Thursday, August 27, 2020

Marguerite Frey - Denver's National Beauty

My dear friend Tom Merry offered me up a stack of state-related sheet music pieces, recently. While my own collection is a small fraction of my obsessive Colorado music archive (compared to the records), I've really enjoyed diving in to this much-neglected segment of the state's music history.

One of the pieces he generously gave me was a 1907 instrumental entitled "Marguerite The Beautiful," by Josephine Clement.

In case you couldn't tell by now, I love digging deep when it comes to these finds. Of course, I had to find out more about Denver's "Own National Beauty."

In 1906, The Chicago Tribune sponsored a national contest, to find the "most beautiful woman in America." The publishers invited newspapers, from 26 major U.S. cities, to hold their own state contests.  Knowing that pretty women might be too modest to enter, the paper encouraged friends and family to enter the young lady's photo.

Marguerite Frey's sister saw the contest ad, for a "sweet, unaffected American girl, the finest creature ever created," and secretly entered her sibling's photo in the local Denver post contest.

To her shock, Marguerite, an accountant at the Bankers Supply Company (formerly located at 2830 Blake) won the contest, and was named the "Most Beautiful Woman in Colorado."

But the blue-eyed blonde's fame wouldn't end there. As the winner of the state contest, Marguerite was instantly entered in a national contest, to be held in Chicago, to pick the most beautiful girl in America.

According to the French published Au Pays du Dollar (In the Land of the Dollar), by Raymond Gros and Francois Bournand (1907), which documented American culture of the era, and the contest:

"Marguerite Frey was a 19 year old, blue eyed blonde, working for $8 a week at The Banker's Supply Co.. She stood 5' 8 1/2" tall, weighed 135 lbs. and had a 36" bust. She likes music, a clear moon, red and white roses, little white cats, chocolate cream, and theatre matinees. She dislikes cruelty, envy, snakes, gossip, and under-cooked meat.  Her ideal pleasure would be a large bouquet of violets, a box of cream chocolates, a boat ride on a lake, with the moon reflecting in the waters, and a young handsome man rowing."

The book went on to document:   
Her greatest ambition: to be a good girl. 
Her greatest hope: to earn his good fortune. 
Her greatest fear: an unhappy marriage. 
Her dearest friend: her mother. 
The one she loves the most: her sister.

According to the authors, Marguerite "saw the other candidates, and thought she couldn't win, but she still got a trip to Chicago out of the experience."

On July 7, 1906, Marguerite Frey, the accountant from Denver, was named "The Most Beautiful Girl in America." 

The Denver Post posted a large two-page spread on her national celebrity - and a full-page color picture, on its front page.


 The book notes that, according to the judges, Marguerite won because she had "a perfect profile, perfect pink and white skin, large tender blue eyes, beautiful, thick curvy light golden hair, perfect white teeth, and purity of expression."

First runner-up was awarded to 23-year-old Gabriella Worsley, from Union Grove, Wisconsin. Second runner-up went to 22-year-old Eola Rice, from Washington state.

National publicity soon followed, as reporters came to Denver to find out more about her. The Au Pays du Dollar notes: "Marguerite Frey, the most beautiful woman in America, and perhaps from all over the world, remains in a modest small house on a quiet street in the fashionable district of Denver. She lives there with her widowed mother and sisters. The father was a hard worker who saved and bought this little house for his family. He died shortly after. Marguerite, in her older sister's opinion, should receive a good education and she graduated from the Normal School. Then she entered as an accountant at Bankers Supply Company. She had to work to help her mother."

As Marguerite's fame grew, so did the creative tributes to her celebrity. Along with the sheet music, I found several postcards produced (click on each to enlarge).

(Note the "$100,000 in advertising was spent in finding her")


On October 27, 1908, She would marry Wilson McClaire Armour (1882-1940). The one-time "Most Beautiful Woman in the United States" would pass away on April 7, 1961, at the age of 72. She is buried at Fairmount Cemetery, Denver.

Monday, August 24, 2020

All in the Family - John Juenemann

Back row: Henrietta ("Hank") and Bob Juenemann 
Front row: Barbara, Carolyn, Ronnie, and Gary Juenemann...and pet chihuahua, Peanuts

Marguerite Juenemann credits her love of performing, in large part, to her Uncle John.

"Absolutely. He was a big influence on us. My brother and I got into performance, because of him," she said. "We wanted to do it like him."

Juenemann would go on to become one-third of the Denver-based, twice Grammy-nominated group, Rare Silk, but her early musical roots are based, in part, in bluegrass and country music. In 1974 she moved out to Colorado, from New York, to attend the University of Colorado - Boulder. She joined her brother Bob, who had already come out west. Her father's family members were located in nearby Kansas, including her Uncle John.

"The 1970s were incredible for the local Denver-area music scene, back then, We would go out to the Oxford Hotel (Denver), or the Colorado Coal Company (nearby in Erie) every week. You would see lots of people show up - Stephen Stills, members of The Turtles. One night we were standing in line, at the Oxford, we saw Tom Waits standing there. He was writing a song, which would later become "Nighthawk Postcards" [from the 1975 LP Nighthawks at the Diner  - "Maybe you're standing on the corner of 17th and Wazee Streets, yeah/Out in front of the Terminal bar there's a Thunderbird moving in muscatel sky..."].

It didn't take long for her to form her own group. Joined by her brother Bob, and bassist Doug Howe, they became the trio, Odessa.

Doug Howe, Bob Jueneman and Marguerite Juenemann (1976)

"Doug was from Illinois, but he went to school in Texas, so we chose to look at map of Texas, to find our group name. We just liked the name Odessa."

While her Uncle John was a farmer, and worked in the co-op industry, in Oberlin, Kansas, he was an aspiring singer, who wanted to turn his love of songwriting and performing into a vinyl recording.

"John was my dad's youngest brother. It was a big family, and we would always get together and sing harmonies, so I don't think he had to look very far to find a trio of musicians to help out on his record."

Recorded in 1976, at Viking Studios,  John Juenemann not only included niece and nephew Marguerite and Bob on the recording, but also his wife Henrietta ("Hank"), and the kiddos - daughters Barbara (5-years-old) and Carolyn (10-years-old), and sons Ronnie (9-years-old) and Gary (8-years-old)...and pet chihuahua, Peanuts.

"The recording session was in the trailer of Viking's 18-wheeler mobile studio. It was in the parking lot, I believe in Englewood."  

Also included on the album were session players Mary Martin (steel guitar), Kit Autry (drums), and Mike Reese (lead guitar).

"I'm on banjo and guitar. My brother plays harmonica and washboard, and Doug played bass," she said.

In spite of having four children in the studio, Juenemann says the session was all professional.

"Uncle John was quite serious. The kids had fun doing it. To be honest, I think the whole experience gave them so much opportunity later in life. They learned how to not be afraid to speak in public, because they had so much experience performing, early in their lives." 

While the album features cover songs (including the Shel Silverstein "Daddy What If" and "Singin' in the Kitchen" along with the Leroy Van Dyke "The Auctioneer," the Lonzo and Oscar "You Blacked My Blue Eyes Once Too Often" and the Hank Snow / Johnny Cash version of "I've Been Everywhere") it's apparent John Juenemann took his songwriting inspiration from his family. The album includes original-penned songs dedicated to each of the children, and one dedicated to his wife.

The John Juenemann Family at Country Music Acres was released on the CMA record label, and sold during the family shows, or by mail order. Marguerite says the local Oberlin radio station played several cuts, as well.

"It was exciting to see the album. It was the first time I appeared on a record, so seeing yourself documented like that was a thrill."

It would be the one and only vinyl recording produced by the family.

John Juenemann passed away March 21, 2020.

Odessa stayed together about three years, breaking up shortly after the release of the album - but it wouldn't be the end of the brother and sister Juenemann siblings.

While in Boulder, Marguerite got into the street performance scene.

"The Pearl Street Mall was just being built, so my brother and I formed the Street Corner Choir, with my brother Bob, and Paul Weston."

While the trio would be well-known regulars in the Boulder street music scene, they would later appear on the 1979 Ophelia Swing Band LP Spreading Rhythm Around (as the Street Corner Choir), with Dan Sadowsky.

Around that same time, brother Bob was recording with the High Plains Drifters. The band would release the 1980 LP The Last of the High Plains Drifters. The album would also include Steve Bauer, John Fike, Robert Patterson, and Beth Tryon.

In February, 1978, while in the Street Corner Choir, Marguerite was joined by fellow local singers, Gaile Gillaspie and her sister MaryLynn.

"The crowd was very receptive and in May, we had our very first Rare Silk gig."

The group took off, as the opening act for Benny Goodman, at the Playboy Jazz Festival. They recorded their first album New Weave, in 1983. Their freshman effort was nominated for two Grammy Awards (Best new vocal jazz group and best jazz vocal arrangement).

Juenemann would leave the group, before their second effort, the 1985 LP American Eyes. Rare Silk would go on to release the 1986 Black and Blue, before disbanding, in 1988.

In 1983, Bob and his wife Karen appear on the Cats' Night Out LP, with Sandra Fauth, Mike Fitzmaurice, and Phil Scheuer.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Dr. AJ Kiser - Colorado Springs Dentist and Political Lyricist

  Dr. AJ Kiser
(photo courtesy of his family)

Continuing the political theme from the last post. I wanted to write about the very interesting story of Colorado Springs dentist, Dr. Arthur Jay "A.J." Kiser.

Dr. Kiser was born in 1871, in Ohio. He graduated from the University of Maryland, with his dentistry degree, in 1894. In spite of having a degree in dental medicine he moved to Cripple Creek, in 1910, to try his luck in gold mining. In 1915 he began to put his degree to use, and opened up a dental office in the Burns Building, in Colorado Springs (NOTE: the building later became the Chief Theatre, it was demolished in 1973).

He and his wife Mary made a home at 31 Boulder Crescent, off of Platte Avenue,  right next to Monument Valley Park.

Home of Dr. AJ Kiser, as pictured in a "Colorado Springs Walking Tours" guide.
(click to enlarge)

As if being a licensed dentist, and a former gold miner weren't interesting enough, Dr. Kiser was also a poet. He started writing poems during his regular trips to Calhan and Simla, to treat rural patients.

It’s estimated that he wrote more than 5,000 poems, in his lifetime.

A staunch Democrat, he often put his political thoughts into prose. It's not known when or how he decided to turn his poems into songs. He would team up with Russian composer Edouard Heselberg (the father of Hollywood actors Melvyn Douglas and George Douglas, and great-grandfather of actress Illeana Douglas [granddaughter of Melvyn Douglas], who wrote the music to his lyrics.

Gov'nor Cox You'll Surely Do (1920)
Words by AJ Kiser  / Music by Edouard Hesselberg

Jimmie Cox Will Win the Day (1920)
Words by AJ Kiser  / Music by Edouard Hesselberg

Dr. Kiser was a avid supporter of Ohio Governor James Cox, who ran for President, in 1920. Cox's running mate was future president, then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.

"Gov'nor Cox, You'll Surely Do" and "Jimmy Cox Will Win The Day" were written as campaign support songs. No idea whether they were ever used at rallies, or if the candidate ever heard the compositions.

Democrats turned the Republican 1900 slogan, “A full dinner pail,” against them in this song supporting James Cox in 1920. After two terms with Woodrow Wilson, why change back to a party that offered “hot air” and promises with “false bottoms?” the cartoon cover art (below) asks.

A Full Dinner Pail was Once Their Cry
Words by AJ Kiser / Music by Edouard Hesselberg

Republicans had men of note 
E’er Democrats did get their goat 
In office they were very sly 
The Tariff was their hue and cry 
They sometimes talked of weal and woe 
And sometimes of the poor man’s dough 
Full dinner pail was once their yell 
And for it all the workmen fell. 
It took the workmen many years 
To wake up and remove their fears 
That if the party did not win 
They each would be without their tin 
Teddy made an awful state 
But 1912 sure changed his fate 

Affairs were charged by stroke of bold 
The Democrats then won I’m told 
Again this fall we all will vote 
Let’s vote to oust some men of note 
Men who are selfish measley small 
Refused to hear the suffrer’s call 
They said when we had won the fight 
To hell with Europe wrong or right 
These senators are not so proud 
And later on we’ll show that crow 
We’ll show them what we don’t approve 
By votes we strongly will reprove 
We’ll let them stay at home a spell 
How long I really cannot tell 
I’ve heard it said until they’re dead 
By whom in hell they will be led 
Lodge led them in the Senate hall 
He led them to their own downfall 

They won, they won like one two three 
And I’m happy as can be 
Their records great, the ship of state 
Files Yankee flags on every sea
The war was one when just begun 
The Allies licked the German Hun 
The peace was signed, the Germans whined 
They dropped the sword, they dropped the gun 
France a treaty then was framed 
And Wilson sailed with glorious fame 
A fight began I hate to say 
That thirty senators might win the day 
They’re patriots who do not know 
That hell’s for sinners down below 
Now Judas surely went to hell 
So to these men we say farewell
Cox would go on to lose to Warren G. Harding.

Dr. Kiser continued to write political-themed songs, throughout the 1920s. He focused not only on political candidates, but also social change, and war.

Once World War I ended, politicians considered how to craft peace. Democrats favored the League of Nations and diplomacy. The cartoon cover (below) attacked the opposing stance, Warren G. Harding’s “Peace by Resolution,” an independent declaration terminating U.S. participation in hostilities. The devil is seen encouraging Harding to opt for this solution. A similarly diabolical surgeon pronounces that a blind G.O.P. has lost its nerve. After winning, Harding did sign both a resolution for peace as well as a unilateral treaty separate and distinct from the disputed Treaty of Versailles. 

Give the Devil His Dues
Words by AJ Kiser / Music by Edouard Hesselberg

“It is said in holy writing to the devil be unkind
And I wonder if they foresaw What I now have in mind?
I’m for the League of Nations, just as the thing is drawn.
And I’m against a make-shift so I’m singing you this song.
Give the devil his dues, give the devil his dues.
Isn’t he now stalkin’ around in Senator Harding’s shoes?
He says Peace by Resolution, He will sign if he’s a chance
Though one hundred thousand of our boys are laid away in France.
We spent billions in the fight, just to win the ghastly war.
If we make Peace by Resolution, may I ask you what for?
For when the war did first begin, we one and all did say
With all the allies we’ll stick, e’en thou hell might be to pay.”

While politics was the main topic of his published pieces, he would go on to write other compositions, several related to his hometown, Colorado Springs.

The back of his published pieces of sheet music showed several compositions, in 1920.
(Click to enlarge)

In between writing lyrics, Dr. Kiser wrote several unpublished books, on the afterlife and beyond-the-grave communications. In 1928 he sent a manuscript, of one such book idea, to Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes.

"Under separate cover I am sending you a carbon copy of my manuscript, which I regard as a very valuable contribution to the gospel of spiritualistic phenomenon." The correspondence was noted in the 2011 book, Masters of Mystery The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, by Christopher Sandford.

According to a history of early Colorado Springs families, "The doctor is a member of the First Spiritualist church of which he is a trustee, while Mrs. Kiser and the children are members of the Catholic church. His political endorsement is given to the Democratic party but he is without desire for office as reward for party fealty. Fraternally he is well known as a York and Scottish Rite Mason and member of the Mystic Shrine and in his life he exemplifies the beneficent spirit of the craft."

"Honolulu" - words by Noble AJ Kiser / Music by Nobel Edouard Hesselberg (1920)

By the 1940s, his lyrics turned more toward World War II fighting songs, with tiles such as "We're Bound to Whip the Jap" (1942, music by Bob Carleton). In 1954 he penned "Waltz Around Me Again, Harry," (assuming this is about Harry Truman, however I couldn't find a copy, to confirm).

I found a listing of his last published song, in 1955, just seven years before he would pass away, in 1962. The composition was entitled "Every Song Was First a Poem."

Dr. Kiser retired from dentistry in 1960, at the age of 89.


Dr. Kiser died December 14, 1962. His death made the front page of the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph. He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery, Colorado Springs.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Democratic Fun - Queen City Ragtime Ensemble

It's that time again, for national political conventions. While there were quite a few Colorado songs dedicated to a particular President, I could only find one song, in my personal stash, dedicated to a political party.

(2:30- lyrics begin at 1:41)

"Democratic Fun," performed by the Queen City Ragtime Ensemble, was actually taken from a 1908 song, penned by Robert Buechel, and published by the prolific Tolbert R. Ingram. The ditty was in commemoration of the Democratic National Convention, held in Denver that year, at Denver Auditorium Arena (see another related piece of sheet music at the bottom of this story).

"Old time democracy is good enough for me
To Washington we'll go
For four long years or more
And in the White House grand
Once more we'll take our stand
And fight for country, and home and old democracy."

While William Jennings Bryant was chosen as the nominee, it was William Howard Taft who occupied the White House, the following four years.

The 1908 convention was the first convention of a major political party in a Western state. The city did not host another nominating convention until a century later, at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

 The song, "Democratic Fun" can be found on the Queen City Ragtime Ensemble's 1986 album, Everybody's Rag. The disc featured Hank Troy (piano), Maurie Walker (banjo), Bill Clark (tuba), and Marl Shanahan (drums).

The ragtime band came out of the equally-popular Queen City Jazz Band, a group which is still very active, after more than 60 years together (the jazz band formed in 1958).

The Queen City Ragtime Ensemble's first release (self titled - Zeno HHZ 99) featured Walker and Clark, along with drummer Jack Cook, and Ray Leake on piano.

Walker and Clark show up on the 1981 Ragtime Banjo Commission album, along with Jeff Frank (of the Pearl Street Jazz Band) and Cal Owen.

While there has been a revolving door of members in the group, Hank Troy is still part of the ensemble, and is the last remaining active member of that vinyl recording era.

Also of note, there was another piece of music composed for the 1908 Democratic convention, in Denver - "Denver Auditorium March," written by Freda Richter (and published by O.H. Richter - leader of the Orpheum Theatre Orchestra, Denver).

Monday, August 10, 2020

Price Check: Gary Wilson Cornerstone LP - $399.99 (US)

It never really surprises me when I find out that a Colorado record I dig up is worth more than the normal $1.00 I pay for it, at the thrift. In fact, my first thought is, "It's about time!"

I've always felt like I was sailing by myself, in an open sea, when it comes to hyping unknown Colorado vinyl. I never really know if anyone has the same affinity for these often-overlooked recordings, as I, but then I saw this today, on Discogs:

(click to enlarge)

Yup, $399.99 for a copy of Gary Wilson's 1983 soul/jazz/funk LP, Cornerstone, (plus there's a $705 one, being offered, by a France-based seller).

 In 2018, two copies of the album sold on Ebay for $313 and $316.

Recorded by Jay Salem, at his Denver studios (you may remember, Jay was in Synchrony, with Sam  Bachica), Cornerstone is a mix of soft soul and jazz-vibe cuts, mixed with 80's catchy beat funk dance numbers.

Gary has an amazing history in Colorado music - growing up with three members of Earth, Wind and Fire (Phillip Bailey, Andrew Woolfolk, and Larry Dunn), and being asked by the late Tommy Bolin to join his band, Energy, with Tom Stephenson (Joe Walsh), Stanley Sheldon (Peter Frampton), Bobby Berge (Buddy Miles), and Bobby LeKind (Doobie Brothers). In 1979, Gary recorded with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Wilson Pickett, on Pickett's album I Want You - all before he recorded his own (now collector's item) album, in 1983.

Gary is still active in the music industry, according to his website.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

VAB Records - The Little House on Lowell Street and Denver's Polka Epicenter

(image from author's collection)

I was digging around Boulder yesterday, and spotted this album. Like I need another polka record in my life, but the amateur cover art just drew me in (pun intended).

Eddie Basgall and the Jolly Dutchmen, as noted on the cover, were actually from Hays, Kansas (also home to Denver polka legend,  Herman Dinges, who passed away earlier this year). Eddie was well known in polka circles, and was a member of the Bob Hope Radio Show Orchestra and a featured musician with the Bobby Mills Orchestra in the 1950s. He also performed and arranged music for the Six Fat Dutchmen and the "Whoopee John" Orchestra. Later in his career he formed the Eddie Basgall Band, the Danceland Band and the Jolly Dutchmen.

Eddie Basgall and the Jolly Dutchmen
(image from author's collection)

The group also included two of Basgall's sons - Stan (clarinet) and Neal (on drums). The LP notes Jon Kisner (vocals) and Hal Pierce, the host of the popular polka show on KBRN radio, in Brighton (credited on banjo).  Of note, Hal also shows up on the Herman Dinges albums, German Wedding Days and Grand Old Flag.

Eddie passed away in 2001.

Soooooo.... what does this have to do with Colorado?

Eddie and his band were one of several groups who recorded in Denver (a five hour straight shot from Hays, KS, on I-70), at the VAB Recording Studios. Owned by John and his wife Vilma "Jerry" Benicken, and located on Lowell Street, in a little house on the Barnum side of town. The home studio was literally polka ground zero, for anyone wanting to make a 45 or album.

I got back home and realized I owned several albums, and a few 45s, from the VAB studios.

NOTE: Again, not a complete VAB album discography - just a sampling. The list below notes records with obvious credits to VAB:

Eddie Basgall
VAB 169 - Old Time Polka Fun Salute to the Troubadors
E-869 - Here Come De Original Jolly Dutchmen (record label shows the title It's Polka Time and More)

Jake Bauer
VAB JB 100 - Eins-Zwei Everybody Polka 

Bobby Bruntz and the Polka Kings
VAB BB-2 - Self Titled
VAB BB-4 - Self Titled (orange vinyl)
VAB BB-6 - Some Call it Bang Bang
VAB BB-7 - Self Titled (blue vinyl)
VAB BB-9 - Blast Off (blue vinyl)

Denver Dutchmen
VAB 10-30-57 - Dance to the Denver Dutchmen 

Herman Dinges
VAB A8-64 – German Christmas Carols & Folk Songs
VAB A10-64 – Cheerio
VAB 66 - Old and New Favorites (red vinyl)
VAB 66 - Round N Round with Herman Dinges
VAB 68 - Colorado is Paradise
(NOTE: quite possible other Herman Dinges LPs were recorded at VAB, but there is no obvious notation, on the others I have)

Dutchmasters Polka Band
VAB 2-68 - Featuring Polkas and Waltzes
VAB A7-19 - Kansas Dutch Hops

Albert Holman and the Polka Toons
1396 - Uni'que

Adolph Lesser
Rocky Mountain AL3-1 (recorded at VAB) - Polka Varieties (two different covers – Hollywood night street scene and pink and purple graphics)

Cindy Quint and Her Polka Band
No label number

John Benicken passed away in August, 2006. Vilma passed away, shortly thereafter, in October, 2006.