Monday, January 24, 2022

Burns Theatre Vaudeville - Part One


Hey all! Over the weekend I attended the Denver Postcard and Paper Show, and scored and amazing cache of 1921-1923 Colorado Springs vaudeville programs and handbills, from my friend Susan Backer (Facebook link). This is one of the most amazing collections of Pikes Peak-area entertainment ephemera I have ever seen.

All are from the Burns Theatre, which was located at 21 – 23 East Pikes Peak Avenue. The venue was built in 1912, and remained a vaudeville staple until 1927, when it was converted into a movie house (and later known as the Chief Theatre). It was torn down in 1973. 

There are so many programs and handbills, I'm going to have to divide it into two posts. 

Most mention Pantages Vaudeville. The Burns Theatre was included in what was called the "Pantages Circuit," which included venues around the United States, which booked and rotated touring acts on long-term contracts. A few show some silent film titles.

(Click each to enlarge) 

March 1-2, 1921

Acts: "Private Property" (Musical Comedy), Walton & Bryant, Robert Swan, Mabel Blondell, Kennedy & Francis, International News, Burns Orchestra. Also mentions Chas. Ray in "19 and Phyllis."

September 12-13, 1921

Acts: Burns Orchestra, International News, Baby June Hovick and Pals, Tim Whelan & Priscilla King, Sidney Stein & Billy Smith ("The Brazilian Diplomats"), A Japanese Romance (Nace Murray). Back of program mentions "The Scoffer" (Rhea Mitchell, James Kirkwood, Mary Thurman, and Philo McCullogh), and "Nobody" (Jewel Carmen).

January 30-31, 1922

Acts: General Pantages Vaudeville ad. Also includes Sessue Hayakawa ("Five Days to Live") and Norma Talmage in "The Wonderful Thing," and Ben Turpin in "Loves' Outcast."

February 6-7, 1922

Acts: Mlle. Paula - Aerial Gymnast, Roland & Ray, Neil McKinley, House of David Band, Grace Darmond, Joe Scheftell's Creole Fashion Revue NOTE: "Next week's vaudeville bill will include Ethel Barrymore" 

October 23-24, 1922 
Acts: Burns Orchestra, International News, Page & Green, Ward & King, Crane Sisters, "Indoor Sports" (Warren Warren, Bonnie Beck, June Floodis, Billy Green), The Caledonia Four, Jarvis Revue (Will Jarvis), Serenade (George Walsh). Also mentions the Georgia Minstrels and "The Emperor Jones" (Charles Gilpin)

April 2-3, 1923
Acts: Burns Orchestra, International News, The Artist's Dream (Lew Kessler, Joyce Lands, Florence McClurg), Catherine Van Digriffe Unger ("The Littlest Prima Dona), "Just in Time (Mr. Walter Law, Betty Marvin and Ray Gallagher), Mr. Cleveland Davis, Rinaldo Brothers, Helen Hamilton and Jack Barnes, Aleko, Panthea and Presco; Jack Goldie, Jack Patton and Loretta Mark

Stay tuned for eight additional programs, posted next Monday.

Monday, January 17, 2022

HELP WANTED: Unknown Band Box Singer

Hey all!

Found this record at an estate sale, right before Thanksgiving. The sale organizer didn't have any information for me. When I looked up the address of the departed individual, it didn't yield anything related to this find.

Listen to "Kool Man's Blues"

While there is lots of information on Band Box records, these songs are not mentioned anywhere. While the label released numerous commercial recordings, the Denver-area studio was also used for "single use," whereas an aspiring singer could go in and record a couple of songs for fun. I'm guessing that is the case with this find. Nothing noted in copyright archives, when I did a search on the titles.

I love the SSW folk vibe with these - just a guy and his guitar. 

Listen to "From The City to the Sea"

 If this sounds familiar to anyone, please drop me a line.

Monday, January 10, 2022

American National Bank of Denver

Hey all! I hope your new year is one of health, happiness and prosperity. Is your resolution to lose weight, run a marathon, or just survive until 2023? I completely get it, as it seems like lately I've been saying "I'm glad THAT year is over!"

I was reading that one of the biggest resolutions people attempt to do every year is save money. Of course these people probably don't scrounge for esoteric Colorado vinyl recordings (grin).

On that note, I wanted to feature this 1950 disc from KLZ radio, in Denver. It features two commercials for the American National Bank, and is added to the stash by my dear friend, Mike Stelk.

Herman Feucht
The spots are voiced by bank Vice President Herman Feucht (1898-1990), who was later named national vice chairman of the American Red Cross. The commercials don't include a music background, so it's possible there wasn't one, or it hadn't been added yet.

KLZ (560 AM) will be celebrating its 100th year on the air (it received its first broadcasting license on March 10, 1922), and is the oldest broadcasting station in the state of Colorado, and one of the oldest in the United States. In 1950, its station motto was "Pioneer of the West."

The American National Bank of Denver location, at 17th and Stout. was built in 1911. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. The building is now the Magnolia Hotel.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Elizabeth Clare Prophet - The Colorado Springs Years

Elizabeth Clare and Mark Prophet in their Colorado Springs worship facility (date unknown)

In 1966, spiritual leaders Elizabeth Clare Prophet and her husband Mark moved to Colorado Springs, residing in a mansion at the corner of 60 1st St. and Broadmoor Ave., which was known as the Retreat of the Resurrection Spiral. 

NOTE: For more on Mark and Elizabeth Clare Prophet check Wikipedia. No need to repeat the extensive bio and history, as this post is about the recordings they produced, during their time in Colorado.

The Prophets immediately started publishing books and pamphlets, and soon The Colorado Springs-based Summit Lighthouse record label was added to their media empire.

In 1968 they released Watch with Me (AMR 6803), which included a series of talks given December 25, 1967 at La Tourelle, The Citadel of Freedom, Colorado Springs, CO., and "The Summoning of the Devotees" given July 26, 1968 at the International Resource Conference, Los Angeles, CA.

 Listen to a sample of "Sword of Blue Flame Over America" (1:23)

The follow-up album, also released in 1968, Voice of Angels (AMR 6804/5), a two-record LP set. The album promised that there would be a "series" of albums containing "Dictations by the Heavenly Hosts, SPOKEN FROM THE SUMMIT." It was recorded at The Citadel of Freedom, Colorado Springs (March 24, 1967, Oct. 12, 1967, April 13, 1968, and Oct. 11, 1968).

In 1971, the Prophets released Jesus Christ Star of New Hope (AMR 7101). The album included talks from that year. It credits the involvement of James G MacDermid, Pearl Curran, singer Claire DuBois, Alda Hudson on piano, and organist Sigrid Carlson. NOTE: Soprano DuBois released her own LP, This is My Garden (Dubco 1348).

In May 1972 the Prophets opened the Four Winds Organic Center, a health food store and restaurant, located at 108 S. Tejon. During that time, they became friends with lounge singer, Terry Canady (famed for the duo of Terry Canady and Rudy Perez). "At the time I met Mark, I was playing the nightclub circuit and traveling the country as an entertainer. I had a partner in my act, Rudy Perez. I played guitar and sang and he played conga drums. One of the spots at which we regularly performed [for three or four weeks at a time, usually] was the Piccadilly Bar in the beautiful Antlers Plaza Hotel, which was just a few blocks away from the Four Winds" (quote taken from the link above).

Mark Prophet died February 26, 1973. Upon his death, his widow Elizabeth took over the leadership of the organization, changing its name to Church Universal and Triumphant. Shortly after her husband's death, Prophet married Randall King, a staff member. This marriage lasted seven years.  The Four Winds Organic Center closed in 1975, and an auction was held to sell off the contents. There are references that Elizabeth Clare Prophet left Colorado Springs a short time later (although some reports say 1979-1980). She died in 2009.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Blind Tom - "One of the Greatest Wonders of the Age"


NOTE: This piece is also published in the January 2022 issue of the Pueblo County Historical Society The Lore.

In the early stages of Pueblo’s history, live music entertainment was limited to the Choral Union, Pueblo Cornet Band, or the newly formed city orchestra. On occasion, a “traveling troupe” would pass through on the way to a larger venue. Nationally known musical acts often limited their tours of Colorado to Denver, or Colorado Springs.

In May 1878 the Colorado Daily Chieftain announced a concert by “the greatest musical prodigy living,” the visually-impaired pianist, Blind Tom. 

At 29-years-old, Tom Wiggins had already been performing, for almost 20 years. Growing up as a slave, along with his mother and father, he was often hired out by Georgia plantation owner General James Neil Bethune to entertain his antebellum friends. His ability to audibly memorize thousands of pieces of music, and then play them back on a piano, was considered “a wonder.” He was quickly marketed as a P.T. Barnum-style freak, with often cruel advertising of him as a transformation from an animal to an artist. As word quickly spread about his abilities, he would leave the plantation and travel the United States, often performing four shows a day, making about $100,000 a year for General Bethune, who acted as Tom’s co-manager.

By 1873 he had arrived in Denver, for four nights at the Guard Opera House, his first appearances in Colorado. “Blind Tom’s engagement here was a rich treat to all who heard him,” the reviews read.

In Pueblo, the Colorado arrival of what would become one of earliest African American musical superstars would only receive a small newspaper mention. “Blind Tom, the negro musical monstrosity, who has been astonishing large audiences in the principal cities of the United States, is giving entertainments in Denver. The metropolitans are wild with excitement, of course,” the Chieftain noted. 


As Wiggins popularity grew, he began writing his own compositions. Sheet music pieces were sold at his shows, as souvenirs for attendees. Titles included “The Battle of Manassas,” “Blind Tom’s March,” and even a novelty piece “Sewing Song,” where the piano imitates a sewing machine. For reasons unknown, later Blind Tom pieces used composer pseudonyms including Professor W.F. Raymond, J.C. Beckel, C.T. Messengale, and Francois Sexalise.

In 1878 he made his way back to Colorado. His tour included Denver, Colorado Springs, various mining towns and finally, Pueblo. The news of his long-overdue local appearance included a more glowing description of his abilities, as compared to the “musical monstrosity” narrative, five years earlier. 


May 15, 1878 - Colorado Daily Chieftain

“Mr. Theodore Warhurst, the avant courier for Blind Tom, made us a pleasant call yesterday. This musical prodigy will entertain our people on the night of May 16. He is, undoubtedly, the greatest musical prodigy living.” May 1, 1878 – Colorado Daily Chieftain

His Pueblo concert was considered one of the most anticipated events, that year. The local paper ran daily ads, and promotional stories which bordered on equal parts public relations enthusiasm and side show hype. “Blind Tom, one of the greatest wonders of the age, will visit our town on the 16th. There is hardly anyone in the country unacquainted with this musical prodigy. He is perfectly blind, who has not the mental capacity sufficient to attend to his own wants, and hardly sufficient to understand even a common place conversation, yet he is the perfect master of the piano.” As reported in the May 9, 1878, issue of Colorado Weekly Chieftain.

His sold-out, standing room only concert, at Chilcott’s Hall had patrons standing out in the street, hoping to hear the event. “Quite an audience thronged Santa Fe Avenue and Sixth Street last night, in the vicinity of Chilcott’s Hall, to listen to the playing of Blind Tom. They made some noise, and appeared to appreciate the performance fully, as well as those in the hall.”

But not all of the reviews were supportive of Wiggins’ performance. While classical concert attendees applauded his musical skill, many were confused over the “side show.”

“We had the pleasure of hearing the musical prodigy Blind Tom on Thursday evening. We didn’t fully appreciate the program, as too much time was taken up with Tom’s foolish speeches. Such a musical wonder should not be exhibited for such nonsense. The fault is not in the performer, for he is especially fond of the very highest order of composition, but a general audience likes a popular program, better.”

Little did anyone know about the behind-the-scenes management of his career. General Bethune’s son had taken over bookings of Wiggins, and promoted him as a novelty act, or “a human parrot,” as one critic wrote. When John Bethune died in a train accident, in 1884, his ex-wife Eliza took custody of Wiggins.

Wiggins would return to Colorado, in 1895. He would play Pueblo, one last time on January 18, at the Grand Opera House. Sadly, his visual impairment, odd stage antics, and lack of communication continued to be highlighted, for the sake of ticket sales.

“A helpless idiot, with scarcely sense enough to know when he’s hungry, or to feed himself when he’s hungry, yet endowed with a musical gift far beyond the average musician,” noted a story in the January 15, 1895, Colorado Daily Chieftain.

The concert included a variety of musical selections, including his own compositions. He also included “piano imitations” of various other musical instruments and sound effects, to a receptive audience. 

January 18, 1895 - Colorado Weekly Chieftain

A glowing review of the concert, published by the Chieftain, downplayed any previous behaviors which were deemed a novelty act. “It would be a multiplication of words to attempt to describe the wonderful talent for music this man has. There never has been his equal. In his playing of high-class compositions, he displays his marvelous memory and appreciation of the fine phrasing in them. His playing is perfect.”

In April 1908 Tom Wiggins suffered a major stroke. He died the following June. He was buried in the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn, New York. His story has been the subject of numerous books, documentaries, songs (Elton John’s “The Ballad of Blind Tom”) and artistic murals. The residents of his hometown, Columbus, GA., erected a commemorative tombstone for him, 68 years after his passing.

Monday, December 20, 2021

A Denver Christmas LP and the Mysterious Death of Bobby Bizup

There is no easy way to segue a Colorado Christmas record with the story of a suspicious death of a child, but sadly these two go hand in hand. Just giving you a heads-up that this post takes on a (very) disturbing note.

The Cathedral Choir was founded in 1912, by the late Rt. Rev. Joseph J. Bosetti (1886-1954). It was based at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception (located at 401 E. Colfax), and made up of a volunteer group of Denver-area men and boys, from Catholic parishes around the city. 

Monsignor Richard Hiester

This 1964 LP credits Monsignor Richard Hiester, who took over the group after Monsignor Bosetti passed away. The album features the voices of 64 men and boys, who perform classical Christmas selections. Vocal soloists include Mike Hannigan, William Trinnier, Rose Enevold, and Ray Kellogg. It features organist Alan Hobbs and harpist Helen Lunn. No clue on the bulldog pictured on the front cover.

Listen to "Silent Night"

Now for the horrific connection.

Rev. Hiester's name would be linked with the death of Bobby Bizup, the ten-year-old, hearing-impaired boy who went missing at Camp St. Malo, in 1958. Hiester was the camp director, at the time. While he was never implicated in the case, the death cast suspicion on other priests, who worked at the camp. To this day, nobody has been charged with a crime. Bobby's partial remains would be found, in 1959. In a bizarre twist, a skull was discovered in the possession of Tom McCloskey, the son of Dr. Joseph McCloskey – a prominent member of the Catholic Church and a close friend of the Rev. Hiester. The skull has been turned over to the FBI, which is conducting a full forensic evaluation.

Joseph McCloskey died in 1980, and Tom McCloskey said he took possession of the skull a couple of years later, unaware of its history.

Earlier this year, Denver's 9News called attention to the unsolved case, which continues to intrigue the public, 63 years later (link to 9News documentary on the case) According to the investigative report, "Father Hiester told reporters that Bobby had been fishing and had failed to follow a counselor and other boys back to the main lodge for dinner. A search party went out that night, and within days hundreds of people, aided by bloodhounds and aircraft, were in the woods looking for the boy." At the same time, National Park Service documents obtained by 9News show that "Rev. Neil Hewitt discovered the bone and piece of clothing on July 3, 1959. However, Father Hiester didn’t report it to the park service until three days later, on July 6."

Monsignor Hiester died in 1993. He is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Merry Christmas From The Colorado Public Service Company Employee Choir

Here's an interesting holiday find - a 1963 single-sided 10" promotional Christmas record from the Colorado Public Service Company employee choir.

Listen to the intro (additional information at :43)

Conductor Forest Fishel (1899-1982) was the choir teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School, and later head of the music department at the University of Denver.