On this week’s Phantom Dancer, the first all-vinyl set (top of the second hour) is dedicated to band leader, Horace Heidt and his Trianon Ballroom.
Horace Heidt and the Musical Knights produced some of the best-known tunes of the Big Band Era including the 1941 international hit, The Hut-Sut Song.
The Phantom Dancer, presented every week by authentic 1920s-30s singer and band leader, Greg Poppleton, is your non-stop mix of swing and jazz from live 1920s-60s radio and TV. It’s broadcast from 107.3 2SER Sydney to 22 radio stations across Australia and online.
Listen to the past four Phantom Dancers at radio 2ser.com
POT OF GOLD
Horace Heidt was a showman. He hit the big time after fifteen years of running a band by producing and presenting a radio show the US broadcasting regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, called ‘a thinly disguised lottery’ and then forced off air.
“Pot of Gold” featured Horace Heidt and his Musical Knights with singing quartet, The King Sisters, playing popular songs while operators during the broadcast placed three calls to random phone numbers across the U.S.
When someone answered, announcer Ben Grauer shouted “Hold it, Horace, stop the music.” The phone answerer would automatically win $1000 – a huge amount in the late 1930s – whether they had been listening to the show or not.
The show was so popular that cinema operators complained of low movie attendances while Pot of Gold was on air. Some offered $1,000 to anyone who was called while attending their films. How you proved you got the call would have been time consuming and difficult.
NATION OF ISLAM
Heidt’s fame as a band leader came through his promotions. Before “Pot of Gold” he produced “Answers by the Dancers,” in which dancers at the Hotel Drake in Chicago were interviewed between rumbas and fox trots.
On his “Treasure Chest” show, married couples celebrating anniversaries would compete for prizes.
In the late 1940 and early 50s, as the big band era wound down and other bands couldn’t book gigs, Heidt’s band continued touring the U.S with his “Youth Opportunity” radio show.
Talented violinist and later Nation of Islam bigwig Louis Farrakhan (formerly Eugene Walcott) was a successful contestant.
Famed Jazz musicians Alvino Rey, Bobby Hackett and Jess Stacy played in the Heidt band at various times.
The band even accompanied a trained dog. “We would play ‘The Bells of St. Mary’s’ and the dog would ring the bells,” Heidt recalled at a 1982 party celebrating seven decades in show business.
Heidt’s smart showbiz sense meant his big band were still playing ballrooms while other bands were shutting down as the Swing Era came to a close after WW2.
Heidt bought the popular Trianon Ballroom in South Gate Ca in the early 40s as a base for his band. On today’s Phantom Dancer you’ll hear air checks by Benny Carter and Lionel Hampton broadcasting from this now long demolished ballroom.
He started a trend for big band leaders to own their own ballrooms after Billboard reported, 10 Jan 1942, that not only had Heidt recouped his $100,000 investment, but he made $40,000 profit through the ballroom in only its first year.
Billboard 3 Feb 1945 reported that Heidt had ‘expanded his outside business holdings’ by buying an exclusive Beverley Hills steak house and renaming it “Horace Heidt’s”, though he didn’t book any live music in the room.
He later went into housing development.
Billboard 3 Feb 1945 also reported that Heidt had set up a school in Los Angeles for stammerers. Horace used to stammer himself and he announced that he had developed a foolproof way to stop stammering. He put Leo Neibaur, trombonist and vocal instructor with Heidt’s band, in charge of the school.
By 1946, having bands broadcasting from Horace Heidt’s Trianon, and other ‘danceries’ was getting ‘exsy’, as Billboard, 24 Aug 1946, reported. Another reason Heidt moved from big bands to real estate.
OVER THE RAINBOW
Now enjoy Horace Heidt’s 1939 version of “Over The Rainbow”. You’ve heard this commercial version on an earlier Phantom Dancer mix, spun by Arthur Godfrey as WJSV Washington DC breakfast announcer on 21 September 1939.
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