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"Our Town" By James W. Tucker
Thursday, March 13, 1952
This is the fourth and last of a series of articles having to do with the Hampton Beach Band and its fiftieth or Golden Anniversary which may be observed this coming summer. The previous articles and dates on which they were published are as follows: "Golden Anniversary," February 14; "The Hampton Beach Band," February 21; "Bandmasters at Hampton," February 28. The band which plays on an average of ten weeks every summer in the antiquated bandstand directly in front of the Casino has become an institution in our town.
Payment of Band
In the beginning the band was paid for by the Exeter, Hampton and Amesburv Street Railway which owned the Casino. Within a comparatively few years the Casino was sold and other trolley lines began serving this area. Then, the cost of the band was divided. Our town entered the financial picture when it bought the electric railway and it has been a regular contributor ever since. For a few years, the owners of the toll bridge helped out on salaries of the band. At present, we believe the cost of the band is shared by the Hampton Beach Chamber of Commerce, the town of Hampton and the Hampton Beach Village District. It may be that a portion of the Casino's generous contribution to the Chamber is earmarked for band salaries. Various contributors have acted as agents in arranging the band contract and assuming legal responsibility for payment. These include the Casino, the Town of Hampton and the Hampton Beach Chamber of Commerce. Contracts are always made with the leader or bandmaster and are of the form prescribed by the American Federation of Musicians.
Powerful Musicians Union
The Hampton Beach Band has always been under the jurisdiction of the Newburyport Branch of the Federation and here salaries, hours and working conditions are arranged. Although for the most part working arrangements between the local contractor or agent and the union have been harmonious, disputes and difficulties have arisen. We have already related how the band withdrew in the early part of 1924 in a dispute over wages, and a non-union band, which proved most unsatisfactory, was engaged to finish out the season. But we did not tell of an attendant incident which shows plainly the power of the musician's union.
Stiff Union Penalty
The Newburyport local erroneously held that the Casino was solely responsible for the payment of the band and when the 1924 dispute over wages occurred and the musicians demands were not met, union officials ordered the union orchestra out of the Casino Ballroom. Carl Chriss; the leader of the dance band, failed to obey the demand of the union, although several members of his seven-piece orchestra felt obliged to withdraw for they knew what might happen to them if they disobeyed the union leaders. Chriss managed to get enough players to finish out the season. Two years afterwards, when, for good business reasons, he felt that he must resume his membership in the American Federation of Musicians, he paid a fine of one thousand dollars for full reinstatement. And the fines assessed against other members of his orchestra who honored a contract with the Casino management rather than obey the autocratic dictates of a powerful union organization, averaged five hundred dollars each.
The "Orthophonic Victrola"
In the late 1920's, the Chamber of Commerce purchased from John Hassett in Portsmouth, an Orthophonic Victrola with a gigantic loud speaker which was constructed of wood and was at least seven feet square. The speaker was mounted on a low, wheeled truck and placed in a square tower built on top of the Chamber office. The tower had casement windows on all four sides which could be opened wide to allow the great orthophonic speaker to be wheeled into any position. Records or radio could be played through the speaker or voice announcements made by means of a microphone. Eventually, microphones were placed in the bandstand in order that concerts by the band could be broadcast over the beach through the speaker which was placed usually in the door on the north side of the tower. In 1930, a small stage was built about two feet above ground level on the north side of the Chamber office and covered with an awning. The stage, which resembled a veranda, was equipped with a piano and a microphone. Here, the first Monday night auditions were held and it was on this stage, as we remember it, that "Bill" Elliot, Hampton's famous "Singing Cop", learned microphone technique and got a big start on his way to radio and concert popularity. With the continuing improvement and refinement of what are now called "sound systems," there have been many changes in these facilities at Hampton Beach, but those of us who were associated with it, will never forget the original "Orthophonic Victrola." It was the system used by Franklin D. Roosevelt when the late President appeared here in 1932 following the Chicago Convention where he had been nominated for the presidency. And the voices of many other famous people were amplified over its facilities.
Soloist With The Band
Countless vocal and instrumental soloists have been beard with the Hampton Beach Band. Vacationists who sang with choirs in their home towns often ask for and secure permission to do a number with the band. "Hal" McDonnell used to present each summer, a band leader from the western section of the state who is proficient on a dozen different instruments and this soloist was always most welcome at Hampton. But over the years, there never has been but one soloist of any great consequence and that one. "Bill" Elliot, Hampton's "Singing Cop." As stated in the previous paragraph. "Bill" probably started his career as an audition vocalist on the little platform erected on the north side of the Chamber office where his beautiful baritone voice was amplified by one of the first- out-of-door loud speakers ever to be installed in this section of New England. Within a few years he was being heard regularly on Wednesday, Saturday and Sundays, as baritone soloist with the band and he has been a feature on with every Carnival for about twenty years. Band leaders came and went but "Bill" stayed on, his popularity undiminished right up to the present time.
At various times in the past ten or fifteen years, the summer concerts have been broadcast, first over the facilities of radio station WLAW of Lawrence and afterwards over radio, station WHEB of Portsmouth. Because of the poor acoustic properties of the band- stand, these broadcasts could not be particularly successful from and artistic standpoint, but that the stations were willing to put them on the air, notwithstanding the poor conditions, was a real tribute to the worth of the band as a musical unit. And the fact that Hampton is band conscious had much to do with the selection of our town by New Hampshire and by New England school music authorities as the site of School Music Festivals in 1937 and again in 1948.
A Really Wonderful Event
The coming summer season of 1952 marks the Golden Anniversary of our Hampton Beach Band -- a wonderful event and one worthy of full publicity treatment by our town and by the Hampton Beach Chamber of Commerce. For, as we already have recorded on several occasions, there probably is no other recreational community in the United States that can boast of supporting free open-air band concerts for fifty consecutive summer seasons.
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