway. I would dance around the room and my dad would move his feet in his chair or in the bed. The physical therapist liked to see the foot-moving.

The unexpected show attracted CNAs and others to come in and find out what we were listening to. My dad was in his element at such moments, because he had written the liner notes for half the albums I’d brought in. He got to talk about his beloved music historian career to people who seemed fascinated and delighted to hear about it.

My dad was transferred to a physical rehab facility with his music and his insistence that he didn’t need to be there. We tried to positively reinforce the notion that if he puts in the rehab work now, he’ll be able to go back to his life with a few adjustments, perhaps.

But after a couple days I started thinking, and I didn’t want to think this, that he wasn’t going to make it out of there. Or if he did, he might end up in assisted care instead. I squashed it all down; I didn’t want to think this! And what did I know? I wasn’t a doctor.

Yet while he’d be happy to see us and smile and chair-bop along to his music, he wasn’t doing much of anything else. He was barely eating. He said he wasn’t hungry and it hurt to swallow. He kept bringing up assisted euthanasia.

I hated to leave him, the night before he died. Absolutely hated it. I didn’t like the way his breathing was sounding or the way he was responding to some things. We were still playing music and that was occupying him, and he knew the words to the songs, and even tried to sing along a bit. And when visiting hours ended and I had to go, he looked sad, which pierced my heart.

We said “I love you” — something he had also said the night before that, but hadn’t before then during this time. I left him playing his music as I danced out into the hall under his laughing eyes.

I was dreadfully worried. I thought, I’ll be back tomorrow, and it’s important to stay optimistic for his sake. I had already planned to take a few hours off work and come in even earlier with a whole bunch of “his” music I had compiled on YouTube for him so he could listen longer without having to change CDs. So I could be there longer, too.

Instead, I was left with a playlist that I had no heart to play.

Again, I’m not a doctor. I don’t think he had the wherewithal to soldier through this latest injury. I really don’t know how well he would have been able to take care of himself afterward, either. He would have hated assisted care. And as he’d been saying for years now that he didn’t think he’d “be retired this long,” he may just have decided that this was it.

He was like that. Fiercely independent, couldn’t stand being beholden, hated not being in control. You can imagine how this independence was at once a good and a bad thing for those of us who had all the worries and watchfulness as our share. He was never worried about himself.

We were told he had died while listening to music. This is the absolute best thing I could have hoped for him. But oh, those of us left behind.


These past days have been filled with a lot of physical and mental labor. It has been a whole mix of time, energy, bittersweet memories, and amazement as we go through his “stuff”. Sometimes that made him seem closer to us, even though he wasn’t there to ask questions anymore.

He had labeled everything, thank goodness. I discovered that he had saved every card and letter I’d ever written him. He even had a labeled “Becky” file.

I was asked to write his obituary. There were times when I wasn’t sure I could. But then I did. Thinking of you always, dad.

Obituary for Peter A. Grendysa, 1939 – October 8, 2021 (Age 82)

Yes, that’s a Commodore 64, circa 1982. Looks like article-writing is going on.

“Writing about music is just a hobby,” my dad would joke, puffing on his pipe. “I had to work real jobs all my life!”

But for him, it’s the music that mattered the most.

And what a life. Peter A. Grendysa held various roles throughout his admirable career, among them a chemical technician, Quality Control engineer, and an SPC coordinator. He was good at analyzing, building, and fixing. And he loved trains, bicycling, and smoking his pipe (albeit not at the same time!).

My dad had been a record collector since 1955 and a freelance writer since 1971. From being a teenage buyer for Milwaukee Music Mart, he became an internationally-known authority on the history of Atlantic Records and related black music. Over 400 of his articles, columns, and reviews have appeared in music magazines. He has written booklet essays for more than 100 albums and CDs.

Dad with Manny Maudlin, Jr., the first black DJ in Milwaukee. Manny had jazz records; my dad brought the rhythm’n’blues.

In the back room of our house, he researched, interviewed, and wrote for the love of music. In 1975, he published Atlantic Master Book #1. From 1980 to 1983, he produced radio programs with my mom, such as “Rhythm & Blues Unlimited” and “They Called it Rock ‘n’ Roll.” If the door to the back room was closed, we knew there was an interview being conducted or a show being recorded. Then the door would open, a swirl of pipe smoke would depart, and dad would be back among us with the music spilling out into the house once more.

Dad & Mom as the May cover story for their radio show.

The phone was always ringing with different accents on the other end. If I chanced to pick up, I might hear “This is Andy McKaie from MCA” or “This is Richard Weize from Bear Family.” My dad would interview artists such as Ruth Brown, Tiger Haynes, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, recording everything on his reels and tapes. The Golden Gate Quartet sent him their records, pictures, and Christmas cards.

I don’t have a circa for this, but this looks to me like it was still in the radio show production era.

My dad is Googleable. He was voted Best Music Journalist in Rhythm’n’Blues by Goldmine Magazine in 1985. In 1986, he was acknowledged by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences as Album Notes Writer, Best Historical Album, for the Grammy award-winning Atlantic Rhythm’n’Blues, 1947-1974 Vol 1—7. In 1993, he received the Award for Excellence in Jazz History from ARSC for Louis Jordan. In 1996, he earned a Grammy nomination as Notes Writer, Best Historical Album, for The R&B Box: 30 Years of Rhythm & Blues. In 1998, he wrote the introduction to the definitive book on the Ink Spots, More Than Words Can Say: The Ink Spots and Their Music, by long-time friend Marv Goldberg.

Dad, Marv Goldberg, Mitch Rosalsky.

Because of him, I retain a deep, abiding love for the music he held most dear. And for the wealth of musical genres he introduced me to beyond that: classical, opera, country, 1960s British pop, Blondie, Black Sabbath . . . he gave me the world of music, and I am forever grateful, just as I am grateful that he died peacefully, listening to the Mills Brothers.

He was much loved. And he will be much remembered.

Peter is survived by his former wife, Betty, their children, Pete II and Becky (Benishek), son-in-law David, his two sisters, Karen Balch and Tina Scherrei, nieces Marisa and Riann, and friends such as Rocky Kruegel and Kathy and Frank Irizarry.

The Passing of Ferdie

He was my dad’s friend more than mine.

Growing up, I knew Fernando Gonzalez simply as Ferdie. He was one of the frequent long-distance callers to our house back when the only phone you had was attached to the wall. The telephone line sparked and hummed with persons identifying themselves as “Richard from Bear Family” and “Andy from MCA,” and many others wanting to talk to my dad about rhythm’n’blues, doo wop, jump blues, and the like.

Ferdie could talk the paint off your cabinets and the letters off your books. Like Columbo, there was always one more thing, but unlike Columbo, he didn’t bother saying “just one more thing,” he just went ahead and said it. And another thing. And another.

He was working on this massive thing called a Disco-File, the “Discographical Catalog of American Race, Rhythm & Blues, Rock & Roll, and Soul Vocal Harmony Groups,” an ever-expanding tome that included not just vocal groups but duets. Group line-ups, albums, song titles, master numbers, release dates. . .there was always another facet to be added.

I finally met him myself in 1999. It was spring or possibly summer. We’d been invited to a weekend party at Ferdie’s house out on Long Island.*

This was not just any party. Ferdie had stuffed his house with food and his yard with tables and chairs–all that was normal. But he’d also arranged a makeshift stage with instruments and microphones up on his back patio. And the place was filled with rhythm’n’blues artists, avid collectors, historians, and for all I know, record producer notables.

I didn’t know anybody. I just knew of them. Yet it was glorious.

Lillian Leach (of Lillian Leach & the Mellows) was hanging out like she was just anybody. “Look, we have the same shoes!” she said to me. She was right.

I remember being told that Arthur Crier, the bass voice you hear in “Pretty Little Angel Eyes,” was the person wandering around with a video camera. I recall mention that the bass singer from the Orioles was there as well.

Another friend of my dad’s, Marv Goldberg (Unca Marvy!), was much in evidence and having a great time. Mitch Rosalsky came right up and said he was my dad’s biggest fan. Caleb N. Ginyard III, son of Caleb Ginyard of the Golden Gate Quartet, spent some time deep in conversation with my dad, as he was one of the people Caleb had contacted to help with his then-forthcoming book. (Dad was great friends with the Quartet, and still has their letters, Christmas cards, photos, and albums they’d sent him over the years.)

It was as evening was rising that the magic really began: People had started to sing.

Lillian Leach got up on the stage and sang, “Smoke From Your Cigarette.” That hush so dear to performers fell on the crowd as she sang with heartfelt dignity and power, the audience’s love and respect swelling out as they joined her in lines such as “But now those days are gone,” as respectfully and tunefully as if it had been rehearsed.

A short, older gentleman whom I don’t think I ever knew, who had to walk with two canes and take the few steps up to the stage carefully, approached the microphone. As he sang, it was as if the two canes and the need for them just fell away. He stood straight and proud, and his voice was beautiful.

Others sang and played, including Caleb. I don’t remember what time we left, but it stayed grand all the way through. Ferdie had many such parties, though that was the only one we ever attended.

We all kept staying in touch, of course. Ferdie was fun to talk with, despite knowing you’d never get off the phone in under an hour; he was also perpetually sending us CD copies of the latest edition of his Disco-file for free even though we weren’t asking for them. It was a fond joke among those who knew Ferdie that this was a project never meant to end. It was so much of what he was. I said he should call it the Encyclopedia Ferditannica and suggested, as a way of prolonging his happiness, to go through and add the first lyric line of every song he had listed.

Well, I’m writing this all now because I just learned that Ferdie died on October 24, 2020 at age 77. He wasn’t a well man, plagued with serious health issues in his latter years. These issues could have been partially foreshadowed or at least aggravated from earlier incidents and accidents–such as being caught in the unfortunate World Trade Center bombing in 1993. In sad fact, when 9/11 occurred, the first thing I asked my dad was, “Is Ferdie okay?” I had no reason to think he’d be anywhere near, but it turned out he’d been there that day, too. Ferdie later said he came to himself wandering blocks away, not sure where his glasses went, in a daze.

I never thought this year would close without him still being around. As his health problems increased, he was less likely to be on email, and his calls to my dad lapsed, too. I haven’t talked with him myself for years. But the sadness was immediate, and very real.

Ferdie knew the music, but more, he appreciated it. I’m not sure what happened to his record collection after he moved to Florida in his latter years, but I hope he kept some of it and played it, too. That Disco-file, much as we all liked to joke about it, is a legacy he’s left behind that I’m not sure anyone will care for, and that would be a shame. We’re in an era of “audiophiles” who scorn used records, content to shell out inflated sums of money for brand-new pressings, which to me is ridiculous; what’s the harm in a gently-used record? When you get a record that’s been treated correctly, it takes you back right to when the era was live and fresh and new. It carries its own history.

There is so much that will never be reprinted. Fortunately, we do still have YouTube, and incredible old music is uploaded every day. Perhaps that last edition of Disco-file will have relevance for generations on.

RIP, Ferdie.


Take a look at a few fuzzy pictures from a now-defunct camera at that once-in-a-lifetime-for-me party:

My dad and Ferdie in Ferdie’s basement.
Dad talking with Caleb N. Ginyard III.
Here’s Caleb singing!
Ferdie is not singing here. He’s either thanking people for showing up, announcing that singing will begin, or perhaps a combination.
Here’s my prized picture of me ‘n’ Lillian Leach.
Lillian singing “Smoke From Your Cigarette.”
A fuzzy close-up, but here’s Lillian again with other singers from the crowd.
A gentleman whose name I can’t remember, but was so happy to be hanging with my dad, being a big fan!
My dad, Marv Goldberg, and Mitch Rosalsky.
Just a shot of some folks at the party. Marv is in orange and you can spot Ferdie on the right, facing us, in the blue shirt.
We had time to hang out with Marv at his house, too.

*I hope I’m remembering all of this correctly. I definitely remember us being fogged in afterward and unable to leave as planned, so the airline helped us arrange for a hotel. I called into work that I was stranded in Long Island and would be a day late, and came back to much amusement from my boss and coworkers.

The Charioteers: Shoo Shoo Baby

“If the younger people would take the time to listen to the songs of the old quartets, they’d be surprised how much they’d like that music.” -Howard Daniel, Sr.

About this video: You most often hear this recording with just the song, or truncated to Bing just doing a short lead-in. This is the full-length lead-in and song, as sent to my dad by Howard Daniel, Sr., the bass singer of the Charioteers. Howard mailed a tape taken from the 16″ transcription record of AFRS Jubilee.


Note: This article was written by my dad, Peter Grendysa. I have it (with permission) to share with all of you! I’m thinking of making great music articles like this a supplemental feature of my author’s blog. We shall see. 🙂

The Charioteers

©2018 Peter Grendysa
(based on interviews with Howard Daniel, Sr. by Peter Grendysa, 1980)

The popularity of “jubilee” quartet singing on black campuses in the late 1920s and early 1930s may have actually been part of a wave of nostalgia such as the one the USA is experiencing right now. Despite the continuous popularity of choral groups such as the Fisk University Singers, there had been a period in the second decade of the 20th century when there was strong opposition to the singing of what were regarded as “old plantation songs”. The belief (particularly among black college students) was that the establishment was forcing or pressuring black singers to restrict their singing to folk songs, and black choral groups and quartets to the so-called “plantation hymns”.

Students at Howard University went on strike in 1909 and again in 1919, refusing to sing songs that were to them degrading reminders of slavery. Wilberforce College, the oldest college for blacks in this country, never had this problem – “negro folk songs” had been banned there from the beginning. The popularity of these same songs in the 1920s was therefore not “nostalgia” for slavery days, but rather it was a fond recollection of songs heard as a child, and perhaps a celebration of black culture and musical innovation, whatever their origins.

By the 1930s, quartet singing in colleges had reached the status of a sweeping fad. Every black college boasted a dozen or more amateur singing groups, and local and regional contests between jubilee groups were very popular. It’s not too surprising in light of this that the Charioteers came out of Wilberforce College singing some of those once-banned songs, including “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Go Down Moses”.

The Charioteers out-sang and out-performed dozens of similar groups, both black and white, at the All-Ohio State Quartet Contest in 1934, emerging with first prize, which carried with it a short sustaining program on WLW-­Cincinnati and a two-record contract with Decca Records. It was instant big-time for Wilfred “Billy” Williams, tenor lead extraordinaire, fellow students Peter Leubers, second tenor; John Harewood, baritone; James Sherman, piano accompanist; and their music teacher and mentor Howard Daniel, who sang the bass parts.


The Charioteers

The times were right for publicity and success. Wilberforce College was celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Wilberforce College Octet (four men and four women) had been touring and broadcasting since 1933, and the Mills Brothers of nearby Piqua, Ohio were on their way to national prominence on radio and recordings. A quartet such as the Charioteers, singing with fine precision and emotion and featuring the exceptional high tenor lead of Billy Williams, had the necessary elements to take full advantage of the opportunities.

The two Decca records issued in 1935 were not widely successful, but the local radio programs were and by 1936 the Charioteers were in New York City doing a 15-minute show over the Mutual Network each Sunday. Howard Daniel came along with his students, and has never looked back at his teaching career. Radio and concert appearances were the primary activities of the group at first, with little time left over for recording until 1937, when they were coaxed into Vocalion’s studios and their astonishing recording career began in earnest.

Vocalion had been a part of the long-ailing Brunswick Radio Corporation since 1924, and in 1937 it had only two years of existence ahead of it. The Charioteers recorded only sparingly for Vocalion, switching to the parent label Brunswick in 1939, the last year of Brunswick’s independent existence. On Vocalion, the group did popular new tunes, the odd and remarkable “Laughing Boy Blues” and, in a brief return to the label in September, 1939, sang backing vocals for Mildred Bailey.

Bailey, a Native American woman with a lovely crystalline voice, was the darling of the pre-war “jazz” singers, and the Charioteers backed her on “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child”, a slave song from Mississippi that originated before 1860. Brunswick had the group concentrate on old spirituals, releasing some as by “The Southern Male Quartet”. The unique style of the Charioteers was in a stage of rapid development, best exemplified by “Water Boy” and the two-part “De Glory Road”. A few more old-­timey songs such as “Love’s Old Sweet Song” and “Old Folks At Home” and the group again found themselves working for a different label.

The takeover of Brunswick by the newly-formed Columbia Record Company division of CBS was completed in early 1940. A large number of older Brunswick cuts were reissued on Columbia during 1940, and the original Charioteers never recorded for another label during their long career.

Columbia considered the Charioteers to be a pop group, and they recorded new pop tunes almost to the exclusion of anything else. Radio broadcasts continued to be very important to the group, and they appeared on rival networks NBC Blue and Mutual on Saturdays, working NBC in the morning and Mutual in the evening. In addition they became regulars on Bing Crosby’s immensely popular radio programs.


Bing Crosby

1940 also brought their first motion picture appearance, “Road Show”, a United Artists film starring Adolphe Menjou and Carole Landis. “Calliope Jane” (Columbia 35779) was featured in this film. At the same time they started a four-and-a-half year term with the touring musical revue “Hellzapoppin’.” “My Heart’s On Ice” (Columbia 35851) is from this show, and when Irving Berlin contributed “Any Bonds Today?” to the production in July, 1941, it was given to the Charioteers.

Although they were switched to Columbia’s 35-cent OKeh label in 1941, they continued as one of the mainstays of Columbia’s artist roster, and when the threat of the American Federation Of Music (musician’s union) ban on recording became a certainty, the company stockpiled Charioteers tracks to weather the storm and out-wait the union. Seven trips to the studios in 1941 produced 17 cuts. As it turned out, however, the heavy release schedule of Columbia/OKeh in that turbulent year before our entry in the war depleted this stockpile. There were 13 new Charioteers records in 1941 and when the rationing of shellac added to the record industry woes, Charioteers releases ceased for over two years.


On the Boardwalk – Charioteers

Although commercial recording for the group was at a standstill, the Charioteers were enjoying some of their best years. War bond sales rallies and the were added to their already feverish personal appearance schedule, radio broadcasts and “Hellzapoppin’” were rolling along as before. Our entry into the war produced as a sidelight the V-Disc (V for victory, of course), standard 78’s produced exclusively for the boys and girls in uniform, so they wouldn’t be deprived of the latest hit tunes while digging foxholes.

V-Discs usually contained two songs per side and were, fortunately, exempt from the AFM recording ban. The only requirement was that the V-Disc had to use newly-recorded material not duplicated on commercial releases. The Charioteers did several V-Discs on their own and paired with Pearl Bailey and Bing Crosby. Despite their long-time association with Crosby on his radio programs, his contract with Decca and theirs with Columbia made it impossible for them to make commercial recordings together.

The war years also produced a remarkable bit of Americana in the Armed Forces Radio Services transcriptions. Hundreds of complete radio programs were produced for airing to servicemen over AFRS stations, usually on 16-inch 33 1/3rpm standard groove records, the microgroove LP still being some years in the future. Of paramount interest to fans of black music is the AFRS “Jubilee” series, devoted almost exclusively to black artists. Many tunes available no place else can be found on these recorded broadcasts. For example, the Charioteers’ “Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet!” is not available by them from any other source, or only in truncated versions.

The war between the AFM and Columbia ended before the war between the United Nations and the Axis Powers, and the Charioteers were recording again for Columbia in January, 1945. They also did a session with Frank Sinatra at this time. After the war, the record business went into a slump, suffering a reconversion blues that reflected the malaise in American society. The Charioteers as a unit were getting a bit frayed around the edges themselves.

Tagged as a pop group, they had no part in the exciting rise of rhythm & blues, and had to suffer along with the insipid pop tunes the industry was producing (and wondering why sales were dropping). They went into the studios often, but usable cuts were getting fewer and farther between from those sessions. Ten trips to the studio in 1947 produced only 26 sides, and four of those sessions were done in haste in December, 1947 to “beat the ban” – ­another AFM recording ban set to begin on January 1, 1948.

Columbia sharply reduced its release schedule to conserve masters during the ban and the glut of recorded material by the Charioteers did not match this new schedule. The group was called into the studio only twice in 1948 and not at all in 1949. In the first week of 1954, Billy Williams, the readily-identifiable lead voice of the group, left to form his own Billy Williams Quartet.

The driving force and on-stage star of the Charioteers since the beginning, Williams had never received the recognition he deserved and desired. The names of group members were never listed on the record labels. Headlining his own group with Eugene Dixon, Claude Riddick, and John Ball, his career skyrocketed. TV appearances and records for MGM, Mercury, and Coral kept the Billy Williams Quartet, later expanded into an eight or nine-­man musical revue, in the public eye well into the 1960’s. On the other hand, the Charioteers without him floundered through a succession of personnel changes and unsuccessful recordings for minor labels before evaporating completely sometime in the middle 1950’s.

The Charioteers left a legacy of fame as America’s favorite radio vocal quartet during the 1940’s, and their fascinating tale of sudden fame and fortune is told best by their founder, Dr. Howard Daniel, an educator who realized the dream of all teachers–seeing his students realize their highest level of achievement.


Allegedly a picture of the Charioteers and their wives.

The following narrative was compiled from a series of interviews with Howard Daniel, Sr., by Peter Grendysa. In Howard’s own words:

* * *

“I organized the quartet at Wilberforce University. You see, I was professor of music at the time, and I had charge of the Glee Club. When we went on tours, I wanted a quartet to sing along with the Glee Club, instead of having just Glee Club numbers or solos. I organized the Charioteers so we would have another group to go along with it. Of course, the group was not called the Charioteers then, they were called the Harmony Four.

“We really were not the school quartet, I just organized the group for Glee Club purposes. We used to just sit around on campus and sing acappella, just for our own benefit. The Harmony Four consisted of Pete Leubers, John Harewood, Wilfred B. Williams, and myself. As soon as I graduated from Northwestern in 1929, I went to Wilberforce to teach in the music department in the fall of 1929. The group started in 1930.

“The school quartet was out of town and there was to be a state-wide quartet contest in Columbus, given by the Knights of Columbus. The president of the school, Wilbert Jones, asked me if I could send my group up to Columbus since the other group was out of town. So I took my group up there and we won the contest–they had about 28 quartets in the contest. This was in 1930. We only knew two songs, ‘Steal Away To Jesus’ and ‘Let The Church Roll On’.

“When you got up to Columbus you had to pick a number, and I picked Number 13. You had to do a song on stage with the curtain up so the audience could see you. Then when it came time for your elimination number, they dropped the curtain and the audience couldn’t see you. There was a white quartet that was just about four quartets ahead of us and, man, they sang ‘Steal Away’ as their elimination number! So, we didn’t know what to do and I said, ‘Well, we’ll just go on and sing our arrangement of it, that’s all.’

“That’s what we did and we won the contest. When we sang it there was a hush all over the audience. The recording we made later for Brunswick of that song is the same arrangement that won the contest. The Library of Congress has a recording made then of our song, made for the Governor of Ohio.

“After we won that contest, we heard that there was an opening down at WLW in Cincinnati and we got on the station. The Riff Brothers were on the station already when we got there–that was Deek Watson, Slim Green, Orville Jones, and James Campbell. They had come to WLW from Indianapolis. We were on a show with them called The Rhythm Club, with Fats Waller, Una Mae Carlisle, an organist by the name of Chandler and a little swing violinist. We stayed at WLW for about two-and-a-half years and then we went to New York.

“I continued to teach school during that time and we would drive down to Cincinnati every morning from Wilberforce. I’d get up at 4 o’clock in the morning–I lived in Xenia. We had a show with Paul McCarmody, a western show, at 7 o’clock in the morning. The boys were all still in school, so I’d drive to Wilberforce, about three miles, pick them up, and then we’d drive to Cincinnati–55 miles one way. That was every morning, and then we’d have to came back and try to make classes. I had a ten o’clock class.

“We did that for two-and-a-half years and sometimes we’d have to go back in the evening for a show called Moon River that came on at midnight. Quite a few stars got their start on WLW–the Boswell Sisters, Rosemary and Betty Clooney. We worked with the Boswell’ later on, and much later we were on Rosemary Clooney’s TV show.

“We were the Harmony Four when we went down to audition. The music director, Grace Raines, heard us and liked us and asked, ‘What are you going to use for a theme song?’ So we sang “Swing Low Sweet Chariot'” and she said, ‘That’s it, call yourselves the Charioteers.’


Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is on here.

“Our manager was Jean Goldkette, and he had most of the black bands coming out of Ohio. He’s the one who built the Greystone Ballroom in Detroit. WLW sent us to New York, to WOR an the Mutual Network, and that’s where we met Goldkette. That was in December, 1934 and the boys had graduated from Wilberforce.

“The Oleanders had been the school quartet at Wilberforce. They came to New York soon after we did. Two of my boys went back home after about two years and I got two of the Oleanders–Edward Jackson and Ira Williams. Pete Leubers became a teller in a bank in Cincinnati and John Harewood was principal of a high school in Dayton, Ohio.

“All of our work had been acappella and when we got to New York we found out that we couldn’t make any money that way, singing spirituals. After we got with Jean Goldkette, we got a studio in Carnegie Hall with a grand piano and we went to work. We would start about 9 o’clock in the morning and work until 12, then go across the street to the Horn & Hardart, came back and rehearse until 7 o’clock at night. Jean got us a friend of his, a German boy, as a pianist, and he played for us for a year or so, but he died. This left us in pretty bad straits. In the interim, Teddy Wilson played for us about two years.

“Wilson didn’t want to leave us. At the time we were rehearsing ‘Glory Road’ by Jacques Wolfe at Teddy’s house, when he got a telegram from Benny Goodman in Hollywood asking him to come and work with the band in his first picture. Teddy didn’t want to go, but we told him’ you go! We’re new here in town and we can always get us another pianist: ‘Now, if you can get us a pianist, that’d be great, but he’s got to play exactly like you.’

“Teddy said, ‘Oh wow, I’ve got just the boy for you. He’s downstairs with my brother and he just got in from Buffalo.’ So he goes down and gets this boy and it turns out to be Jimmy Sherman. Jimmy had been playing with Stuff Smith and my brother-in-law George Clark was in the same band. Jimmy got the job with us, but he was on probation with the Musician’s Union.

“At that time, probation with the union was six months. He could only work three nights a week with us. And then we had to get somebody else to play for us. We were doing radio and clubs and he couldn’t do all that work yet, until his probation was over. During this time, we had Hazel Scott; I went over to her house and she consented to play for us. She was with us about three or four weeks. Then we had Charlie Beal, the brother of Eddie Beal, and he carried us through until Jimmy’s probation was over.

“Before that, when we were doing acappella work, we were the first quartet to do three commercial shows on three stations, and it hasn’t happened since–NBC, Mutual, and CBS. We were doing work with Paul Douglas, the great sports announcer Ted Husing, a show with them, then we had Wildroot Hair Tonic, Sa1-Ray with Benny Venuti, man, this is all coming back to me now­ – that’s so long ago I had forgotten all about it myself. We used to broadcast from a studio in Brooklyn, right where you come across the bridge.

“We were on Horace Heidt’s radio show, we did the Fred Waring show for Chesterfield with the Pennsylvanians, in fact we taught the Glee Club to sing their first spiritual and it was ‘Steal Away To Jesus.’ We also appeared on the Rudy Vallee show. We had our own instrumentation even though we were still doing acappella. The instrumentation was funny–we had violin, cello, bass, oboe, viola, and drums. All they did was give us an introduction and we took it from there, and they picked us up on the last four bars. So you know we had to be on perfect pitch. We’ve done a lot of work with Count Basie and he always used to call us the “musician’s quartet”.


The Charioteers

“I didn’t know that Brunswick put out ‘Glory Road’ as by the Southern Male Quartet–that’s us on there and no quartet sang that song but us. We did it the night Jean Goldkette gave a concert in Carnegie Hall and we did some numbers with him on the show. We did ‘Glory Road’ and Jacques Wolfe was there and he came up afterwards and said, ‘That’s the way I wanted that piece done!’ Paul Robeson had done it, but Wolfe liked our version better. That’s what he wanted, and you know that made us feel good.

“When we went out to Hollywood to do ‘Road Show,’ they told us we couldn’t go unless we got a quartet to take our place in ‘Hellzapoppin’’ while we were gone in the summer. So, Rene DeKnight was a friend of mine. In fact, Rene could have been my pianist during that time I was looking for one.

“He auditioned for us and he said, ‘Oh, no, I can’t do it!’ He was nervous, you know.

“I said, ‘You can do it,’ and he said, ‘Oh no, I can’t,’ and he wouldn’t take the job. Soon after that I saw he was in the Delta Rhythm Boys. When we went out to do the picture, I got the Delta Rhythm Boys to take our place in ‘Hellzapoppin’.’ That was good exposure for them; they are a fine bunch of boys. Lee Gaines is my buddy, we used laugh and talk and see who could go down the lowest in singing. He goes pretty low, but I had him in those days, he’ll tell you.

“We were with Bing Crosby when the war started, from October, 1942 until May 9, 1946 on the Kraft Music Hall. From 1941 to 1945 we were on the road quite a bit and busy with Bing, so we didn’t get time to record. We used to do all the camp shows with Bing. We took a show to all the various camps in California like Pendleton and Young. Once a week we would visit the camps and entertain. We’d take a lot of stars with us, like Judy Garland, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour. Bing would always send a station wagon down for me to take the boys in. A lot of performers would take the bus, but we used Bing’s station wagon. We only went out there to audition for two weeks after Bing had seen us in ‘Hellzapoppin’.’ Bing sent us our fare, round trip tickets, and we ended up staying about five years.

“While we were with Bing, we used to do a show at a club up in the Valley. And one night Billy Williams was sick and couldn’t go on. Now, the Mills Brothers and I are good friends. I used to play golf with Donald all the time. I called him up and said, ‘Look here, man, come out and sing with us because Bill is sick.’ He went on out there and filled in. That’s the way the quartets would help each other then, it was a beautiful relationship. All the groups were very close during those times.

“After we were out with Bing a year or so, we had 13 weeks off in the summer, and we used to do three months in Wildwood, New Jersey. We only did ”round the world’ once because we never did like that circuit. ‘Round the world’ was the Apollo, the Howard, the Earle, and the one in Baltimore. We did play the Strand and the Paramount, and we went to Europe. We used to do the Flamingo in Las Vegas twice a year.

“Whenever we took our 13 weeks off, Bing had to stay on. While he was off, we had to stay on. During that time we had all the great artists on there as guest hosts, such as Eddy Duchin. After Bing left Kraft he went with Philco for a year, and we went along with him. By then he was making too much money and he gave up show business for awhile–that’s why we had to leave him. We did the Amos ‘N’ Andy show for a year–we only sang on there, we didn’t do any script work. That was live.

“Billy Williams was drafted while we were with Bing. He only stayed about six months. He got out on a medical discharge. He wouldn’t eat. He ate nothing but chocolate bars and he developed migraine headaches and all that kind of stuff. He finally got out. He wired me and said, ‘Send me some money.’ They were getting ready to send him up in the mountains in Wyoming – ­up in that cold area. He was in the hospital and the CO came in and said everybody that can walk has got to go! He had applied for his discharge and it came just in time. They had even put his duffle bag on the truck. Bing helped to get him out. During the time he was in, we used Arthur Lee Simpkins in the group.

“Our biggest hit was ‘So Long.’ It was played throughout the war years. After the war, a lot of guys came up to us when we were performing and said, ‘We wanted to shoot you guys!’

“We said, ‘Why?’ and they said, ‘You put that “So Long” record out, and we were falling in love with these chicks and marrying them and going into the war, and when we came back, we couldn’t find them! Those chicks had all said, so long! Man, they wouldn’t let us come off the stage unless we sang that song.

“‘Ride, Red, Ride,’ ‘Gaucho Serenade,’ ‘Sylvia,’ ‘No Soup,’ those were all big for us. ‘What Did He Say (The Mumble Song)’ was quite a hit. I did the mumbling part. We were imitating Joe Louis on that song, if you remember how he talked. We were all good friends. I used to take my kids up to his camp and go riding with Joe in the boat and play golf with him.

“Those AFRS shows used recordings and patched them together. After President Roosevelt died, they did a show for Mrs. Roosevelt from Hollywood with all the stars on it. That was taped and we sang a couple of spirituals on the show. It was sent to Mrs. Roosevelt’s house. Bob Hope, Bing, Frank. Sinatra, everybody was on that thing. It’s about six or eight double records-­12-inch 78’s. It’s beautifully bound–they had one made up for each of the performers on the show.

“When Bing gave up show business, we went to Europe and played the Palladium in London. They wanted us to go up in the provinces but we could not because we had a commitment at the Paramount Theater. We made the first trip over on the Queen Mary after the war, and we gave a concert on the ship. We found out the different stars that were on the boat and we all got together and gave a concert. We had programs printed up and everything. Of course, we closed the concert by singing ‘Glory Road’ and broke it up.

“It was a beautiful trip over–we made it over in three-and-a-half days, the fastest crossing ever up to that time. When we got to Cherbourg you couldn’t go in because of the ships that had been sunk. You could see the tops of them sticking up out of the water. Then we went up the Channel and docked at Southampton and took the train on into London. We had a wonderful time there. We stayed at 3 Cork Street, right off of Bond. I don’t know how this stuff is coming back to me! I didn’t know my memory was this good, but you’re bringing it back right before my eyes. Thanks, Pete!

“We replaced Billy Williams with Herbert Dickerson, out of Philadelphia. Then we had a boy named Henry King. Henry is with me now, and so is Bob Bowers. The group now is Henry King, Bob Bowers, Ira Williams, and myself. We are still good friends and we get together and sing around amongst ourselves. No touring or recording.

“Everybody says, ‘Why don’t you go back into show business?’

“I say, ‘Not me!’

“I had enough of that show business. I took sick up in Quebec City, in fact, I passed out on stage. They grabbed me as I was going down after we finished ‘Ride, Red, Ride.’ I was bowing and I wasn’t coming up. They grabbed me by my arms and backed off the stage. I went in the hospital that night. Boy it was cold up there.

“The next morning I told the doctor, ‘Doc, I’ve got to work, the contract was renewed for a couple more weeks.’ They tapped my stomach, took out 50cc’s of water and my stomach went down like a balloon. I told them I know I’ve got to work tonight, so they worked on me all day. They put a tube in my side and gave me a little bottle and I kept that in my pocket. I worked like that for two weeks, two shows a night. Then I went back home and had an operation on Christmas Eve. After another operation a month later I was O.K. after that.

“We stopped touring in 1957. I got tired of it and decided to give it up. Tired of the road and being away from the family. I didn’t want to die on the road and we’d been in all kinds of snow and bad weather. My wife wanted me to give it up, too. She had looked after the kids for a long time.

“If the younger people would take the time to listen to the songs of the old quartets, they’d be surprised how much they’d like that music. If we could just come back and start all over again, it would run all this rock music out. You can’t understand this stuff–it’s only rhythm that they’re doing now. You can’t sing along with any of the songs because there’s no music to it. They can’t repeat it themselves on stage. You can just listen to it and laugh. There’s no sentiment, no love, no feeling in those songs–just a whole lot of jump stuff. I sing in church, Carter’s Community AME Church. I go there and keep my voice up. And I enjoy showing the youngsters how to do it.”

(Howard Daniel, Sr. died October 7, 1998 at the age of 73.)


The Charioteers