The greats played in Steubenville

To the editor:

Duke Ellington played in Steubenville? Yes, he did.

So I thought that since Black History Month started on Thursday, I would like to take a trip back to the jazz, swing and big band sound that was the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

It was a Saturday, March 27, 1943, and there is no known recording of the Capitol Theater show. The building opened on Labor Day 1925. It was designed by architect C. Howard Crane. By 1941, the South Fourth Street theater was operated by Warner Brothers Circuit Management Corp.

The Steubenville show came just weeks after the Carnegie Hall concerts of January 1943 were recorded. So, it is likely that what people seated in the Capitol heard can be heard in the sounds from the Carnegie concerts.

Ellington had gained a national profile through his appearances at the Cotton Club in the 1920s. Johnny Hodges is considered to be among the best of the jazz players, joining the Ellington band in November 1928. Benny Goodman described Hodges as “the greatest man on the alto sax that I have ever heard.”

In 1943, the group opened with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” What people might not recall was when Pennsylvania passed its blue laws, theaters in Pittsburgh were closed on Sundays, and stage shows booked through the weekend at the Stanley Theater would play in Steubenville. When swing swept the land in the 1920s, the hep cats loaded the Capitol to see Cab Calloway. Calloway played in Steubenville? Yes, he did.

His most famous song he recorded was “Minnie the Moocher.”

So, the key to tracing the great performers who played in Steubenville is to follow the bookings at the Stanley.

Michael Traubert