Notebook Cover


  The 3 Keys/4 Keys/Furness Brothers


By Marv Goldberg



© 2017 by Marv Goldberg



[AUTHOR'S NOTE: You have no idea how many pleas there were, in newspapers of the day, for the return of "three keys" and "four keys". It's a wonder I ever completed this article. I don't even want to think about the blurbs concerning "Three (or Four) Keys To Success".]


The 3 Keys had a wonderful jivey sound. One of them started the 4 Keys, who went on to back up Ella Fitzgerald for a while, before ultimately changing their name to the Furness Brothers and continuing to perform well into the 1980s.

The original 3 Keys formed in Chester, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Philadelphia) around 1931, when John Furness and Bob Pease began performing together at roadhouses near Philadelphia and Chester.

John E. "Slim" Furness, the guitarist and baritone, was born on September 9, 1912 in Oxford, Maryland. The family name was actually "Furniss" (sometimes spelled "Furnis"), and appears that way in many non-newspaper documents (which rules out misspellings). In the 1920 census the family appears as "Furnace", but this isn't as weird as it sounds. "Furnace" and "Furniss" would have a similar sound, with the accent on the first syllable (FURN-iss). Once it was changed to "Furness", the accent would have fallen on the second syllable (Fur-NESS). John had four brothers: James, William, Joseph and Arthur, whom we'll meet later. (There were also three sisters, but they never sang with either of his groups.)

Robert Rueben Pease, the 6-foot, 4-inch pianist and tenor, was born on May 23, 1899 in Philadelphia. An athlete, in the early 1920s, he was a pitcher for the West Philadelphia Giants. Soon, however, he'd turned to singing. On October 29, 1924, he and George Wilmer presented some "special numbers from the Studio" over the Lenning Brothers' WNAT radio station. A small blurb from the February 13, 1926 Reading Times tells us that "Bob Pease's Twentieth Century Show was given in the Auditorium on Saturday Evening, Feb. 13." I suppose readers knew which auditorium; I don't.

3 Keys The August 20, 1932 Pittsburgh Courier had a large article about the 3 Keys, when they'd just started their NBC radio show, although (as usual) most of it says nothing interesting. It does tell us that Bob and Slim met the third member, George "Bon Bon" Tunnell, at the Submarine Grill in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Bon Bon George N. "Bon Bon" Tunnell (tenor vocalist, although he could play the piano) was born on June 6, 1912 in Pennsylvania (possibly Reading); by 1920, he was living in Philadelphia. Supposedly he had a group called Bon Bon & His Buddies in the late 1920s, but the only listings are for the Bon Bon Buddies, an 8-member dance act. (He later had other groups called "Bon Bon & His Buddies", but they were all musicians backing up his singing, both in recordings and at appearances.) There are mentions of Sid Stratton & His Serenaders (a black orchestra), with Bon Bon, on Philadelphia's WCAU (Universal Broadcasting Company) on December 27, 1929 through April 11, 1930. I'm not sure if this is him, but I would think so.

An NBC official heard them on a Philadelphia station, said that Pittsburgh Courier article, and hired them for a network show. The April 15, 1932 Delaware County Daily Times (Chester, Pennsylvania) mentions a group called "The Radio Boys of Bob Pease", who would be entertaining at a musical tea. Presumably this is them, but I can't find any definitive listings for them; "Radio Boys" was just too common a name during that time.

However, when they came to New York for their NBC debut in August 1932, it was as the 3 Keys (possibly because "Radio Boys" was so common); there are no listings for them under the 3 Keys name prior to August. Theirs were 15-minute sustaining programs (that is, they had no sponsor).

[Note that the members are generally referred to as some combination of "Bon Bon, Slim, and Bob". Most accounts don't bother with last names. (I'm beginning to take this personally.)]

As a run-up to the show, the August 10 Akron Beacon Journal had this to say, under the headline "New 'Three Keys' Trio Given NBC Booking": "Can it be that NBC is bringing out the 'Three Keys' trio to combat the popularity of the Columbia's Mills Brothers? At any rate, a great ado is being made about a dusky trio that is to start a sustaining schedule on the Blue network Friday night." Friday would be August 12, but most articles written at the time say that they started on August 13. Unfortunately, most articles written at the time can't be trusted; they actually began on Thursday, August 11.

I can find their broadcast on August 11 in listings for Danville (Kentucky, WLW), Salem (Ohio, KDKA), and Indiana (Pennsylvania, KDKA) at 9:30. Asbury Park and Bridgetown (New Jersey, both on WJZ) have them on at 10:30. However, in Louisville, Kentucky they're on WJZ, WHAM, KDKA, and KYW at 8:30. All the above are in the same (Eastern) time zone. They were also on at 8:30 in St. Louis, but that makes sense because it's Central time.

3 Keys cartoon It got no better on August 12. The Democrat And Chronicle (Rochester, New York) of August 12 says "Three Keys, radio's newest entertainment sensation, will appear in the first of a series of programs over WHAM and a National Broadcasting Company network [WJZ in New York City] at 9:30 this evening. This unique Negro trio - Bon Bon, Slim, and Bob - will broadcast exclusively under the management of NBC Artists' Service. They will sing their melodies over WHAM four nights each week, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 9:30 and on Sundays at 9:45." They were also listed in the August 12 Pittsburgh Press as being on KDKA at 10:30 PM. And, the Akron Beacon Journal of August 12 said: The Three Keys make their Blue network debut tonight at 9:30. They promise some 'hot' harmony with the piano, voice and guitar. They are young colored boys from Chester, Pa." In Indiana (Pennsylvania, KDKA), you could catch them at 9:30. In Asbury Park (New Jersey, WJZ) they were on at 10:30. The St. Louis Star And Times had them at 8:30 (Central time) on KWK and advertised them as "... a new black-and-tan radio team making chain debut; vocal and instrumental music."

I don't know how they could be on at different times within the same time zone. The only explanation I can think of is that they did multiple live broadcasts that went out at different times to fit local stations' schedules. (These were the days before pre-recorded programming.) The best I can do is that they were on, all over the East, at some time or other during the evening, four nights a week.

It took no time at all for them to become famous. Somehow, listeners found them and, only a week after their debut, they were a solid hit as they were being heard in more and more cities.

The August 20, 1932 Pittsburgh Courier talked about the new group. They're singing "harmony - rhythm - tunes of the old South and the latest hits of Tin Pan Alley - sung in a manner all their own." And: "Their new mode of instrumentation has no name and cannot readily be described, because it is new and used only by these three Negro youths who developed it." Not really hype for a change, few others were doing what the 3 Keys were.

There was another large article about them (they really were an overnight sensation) in the August 20, 1932 Afro-American. It said, in part: "This melody group - Bob, Slim and Bon Bon - introduces to radio listeners a type of music of which there is no like on the air today." All the articles were quick to point out that none of them could read music.

Not all was praise, however. A columnist in the August 13 Pittsburgh Press said: "Leaving the dials as they were - set to KDKA - brought in the debut to the NBC of the Three Keys, ballyhooed as radio's newest sensation. KDKA's own Duke and Gene with Sammy Fuller are just as good, if not better. Of course, that's a personal opinion." Duke Casson and Buzz "Gene" Aston, a white duo who played guitar and piano, respectively, were a KDKA fixture for a few years.

It didn't take long for other cities to chime in. The August 27, 1932 Pittsburgh Courier had a big headline (for a one-paragraph article): "Detroit Likes The Three Keys". Heard locally over WJR, they were compared in popularity (but not in style) to the Mills Brothers (face it, who else could you compare them to back them?).

The answer to that last question is "well, there were a few". Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys would definitely have been competition to the Keys, but Bing had left them the year before. There was the Norfolk Jazz Quartet, but they sang in an old-fashioned, strained style. The Boswell Sisters were around, too, but their arrangements weren't in the same league as those of the Keys.

The same August 27 issue of the Pittsburgh Courier had another blurb that said: "... the Three Keys will entertain their ardent fans the same evening at 10:30. The usual drabness of the evening will be greatly changed." Contrast that to the Pittsburgh Courier of October 1, which characterized their upcoming Thursday evening show as "blue melody and quaint harmony". Somehow, I wouldn't characterize their harmonies as "quaint".

On August 16, 1932, just four days after their debut, they had a recording session for Columbia Records. They recorded three sides: "Mood Indigo", "Somebody Loses - Somebody Wins", and "Zonky". (Note that, by this time, Columbia Records was no longer affiliated with the CBS network, over which the Mills Brothers broadcast.)

On September 1, 1932, the Delaware County Daily Times (Chester, Pennsylvania) talked about a "personal letter" they'd received from Bob Pease. In it, he said that the 3 Keys "have received many letters of congratulations from their local supporters and hope that everyone is enjoying their programs." Bob said that you can get in touch with him by addressing the WJZ studio at 335 Cumberland Street in Brooklyn, New York. (But don't forget, the postage rate just increased to 3ยข on July 1!)

Giving up on Columbia before their first record was even released, the 3 Keys next turned to Brunswick, the label of the Mills Brothers. Here, they held their first session on September 8 ("Jig Time", "Somebody Stole Gabriel's Horn", and the first attempt at "Wah-Dee-Dah"). They were back on the 21st to record "Wah-Dee-Dah" again, along with "Basin Street Blues".

3 Keys Finally, a documented appearance. The September 24, 1932 Pittsburgh Courier said that they were currently in a three-week engagement at the Loew's Capitol Theater in New York. Their pay was $1000 per week, with an option for four more weeks. There was another contract with Loew's for an additional 10 weeks in their vaudeville theaters at $1500 per week, and even a further 10-week option at $2000 per. (However, the Delaware County Times of October 1, said that they were now playing a four-week at the Capitol Theater, but at only $500 per week.) They were still at the Capitol on October 22.

Their third Brunswick session, held on September 26, was a waste of time. Both "Fit As A Fiddle" and "Nagasaki" were deemed unfit for release.

Columbia Brunswick On September 30, Columbia released "Mood Indigo", backed with "Somebody Loses - Somebody Wins". The very next day, Brunswick issued "Jig Time" and "Someone Stole Gabriels [sic] Horn". Finally, 3 Keys fans had some recordings to take home.

The October 4 Delaware County Daily Times had this to say: "'Slim' Furnace [sic], melodic guitarist of the 'Three Keys' has returned to New York City after a stay of one day in this city. 'Slim,' 'Bob' and 'Bon Bon' moved into the Capitol Theater for a four-week stand on Monday [October 3]." All mentions of their Capitol engagement seem to conflict with each other.

Both "Fit As A Fiddle" and "Nagasaki" were re-recorded for Brunswick on October 5. Three days later, on October 8, 1932, they were part of the entertainment at the Renaissance Casino. It was an affair thrown by the Roosevelt For President Club Of Harlem. Cab Calloway was there, as was Eubie Blake, Noble Sissle, Ernest "Bubbles" Whitman, the Palmer Brothers, and many other acts from shows around town.

3 Keys Their final 1932 Brunswick session was held on October 12, when they laid down "(I Would Do) Anything For You". Right after that session, they made an appearance at a Columbus Day function at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom.

A wonderfully ridiculous piece by their press agent appeared in the October 15, 1932 Pittsburgh Courier:

The improvising Three Keys staged a near-acrobatic feat during their Sunday night broadcast. Bon Bon, Slim and Bob can't keep their feet still when they play and sing, and this time studio attendants neglected to place the heavy floor covering under their piano. The omission was not discovered until they were on the air. Hastily they changed the routine of the opening number, allowing each time to remove his shoes. Then silently they patted their unshod feet for 15 minutes of harmony. How about their "Keynote Originality!"


The October 29 Pittsburgh Courier had a big article that described their airwave performance (in a piece conveniently provided by their press agent):

THE THREE KEYS - a study in blue - there's rhapsody in rhythm - a voice, a piano, a gee-tar - that's the Three Keys! Bon Bon, the singer of songs that are bluer than blue - Bob, whose nervous fingers cause the piano to dance with melody - Slim, whose guitar shivers with crazy minors - are hunched around the microphone at the NBC studios

"It's Three Keys time again," says the announcer, who matches the tempo of the music with appropriate descriptions of this sensational trio of the air. "Time for sweet melody. Blue harmony time, and rhythm that makes you laugh and play - song and romance - that's the mood tonight," says [NBC announcer Alois] Havrilla.

The music rises - pulsation - burns to a white heat - six feet in unison - sleek haired Bob motions with his head as his fingers fly faster than leaves before the autumn wind - Bon Bon, hatless, shirt open at the neck, slaps his knees and weaves in time as he leans over the piano's edge - "Beep-a-deep, deep, deep - Skiddadle-de-deep-deedle-dee-deep..." the Harlemesque words run on.

Slim bends over his guitar - He sits, hat on head, like a dark [indistinct] on a high stool at the end of the piano keyboard - his left arm stretched out along the neck of his singing gee-tar - "Wang-a-wang, wang-a-wang!" it complains in steely tones - then softly it sobs - "Wang! Wang! Wang! - and the song is ended.


They did have an active press agent.

On November 15, 1932, their radio schedule changed because they'd gotten some engagements outside of New York City. They were switched to Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at 11:15 PM (on NBC's WEAF). The first show would be broadcast from WFI in Philadelphia. Then from Washington, D.C. (where they'd play the Howard Theater along with Jimmie Lunceford's Band) and, then from Baltimore (where they'd be at the Hippodrome). They were expected to resume broadcasting from New York on December 6.

Brunswick Brunswick On November 5, Brunswick released "Fit As A Fiddle" and "Nagasaki". On the 19th, they issued "Basin Street Blues" and "Wah-Dee-Dah".


at the Harlem Opera House The December 31, 1932 New York Age said that they were now playing a return engagement at the Harlem Opera House, but I can't find any prior appearance there.

The new year began with a nice write-up in the January 7, 1933 Pittsburgh Courier: "Speaking of the Three Keys, those boys during 1933 will climb to the top of the heap of ether crowd-pleasers [radio stars]; they topped the Mills Brothers, who were featured at the Lafayette Theater last week. Comparing the two, the Mills Brothers seem to have grown stale and it is believed that Don Redmond's [sic; should be "Redman's"] Orchestra has spoiled 'the color' the quartet at one time possessed. Color had a lot to do with it, you know. See Bon-Bon the crooner of the Three Keys perform, you'll agree." On the other hand, the New York Age of the same date said: "As reported here the skeedaaten-weedee-skeedooten-dum-skiddey Three Keys will fade off the air shortly." [I think I spelled that correctly.]

On January 9, 1933, the Keys recorded "That Doggone Dog Of Mine" for Brunswick.

Why is it sometimes hard to find the 3 Keys on the air? The January 28 Pittsburgh Courier attempted to answer the question. "Numerous questions have been asked relative to the time of broadcast of the Three Keys. They are listed as appearing regularly on Wednesday at midnight and Thursday at 11 p. m. This listing is released from New York City one week in advance, and any changes are made direct from the studio. Therefore many times the programs are changed without notifications because such changes are made too late for press releases to carry same."

When you've got a broadcasting contract, you've got to live up to it, even if it means more travel. This from the Pittsburgh Courier of February 18, 1933: "During their stay in Baltimore [at the Hippodrome], the Three Keys etherized [broadcast] from Washington, D.C.; the reason being NBC has no station in Baltimore." On February 22, the 3 Keys appeared at a benefit dance to raise money for the Brooklyn Home For Aged Colored People. Bill Robinson and Snakehips Tucker also performed.

at the Harlem Opera House The March 4 Pittsburgh Courier reported that they'd been back at the Harlem Opera House [February 22 through 24], playing to capacity crowds, and said that this was only the second time they'd appeared there. "Judging from their second reception these singers have lost none of their popularity with Harlem audiences." It went on to say that they'd done some benefit shows at the Rockland Palace and the Hotel Astor. The blurb closed with: "Their harmony and execution should keep these boys popular for a long time to come. The boys have lost none of their popularity."

But only a few weeks later, the March 25, 1933 Delaware County Daily Times (from their hometown of Chester, Pennsylvania) said: "The Three Keys (Slim, Bob and erstwhile Bon-Bon) who sparkled over the radio like a Fourth of July firecracker several months ago only to sputter away and be forgotten, appeared last week in a new guise hooked up with Jack McLallen, comedian, over WJZ, winning a new prize."

Jack McLallen "Professor" Jack McLallen was a Broadway comedian who'd hit the airwaves at the end of January, along with his "cohorts in comedy" Sarah (or "Sara", a character played by Doris Ellingson) and Sassafras (a character who was never otherwise identified). By February 28, the 3 Keys were occasionally added to his show, while keeping one of their own until late June; McLallen only lasted another couple of weeks after that. (Yes, I know it's confusing.)

I have no idea exactly what had happened. However, the article continued: "Another slant on the Keys is that temperamentality and prosperity made it necessary for Bob to send an S.O.S. to Philadelphia for Jimmy Pitts, former Showboat star, to take the place of the disgruntled Bon-Bon." (The only prior mention I could find of Jimmy Pitts was in the June 25, 1932 Delaware County Daily Times: "Music for dancing was provided by 'Kid' Traps and his Music Weavers of Wilmington, who were assisted in an inimitable style by Jimmy Pitts, song and dance artist, formerly connected with a large Philadelphia night club." That was, presumably, the Showboat.)

But why was Bon Bon gone? I don't know; nothing ever said, other than veiled hints that there were personality problems. He'd soon be back, but I don't know exactly when.

Brunswick In the interim, on March 18, 1933, Brunswick had released "(I Would Do) Anything For You" coupled with "That Doggone Dog Of Mine".

3 Keys in movie Also in March 1933, Warner Brothers released the sixth in a series of shorts called "Rambling 'Round Radio Row". In it, the 3 Keys sing "Them There Eyes". Filmed in New York in either late 1932 or early 1933, this is the only known visual of the group.

at the Lafayette Here's what the April 1, 1933 Pittsburgh Courier had to say about the 3 Keys appearing on radio with Jack McLallan. The header was "Three Keys May Fade Out Of Picture". The blurb went: "Jack McLallan, Sara and Sassafras, a comic radio program, has used the Three Keys as music relief for their program during the past three or four weeks over the National Broadcasting Company. The Three Keys used chiefly on sustaining programs since their gradual fade-out as a major attraction over the National's stations, were omitted from the Friday night broadcast of the "Professor's" comic offering. Rumors to the effect that a cancellation of the contract possessed by the trio was imminent came through Wednesday." In contrast, the New York Age of the same date said: "The Three Keys, who seem to be becoming increasingly popular and are heard on the radio four times during the week, will appear at the Lafayette Theater during the week beginning April 8."

Clearly, Things Are Going On, but it's hard to figure out exactly what from contradictory newspaper reportage.

Bon Bon was back when they did some more recordings for Brunswick. On April 6, they waxed "Rasputin", followed, the next day, by "Oh By Jingo!".

3 Keys The New York Age of April 15, 1933 reviewed their appearance at the Lafayette: "In all fairness to the Three Keys, it must be admitted that they have improved marvelously since they first went on the air. The reception which they are receiving a the Lafayette this week is ample proof of this. At each performance on Saturday, in response to storms of applause, they sang eight or nine songs. The combination of piano, steel guitar and human voice make these three lovable youngsters the most unique and pleasing harmony combination on the stage or on the radio today with the possible exception of the Mills Bros."

And then it was off for their first visit to Chicago to play the Regal Theater. The Pittsburgh Courier of May 13, 1933 said: "The Three Keys, Slim, Bob and Bon-Bon, or in other words, a piano, guitar and voice, opened up for a week's engagement at the Regal Theater in Chicago last Sunday. This was the Keys' first vaudeville tour in the Windy City, and the South Side turned out in large numbers to see them. Their radio work will be continued through the Chicago studios of the National Broadcasting Company."

Brunswick Brunswick issued "Rasputin (That Highfalutin Lovin' Man)", coupled with "Oh By Jingo!" on May 20.


at the Stanley Theater at the Stanley Cafe at the State Theater May and June 1933 found the 3 Keys appearing in various venues in Chester, Pennsylvania. On the 24th, they were at the Stanley Theater; on June 8, the State Theater; on June 26, it was at the Stanley Cafe.

Thursday, June 29, 1933 marked the last radio broadcast of the Three Keys. They were heard at 6:30, over WEAF. Their radio career had flamed and sputtered in slightly less than a year.

The Pittsburgh Courier of July 15 strangely said: The Three Keys have at last been given a break and are at the Academy Theater, New York, the last half of this week." Seems to me that they've had plenty of breaks before now and I don't know what's so special about the Academy Theater (which isn't mentioned once in any 1933 New York City paper. Possibly they meant the Brooklyn Academy Of Music.

Vocalion In 1933, many Brunswick artists were switched to its Vocalion subsidiary, including the 3 Keys. So, on August 16, they recorded two songs for Vocalion: "Heebie Jeebies" and "Song Of The Islands (Na Lei O Hawaii)". These were released on September 1.

A few days later, on September 8, the 3 Keys held their last recording session. This time, they laid down two more Vocalion tracks: "I've Found A New Baby" and "You Can Depend On Me".

Right after that session (exact date unknown, but probably the next day), they left for England. Throwing caution to the winds, they sailed on the S.S. Olympic, sister ship to the Titanic. This time, the ship made it, landing at Southampton on September 15, 1933. They were listed on the manifest as John E. M. Furniss, Robert R. Pease, and George N. Tunnell; each was a "radio artist". With them was Louis Edelman, "theatrical manager".

Once in London, they appeared at the prestigious Palladium Theater, beginning Monday, September 18. At the same time, they appeared at the Monseigneur Restaurant. The Palladium engagement was supposed to have been for a week, but they were held over for another. When that second week was up, they continued on at the Monseigneur, for a total of six weeks (through November 1).

Parlophone Parlophone To coincide with their visit, Parlophone Records released both of the Keys' Columbia recordings on their "Second New Rhythm Style" series, although not on the same record. First came "Somebody Loses - Somebody Wins" (the flip was "Goodbye Blues" by Art Jarret). Then came "Mood Indigo" (coupled with "Beale Street Blues" by the Charleston Chasers).

On October, 5, 1933 they appeared on a 20-minute BBC radio broadcast (beginning at 10:10 PM), singing five songs: "Rasputin", "It's The Talk Of The Town", "Heebie Jeebies", "Jig Time", and "That Doggone Dog Of Mine", all of which they'd recorded, except for "It's The Talk Of The Town".

The October 14 Pittsburgh Courier let their fans know what was happening: "The Three Keys, NBC harmony trio, who made such a spectacular debut last year over the air, are now appearing in London at the Palladium with the "Hot Rhythm" stage attraction. The three Keys have been off the air for the past two or three months. Their appearance at the famous London house has brought forth much favorable comment."

Vocalion While they were gone, Vocalion issued "I've Found A New Baby" and "You Can Depend On Me" on November 1, 1933.

Of course, press agents couldn't let it go. The New York Age of November 4, 1933 had a puff piece headed "Three Keys Of Radio Fame On Successful Tour Of European Capitals". (There's no evidence, however, that they ever performed anywhere but London.) This silliness was given to the paper by Miss Alice Gorgas "former theatrical star who is now managing the Harlem Branch of the Amusement Musical Instrument Distributing Co." Bob Pease, it said, was her nephew. In it, we learn that the group consisted of Robert Pease, "Robert Furness", and "George Tawnell". At least she got her nephew's name correct! The Delaware County Daily Times had them coming home about a week too early. They said: "A note of interest to their many friends and fans is the expected arrival of the Three Keys in New York and Chester this week-end. Bob, Slim and Bon-Bon have spent a successful six weeks abroad, touring and appearing in the largest theaters and nightclubs on the continent. Plans are being made to have a reception and dinner in honor of the local exponents of 'Hi-de-ho'." I guess press agents receive some special kind of training that allows them to believe that something will come true simply because they wrote it.

But Something Happened in London, although my sources were silent about it. The result was that Robert Rueben Pease and John E. Furniss sailed home on November 8 from Southampton, on the S.S. Majestic, arriving in New York on November 14. George "Bon Bon" Tunnell, however, was nowhere to be found on the manifest.

In spite of this, the Delaware County Daily Times of November 17, 1933 reported in its "Among Our Colored Citizens" column: "The Three Keys, Chester's contribution to the radio and theatrical entertainment world, have returned to this city after a successful tour of the European continent." Isn't it a shame that newspapers can't check facts?

Slim alone Only four days after returning, on November 18, "Johnnie 'Slim' Furniss of the Three Keys and his guitar" was appearing, alone, at Pompi's, in Chester. Where was Bob Pease? Nowhere to be seen.

George "Bon Bon" Tunnell sailed home on the S.S. President Harding, leaving Southampton on February 6, 1934 and reaching New York on February 17. Louis Edelman, the group's manager, didn't leave until February 10. What was Bon Bon doing for three months? There are, unfortunately, no records that I can find to tell me.

At least the Delaware County Daily Times of June 14, 1934 admitted that Something Had Gone Wrong, although it had to be given a positive spin. It said, in part:

Something went wrong and the appeal of the boys was no more. Contracts were cancelled and things took a turn for the worse. The featured vocalists [sic] married and the general tenor of things was other than smooth. The two remaining "Keys," Bob and Slim returned to Chester and began to "gig" in local clubs or beer dispensaries. It was whispered that the boys were finished, done, that they never had the stuff that's needed to keep a performer in the big time. Other things were said but the trouble few really knew.

The truth of it all is that dame gossip was without facts. The boys at that time were secretly practicing. Changing their style, increasing their repertoire, polishing their finesse, building themselves into a greater "Three Keys" in every way. They were determined to come back and having a taste of the headlights [sic] worked incessantly to achieve their aim.

When this is released the "Three Keys" will be making their first step back up the ladder to stardom. A road tour of the better vodvil houses of the country is the engagement that Bob, Slim and Bon-Bon are scheduled to begin this week. Under the management of Sam M. Steiffel, for one year the local trio hopes to produce the stuff that will hurl them to the heights they formerly enjoyed.

All this actually tells us is that sometime in March or April, Bon Bon rejoined the 3 Keys. (I would guess April, since Bob Pease's wife was in the hospital for most of March.) There had been a small blurb in the Delaware County Daily Times on May 5 that said "The Three Keys ran up to New York t'other day, business in regards to new bookings."

On June 16, 1934, they were at the Bonnie Brae in Massillon, Ohio. October 16 found them at the Chelsea Country Club in Chelsea, Pennsylvania. Not exactly the Grand Tour we were promised. (Note that there was another group called the 3 Keys that played venues in Sayre, Pennsylvania. This was "H. Shafer & His Three Keys". Then, there was the Three Keys Dance Orchestra; a local group from Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania.)

Although they weren't all that much in the public eye, Vocalion re-issued all five of their Brunswick records between June and August 1934 (see discography).

On November 9, 1934, "Three Keys, Slim, Bob, and Bon-Bon" were heard over WDEL (Wilmington, Delaware) from 8:00 to 8:15. There was another show on the 14th, the 16th, the 21st, and the 23rd.

They were working, but certainly weren't experiencing the stardom they'd once had. Actually, there was no trace of them for the next 9 months.

July 17, 1935 found them at the Union Theater in New Philadelphia, Ohio ("Colored Trio - As Good As The Mills Brothers).

On August 14, 1935, James A. Furniss, Slim's father died. The mention, in the Delaware County Daily Times of August 16, told us that Slim had four brothers: James, Jr., William, Joseph, and Arthur (all of whom we'll meet again later), as well as three sisters: Ethel, Aimee, and Nettie. Slim's mother, Lula, had died in 1926, as a result of complications from childbirth.

The 3 Keys were back on the air starting October 24, 1935. Their program was on WABC (part of the CBS Network), at 11:15 AM Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. They were on through at least the beginning of May 1936.

at the Hippodrome December 12 found Bon Bon, Slim, and Bob ("Three Boys and a Guitar" [and a piano?] at the Hippodrome in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. They were part of Columbia Broadcasting's "Coast To Coast" All-Star Radio Revue. It had 27 other performers I've never heard of. The next day, they opened at the Earle Theater in Philadelphia.

The Delaware County Daily Times of January 7, 1936 had a little blurb that said: "John Furniss, Robert Peas, and John Pernell, members of the Three Keys, radio harmonizers, have left this city for Atlantic City, where they have a three-day engagement. The Keys go from Atlantic City to New York, their headquarters." Since I can't find any trace of a singer named John Pernell, I'll just assume that the paper messed up George Tunnell's name, as they did with Bob Pease's.

at Di Carlos They couldn't have stayed in New York too long, because on January 17 they were at Di Carlo's Restaurant in Reading, Pennsylvania (big glass of beer is only 5 cents). They'd made such a hit at the Hippodrome in December that they were invited back on January 25.

At that point, their broadcasting schedule got complicated, not that it was particularly simple before. The Philadelphia Inquirer of January 26, 1936 said that as of the next day they'd be on Mondays from 1:00 to 1:15 on CBS and 2:15 to 2:30 over WCAU, and Thursdays 1:00 to 1:15 over the WCAU-CBS Network. In New York State they were on WABC, Mondays at 1:00 to 1:15 (I can't find any Thursday listings in New York). In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, they were on WABC, Wednesdays at 1:00. But on February 12, they were switched to Wednesday and Thursday in Pennsylvania. Way too complicated for me.

at the Apollo And then, the engagement everyone's been waiting for: they finally got to play the Apollo Theater the week of February 28, 1936. Also on the bill were Luis Russell's Band, John Mason, Jimmie Baskette, and Pigmeat Markham.

Joe Bostic, radio reviewer in the February 15 New York Age, talked about their February 10 show: "Caught the Three Keys later [on the radio]. No wonder they stay up near the top, they keep coming up with new songs which shows and means plenty of rehearsal. Class will tell and their version of 'Rhythm Is My Nursery etc.' was a honey (WABC-1:00 Also Thurs)." The following week, Bostic said he loved their versions of "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane" and "Eeny Meeny Miney Mo".

But then, in the same issue, Bostic commented on their performance at the Apollo Theater; "The Three Keys, who have been setting the radio on fire with their torrid syncopation for the last few weeks were the real disappointment of the bill. Not that they didn't sing and play well enough, but their performance just lacked the dash, verve and speed of their radio tunes."

Presumably they had preceded the Apollo engagement with one at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C., since the Philadelphia Inquirer of March 8 had this to say: "The Three Keys, Bob, Slim, and Bon Bon, who have been off the air for the past two weeks while appearing in Washington and New York, will resume their schedule over WCAU during the week. On Mondays they will be heard from 1 to 1:15 P.M. over the Columbia network; at 2:15 and 2:25 P.M. over station WCAU. On Thursdays they will broadcast over WCAU and Columbia from 1 to 1:15 P.M." I'm sure that someone was paid Big Bucks to keep track of all this.

at Drills They performed at Drill's Cafe (Chester) on March 14, 1936. The next night, they entertained at a dinner given in the new Mercy Hospital, in Chester.

The New York Age of March 21 informed us: "The Three Keys (well two of them) returned to their P.M. spot. Arthur Heinert filled in at the organ in place of Slim." Presumably they meant Arthur Hainer, who, as "Will Hudson", wrote "Moonglow", and "Organ Grinder's Swing". No reason was given for Slim not being there that night.

During this time, there was a "Three Keys Union Band" appearing in Alton, Illinois. No relation.

On April 13, 1936, Bob, Slim, and Bon Bon were back at Drill's Cafe in Chester. They were still there on May 2, when the ad said "Three Keys And Their Band".

But, here we go again. The Pottstown (Pennsylvania) Mercury of May 8, 1936 shows a listing in the radio column for "Bon Bon, songs" at 9:30 AM over WCAU. This neatly coincides with the last broadcast of the Three Keys on May 7.

at the Blue Bell I don't know who replaced Bon Bon, but the 3 Keys appeared at the Blue Bell Hotel, in Chester, on June 3, 1936. The ad asked us to "Listen in for the Big Broadcast every Thursday Evening at 7:45 E.D.T., from WDEL in Wilmington." Sure enough, on June 4 there was a listing for the 3 Keys. They remained on through July 30.

Meanwhile, the June 28 Philadelphia Inquirer told us that Bon Bon was going to be on a new series called "Monday Morning Revue", featuring "talent that has become popular on the WCAU originations for the Columbia network.... Bon Bon, formerly a member of the famed Three Keys, will be heard as a soloist. He is fast making a name for himself as one of the outstanding sepia rhythm singers in the country" By December 23, he had his own show on Philadelphia's WIP, but as George Tunnell.

In September 1936, in York, Pennsylvania, you could hear the Three Keys (Harold Kauffman, Glen Garrett, and William Ketterman. I'll pass. (I'll also pass on the Three Keys from Moberly, Missouri, even though they were characterized as a "red hot band".)

In fact, our Three Keys weren't heard from again for the rest of 1936.

Romaine Brown, member of the Red Caps, told me about Bon Bon. Romaine was a musical prodigy who played many instruments. In 1936, he had been awarded a coveted scholarship to Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied the viola under the tutelage of world-famous violist William Primrose. After school, Brown played piano behind the Philadelphia-based Bon Bon Trio. Aside from vocalist Bon Bon (with whom Romaine had gone to high school), there was Harry Polk (guitar; we'll meet him again later), and Truman Gibson (bassist). Unfortunately, I can't find any gigs for the Bon Bon Trio, so I can't pinpoint exactly when this was. However, thanks to the May 9, 1942 Billboard, I know that they were together in the spring of that year: "Romaine Brown takes over on piano with Bon Bon at Lou's Moravian, Philadelphia."

at the Blue Bell The 3 Keys started off 1937 by appearing at the Blue Bell Hotel in Chester. It would be nice to know who the vocalist was, but nothing ever said.

The February 17 Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware) talked about the upcoming 28th annual Cabaret Ball of the Temple Beth Emeth, to be held in the Hotel DuPont on February 25. Bon Bon "formerly associated with the Three Keys radio trio will present a singing and dance act. Miss Carlotta Dale, blues singer, will offer several vocal numbers."

However, by March 13, 1937, Bon Bon was back. "Guest entertainers for the Central Social group were the popular radio artists, the Three Keys, Bon-Bon, Bob, and Slim Furniss.", said the March 13 Delaware County Daily Times. I suppose, however, that they could just have pulled out the names from a prior press release, so Bon Bon may or may not have actually been with them.

The May 8 New York Age asked the age-old question: "Now, enthralled by the abundance of our present life with an indolent summer air stealing with so little energy through the open windows of our hearts, and we give thoughts to that gone but not forgotten era, we can't help but wonder longingly what has happened to -". (I never said they were going to ask it well.) Many sentences later, they got around to "The Three Keys, who came to Harlem in a storm of rhythm as a Sam Steifel discovery."

They were right, though, the 3 Keys were no more. On May 21, 1937, "Bob Pease of the 'Three Keys' fame" was performing at the cocktail lounge of the Ogden Hotel in Chester ("only 8 1/2 miles from Wilmington"). Fortunately for you, the Three Keys in Mount Carmel and the Three Keys ("A Grand Orchestra") in Olean, New York, were still around.

Bon Bon and Savitt Jan Savitt Bon Bon Bon Bon at Rocky Glen But now, Bon Bon was to reach greater heights. White orchestra leader Jan Savitt had a band called the Top Hatters, and he hired both Bon Bon and Carlotta Dale as vocalists, as well as a black dancer named "Jerry Taps". Over the next few years, Bon Bon would make many Decca recordings with Savitt, but he would really be singing Big Band music and, if I didn't know he was black, I wouldn't guess it from his sound. (That's not a disparagement; I like both his voice and Savitt's arrangements, as well as Big Band music in general.) They all appeared at the Rocky Glen Palace Ballroom on July 7, 1937. It's strange that there was no mention of Bon Bon's hiring in the black press. From November 17, 1937 through April 29, 1940, Bon Bon recorded extensively with Savitt, for Bluebird and Decca.

at Rosie's at the Hotel Olivere Slim Furness resurrected the 3 Keys in time for a January 27, 1938 appearance at Rosie's Grille in Trainer, Pennsylvania; they were still there in March. I don't know who the other members were. On February 25, they performed at the Sun Oil Ball at St. Hedwig's Auditorium, in Chester. In April, they were at back at Rosie's Grill and, from there, the Hotel Olivere in Wilmington (through the end of May), then back to Rosie's, then back to the Olivere, through the end of July.

The April 30, 1938 Pittsburgh Courier had a little blurb about Bob Howard, who appeared on Rudy Vallee's program. It concluded with "Do you remember the Three Keys, well, Bob Howard was the piano player." Really? All I can tell you is that there was a pianist named Bob Howard and that I can find radio appearances for him for the rest of 1938.

However, he can't be Bob Pease under a different name because, sadly, Bob passed away on June 30, 1938. The cause was given as "peripheral neuritis due to alcohol". Since the doctor said, on the death certificate, that he'd been treating Bob since May 13, there's a good chance that he wasn't a part of the Three Keys in all of 1938.

at Champagne Charlie's But Slim slogged on. The 3 Keys (whoever they may have been) were at a Rotary Club luncheon at Wilmington's Hotel DuPont on August 11, 1938. They appeared at the Hotel Olivere again, beginning on September 16. Then it was off to Champagne Charlie's ("Formerly Rosie's Grille") in Trainer, Pennsylvania, starting on October 7. (The only other Champagne Charlie's ad was on October 8, so I don't know how long they were there.) There's nothing else about them for the rest of 1938 and nothing ever mentions their names.

There were rumors in the Philadelphia Inquirer of a Three Keys radio program, over WDAS, in April and May 1939. I have no idea if this is Slim's group (or even a musical group at all; you'd be surprised at what these stations try to sneak past me). There were more mentions in September, including some in the Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware).

'Ernie Furness' A strange ad from the October 18, 1939 Wilmington Morning News was for the appearance at Printz Garden of the (or a) Novelty Trio, with "Ernie Furness, Formerly of Three Keys") This might not actually be as confusing as it sounds. Slim's name was John E. Furniss, but I've never been able to determine what his middle name was. (Even his death certificate just said "John E.") Needless to say, Slim didn't have a brother Ernie, nor was there an Ernest Furness anywhere in the vicinity.

February 15, 1940 found the Three Keys performing over WFIL (Philadelphia) from 7:30 to 7:45. In April, Slim Furness told the census taker that he was a "musician - beer garden" in Chester. Interestingly, two of Slim's brothers, Joe and Arthur, each told the 1940 census taker that he was a "musician - cafe". Since Joe played the piano and Arthur the bass, it's possible that this was the makeup of the 3 Keys. (Brother William was also living in Chester in 1940 along with sister Ethel. He'd married Mary Hammond, the sister of Ethel's husband, Jeremiah, but he shows no occupation.) Note that Ethel was also musical; she was a pianist and church choir director.

at the Hotel Olivere The 3 Keys were back at the Hotel Olivere in April, May, and June 1940. The only name mentioned was Slim's. Also in May, the 3 Keys became a part of the "Vocal Help Wanted" radio show (Sundays, 10:00 over WCAU). Four members of the studio audience would be chosen to sing along with Joey Kearns' Orchestra, with the home and studio audiences voting on a winner.

at the Subway Grille On June 26, the 3 Keys were at the Subway Grille in Wilmington. The ad said that M.C. "Chunk" Robinson was giving a farewell party for them. It didn't say why, but there are no further mentions of the 3 Keys in 1940.

But what of Bon Bon? In late November 1940, due to another personality clash, he left Jan Savitt's Orchestra to go out on his own..

On March 7, 1941, the 3 Keys entertained for the Philadelphia Club Of Advertising Women at the Garden Terrace of the Benjamin Franklin Hotel.

Bon Bon didn't sit around doing nothing after leaving Savitt. Although I can't find any appearances for him since the break, on July 23, 1941, he recorded four songs for Decca: "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire", "Blow, Gabriel, Blow", "Sweet Mama, Papa's Getting Mad", and "All That Meat And No Potatoes". These would eventually be released as by "Bon Bon & His Buddies", but all the others were musicians, not singers: Joe Thomas (trumpet), Eddie Durham (trombone & guitar), Buster Smith (clarinet), Jackie Fields (alto sax), James Phipps (piano), Al Hall (bass), and Jack Parker (drums).

Note that the 3 Keys appearing in Pottstown, Pennsylvania in August and September, 1941 aren't them; neither are the ones appearing in Warren, Pennsylvania.

at Lou's Moravian However, the ones appearing at the Rose Room of Lou's Moravian Bar, in Philadelphia, beginning in early October, most definitely are. A blurb about the Moravian in the December 12, 1941 Philadelphia Inquirer said: "Lou's other popular spot, the Moravian Street Bar at 1507 provides the Three Keys and Ernie as the feature attraction."

4 Keys "The Three Keys and Ernie"? What's that all about? The guitarist is John E. "Slim" Furness (no surprise there), the pianist is now William Furness (who just happened to be Slim's brother), the bassist is now Arthur "Peck" Furness (who also happened to be Slim's brother). How long they'd been the 3 Keys is impossible to tell, since names were rarely given. "Ernie" has nothing to do with the "Ernie Furness" I mentioned above, but is singer Ernie Hatfield. What happened to brother Joe is a mystery (but he'll be back). Why they didn't call themselves the 4 Keys at this point is another mystery (but they will).

William Netter Furness was born on March 29, 1915 in Oxford, Maryland. Arthur Harvey "Peck" Furness was born on September 6, 1920, also in Oxford. Ernest John Hatfield was born July 5, 1914 in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Exactly when Ernie joined remains unclear, although it probably wasn't much before their December 12, 1941 appearance at Lou's Moravian (a December 5 blurb just says "Three Keys"). He was probably hired because Slim realized they needed a dedicated singer in place of Bon Bon. [In November 1935, both William Furness (second tenor) and Ernest Hatfield (baritone) were part of the Dunbar Quartette, along with James Carroll (first tenor) and Charles Brummel (bass). They'd all gone to Chester High School.]

In the fall of 1941, Bon Bon and Jan Savitt had kissed and made up, supposedly signing a two-year contract. Bon Bon was vocalist on a dozen more Savitt Victor recordings, from October 27, 1941 through January 12, 1942 and made some appearances with him during that time. However, in early December 1941, Bon Bon was at the Lincoln Hotel in New York and then played the Royal Theater (Baltimore) during the second week of the month. Clearly, for the second time, it wasn't working well.

On January 12, 1942, Bon Bon recorded two more songs for Decca: "Seeing You Again Did Me No Good" and "Sleepy Old Town". These, too, were released as by "Bon Bon & His Buddies, but, once again, the others were musicians (although completely different ones from the first session): Red Solomon (trumpet), Russ Jenner (trombone), Jimmy Lytell (clarinet), George Van Eps (guitar), Haig Stephens (bass), and O'Neil Spencer (drums). Note that this session was held on the same day that Bon Bon did his last recordings with Jan Savitt (for Victor Records). By late February 1942, it was rumored that Bon Bon was going to quit Savitt again. He did. In the discography section, you'll find a list of all the Jan Savitt recordings featuring Bon Bon, by session date.

Bon Bon at Lou's Moravian However, Bon Bon did get some (unknown) musicians together to appear with him as his Buddies. For example, they were at Lou's Moravian in March 1942. At the same time, the 3 Keys were at Philly's Swan Club.

Ella Fitzgerald And then, this from the April 1, 1942 Philadelphia Inquirer: "Ella Fitzgerald and her band will part company, Eddie Barefield taking the band, and Ella joining the Three Keys as background for radio commercials." Note that, although there are now four of them, they're still calling themselves the 3 Keys.

[Ella Fitzgerald, who really wanted to be a dancer, won first prize in the Apollo Theater's Amateur Night on November 21, 1934. She soon met bandleader Chick Webb, who hired her to sing with his band and also legally adopted her. When Webb died in June 1939, Ella took over his band (as "Ella And Her Famous Orchestra"). She really wasn't cut out for handling a band, however, and eventually turned it over to Eddie Barefield. I can't find any write-up of how she met the Keys or why she decided to hook up with them. It's possible that they were chosen to back her up on her March session for Decca (see below) and everybody liked the sound. In November 1942, Moe Gale, Ella Fitzgerald's manager, told Billboard that it was his idea to separate Ella from her orchestra and pair her with the 4 Keys. It might have been.]

The April 4, 1942 Billboard announced that "Ella Fitzgerald will leave her band around July 1 [it would actually happen on August 1] and step out as a singer with instrumental backing from a trio called the Three Keys (piano, guitar and bass). She has already cut records for Decca with the new combo, but they will not be released for another month." The same issue said "The Three Keys will leave Philadelphia's Swan Club to go touring with Ella Fitzgerald. They've already made two recordings with her."

The recordings that they'd made, on March 11, were: "I'm Gettin' Mighty Lonesome For You" and "When I Come Back Crying (Will You Be Laughing At Me)". On April 10, there were two more: "All I Need Is You" and "Mama Come Home".

Decca Decca The March recordings were released in April, as by "Ella Fitzgerald & Her Four Keys" (some copies say "Ella Fitzgerald & The Keys). The other two were issued in May. Presumably everyone thought that "3 Keys" with four members would be confusing, so "4 Keys" they became. However, the August 31, 1942 Delaware County Daily Times still referred to them as the "Three Keys and Ernie".

Decca On July 31, 1942 (the day before she turned the band over to Barefield), Ella and the Keys recorded some more tunes: "(I Put) A Four Leaf Clover In Your Pocket", "(Nobody Knows Better Than I That) He's My Guy", and "My Heart And I Decided". On "He's My Guy", the group only provided instrumental backup. The first two of these were issued in August. Note that July 31 was the last time that union musicians could record because of the "Petrillo Ban" that went into effect on August 1. It would be over a year before Decca did any more recording.

Ella Fitzgerald and 4 Keys In August 1942, Ella and the Four Keys hit the airwaves over WJZ (a New York station that was part of National Broadcasting's Blue Network). The Pittsburgh Courier of August 29 claimed that the programs had started on August 24, but I can find a listing for them two days before that. Ella still had a few one-nighters to play with Doc Wheeler's Sunset Royal Orchestra in order to fulfill old contracts. This would keep her involvement with the Keys limited to radio work for the time being. Some of the radio listings credited "Ella Fitzgerald and the Four Keys", while others only listed the "Four Keys".

Finally, it was time for Ella and the Keys to hit the road. Their first appearance together was at the Tic-Toc Club in Boston, beginning on September 18, 1942. After two weeks, they began a theater tour.

at the Bowery In early October, they were at Frank Barbaro's Bowery Club in Detroit. In spite of how big a star Ella was at this point, the ad contained only a photo of Barbaro. Although their radio show continued uninterrupted, the next documented appearance for the group wasn't until November 14, when they opened at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

But there was a war on and, on October 24, 1942, John "Slim" Furness reported to the Army for duty. He wouldn't be a part of the Keys again until August 1945 at the earliest. The Delaware County Daily Times of November 16 said this:


Local boy John "Slim" Furness, eldest brother and original of the Three Keys, was inducted.... The combination that recently reached the apex of their careers by joining up with Miss Fitzgeralds [sic] will continue as the Three Keys, however.

All this brings about the third switch in the Keys' personnel. First it was Bon Bon Tunnell, Bob Peace [sic], and "Slim" Furness ten years ago. Peace [sic] died; Bon Bon went as vocalist with Jan Savitt band, Bill and Peck, "Slim's" younger brothers stepped in as pianist and bass fiddle-ist. Then Ernie Hatfield, another swell vocalist, joined them, helping to pile up a big following and, consequently, attracting "The First Lady Of Swing's"' attention.

There are still two more musically-inclined male Furnesses in town. They are Jim, a saxophonist; and Joe, the pianist, and the versatility of the boys could make it possible to fill in Slim's vacant spot to a great advantage.

Ella Fitzgerald and 4 Keys Jimmy Shirley Joe Furness, who'd probably been a pianist with the Keys in 1940, would join them again later on, but as a drummer (since what they needed now was a guitarist to replace Slim). That guitarist was Jimmy Shirley. Born James Arthur Shirley in Union, South Carolina on May 31, 1913, he was raised in Cleveland. After the 4 Keys, he'd have the Jimmy Shirley Trio in the 40s and 50s. (It would, at one point, contain Isaac Royal of the Rhythm Kings.) He was also known as "Arthur Shirley". What little I could find about Jim Furness will be dealt with later.

at the Apollo Ella Fitzgerald and 4 Keys On November 12, 1942, Ella and the Four Keys entertained the servicemen at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, while they were back at Boston's Tic-Toc Club. Then, on November 20, they appeared at the Apollo Theater for a week. Also on the bill were Al Cooper's Savoy Sultans, John Mason, and Johnny Vigal (and Pee Wee, the Midget). The review of the show said that she was backed up by piano, bass, and guitar. Ernie Hatfield, who basically just sang, was rarely mentioned in blurbs about the group.

at Fays After this, they appeared at Fays Theater, in Philadelphia. Also on the bill were Eddie Durham & His All-Girl Orchestra, and Butterbeans & Susie.

It didn't take the Army long to determine where Slim fit in. While he was a carpenter by day, he was a guitarist in an Army band after hours. The Pittsburgh Courier, on December 5, published an "Armed Service Honor Roll" of entertainers in the Military. Slim Furness was on the list along with some minor lights like Glenn Miller, Jack Leonard, Rudy Vallee, and Floyd Ray.

The 4 Keys and Doc Wheeler opened at Detroit's Paradise Theater on December 11, 1942. (Their engagement came between that of Cab Calloway and that of Louis Jordan.) Through it all, they still had their radio show.

The December 26 Billboard ran a review of Ella and the "Four Keyes" at the Oriental Theater (Chicago). The act, they said, "easily steals the thunder in the show". It went on "This vocal and musical quintet, working with admirable harmony, is the best turn of its kind to come around since the Ink Spots and should prove that act's toughest competitor. Outstanding about this turn is the polished and effortless treatment given tunes by both Miss Fitzgerald, who boasts an excellent, soothing voice and delivery, and the Four Keyes [sic] (four voices and three instruments, amplified piano and guitar and bass). And, too, their appearance is clean and smart. Set caught [what the reviewer saw] included Mama Come Home, White Christmas, Kalamazoo, Flying Ho (or that's how the title sounded) and Mr. Five By Five." (This is the same set they sang at the Paradise.)

At the end of December, Bon Bon & His Buddies were at Lou's Moravian in Philadelphia.

January 8, 1943 found Ella and the Keys at a Silverleaf Club dance at the Odd Fellows Hall in Wilmington, Delaware. On the 9th, they were at the State Theater in New York City.

Decca In February, Decca issued "My Heart And I Decided", backed with "I Must Have That Man" (a solo by Ella, recorded in July 1941). This was to be the last record by Ella Fitzgerald and the Keys.

at the Apollo On February 26,, 1943 Ella and the 4 Keys were back at the Apollo Theater for a week. This was followed by an appearance at the Club Bali in Philadelphia. March 26 found them back at Fays Theater, where they shared the stage with the Sunset Royal Orchestra, featuring Orlando Roberson, and Willie Bryant. After that week, it was off to the State Theater in Hartford, Connecticut, along with Louis Prima and his Orchestra.

In March, Bon Bon & His Buddies were at the 20th Century Club in Philadelphia.

at Chestnut Street Hall at Roseland at the Temple On May 14, 1943, Ella and the Keys were in Rochester, New York, at the Temple Theater, along with Tony Pastor and his Orchestra. From there, it was the Chestnut Street Hall, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. At the end of May they were at the Roseland Ballroom in Taunton, Massachusetts, along with the Sabby Lewis Orchestra.

at the Apollo But it was all drawing to a close. June 8, 1943 marked their final radio broadcast. I believe that their final appearance together was at the Apollo Theater, the week beginning June 18. Others on the show were Eddie Durham's All-Girl Band, Tim Moore (the future "Kingfish"), Peckin' Joe, "and other headliners". No reason was ever given for the split.

On June 28, the Four Keys ("formerly with Ella Fitzgerald") opened at The Cove in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Corporal Slim Furness was part of the "This Is Fort Dix" program, broadcast over WOR (New York) on June 17 from "the Reception center for Negro soldiers at Fort Dix".

On August 3, 1943, the 4 Keys opened at the Club Onyx in New York City. From there, they went into Smalls Paradise.

The Williamsport (Pennsylvania) Sun-Gazette of August 30, 1943 reported the sad news that the 4 Keys were disbanding "for the duration" as two of their members were to be inducted into the Army early in September. However, this was a "popular Negro music club of Williamsport" and, since they gave the names, it has nothing to do with our 4 Keys.

at the Rathskeller In early October, the 4 Keys moved into Kaliner's Rathskeller in Philadelphia for a few weeks. November 21 found them beginning a month-long engagement at Paul La Pointe's Red Feather cocktail lounge in Milwaukee.

At this point, Moe Gale was still managing them. (He also managed Ella Fitzgerald, the Ink Spots, Cootie Williams, Lucky Millinder, Tiny Bradshaw, Lil Green, and Erskine Hawkins.)

In January 1944, the Keys were at Lou's Chancellor in Philadelphia. They alternated with Lillian Thomas. (Lou Lantos and Sam Domsky operated a chain of three musical bars in Philadelphia: Lou's Moravian, Lou's Chancellor, and Lou's Germantown.)

Issues of Billboard in February 1944 listed Arthur Furness, William Furness, Ernest Hatfield, and James Shirley as entertainers acknowledged by the American Theater Wing as having performed for servicemen in 1943. There were several hundred performers on the list and they weren't identified as being part of the 4 Keys.

at Lou's Moravian In mid-February 1944, the 4 Keys were at Lou's Moravian in Philadelphia. This is the last mention of them in all of 1944.

However, around this time, Jimmy Shirley was no longer a part of the group. On March 4, 1944 he recorded (as Arthur Shirley) for Blue Note as part of "James P. Johnson's Blue Note Jazz Men". He'd then go on to the Herman Chittison Trio within a couple of months, before forming the Jimmy Shirley Trio. I don't know who replaced him in the Keys.

But what of Bon Bon? In September 1944, he hooked up with record producer Joe Davis and made many recordings both on his own and with the Red Caps Trio (Romaine Brown, piano; Steve Gibson, guitar; and Doles Dickens, bass). For more on this, see my Red Caps article. At this time, he was singing with Johnny Warrington's Band, in Philadelphia.

As I said, there was a war on. Arthur "Peck" Furness entered the Army on May 12, 1944, followed on July 6 by Ernie Hatfield. It's possible that, with Jimmy Shirley, Peck Furness, and Ernie Hatfield gone, the 4 Keys simply ceased to exist. It looks like the only one still left was Bill Furness. Did he keep the group going? It's impossible to say because there's no mention of them in the press.

Peck was only in until December 27, at which time, he immediately rejoined (or re-formed) the 4 Keys. Billboard of February 10, 1945 reported the happy event: "Four Keys together again at Lou's Moravian Bar, Philadelphia, now that Arthur Furness has been discharged from the army and rejoins the unit." Who were the 4 Keys at this point? I have no idea. Peck and Bill were there. Then along came brother Joe.

Ernie Hatfield was gone. Period. He served until March 2, 1946 and never returned to the Keys. He was replaced by another brother, Joe Furness, a drummer, who was born on March 5, 1918, also in Oxford, Maryland. Now, in early 1945, we've got Bill, Peck, and Joe, along with an unknown guitarist.

A big headline in the January 20, 1945 New York Age trumpeted: "Four Negro Soldiers, Former Entertainers, Sell 25 Million Dollars Worth Of Bonds". Honors went to Technician Fourth Grade Bobby Evans, Corporal James Boxwill, Technician Fifth Grade Charles Higgins, and Corporal John E. (Slim) Furness. Each was presented with a certificate (signed by Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau) by Brigadier General Pearson, the commander of Fort Dix. All the men had been relieved of their regular duties and assigned to the Mobile War Bond Drive, in which they were featured entertainers.

In April 1945, the 4 Keys were at Lou's Moravian, where they were joined by Bon Bon Tunnell. Who were the 4 Keys at this point? William Furness had never left. Peck Furness was back, Joe Furness had been brought in as a drummer. But who was the fourth (presumably a guitarist)? No article ever said. Slim was still in the Army and Jimmy Shirley was off making music with others Still, the 4 Keys were at the Dubonnet, in Newark, New Jersey, starting July 23.

Slim was discharged July 31, 1945 and immediately rejoined the group. As far as I can tell, for the next ten years, the group would consist of the four Furness Brothers, Slim, Bill, Peck, and Joe.

Bon Bon at the Apollo at Wilson's Lounge On December 7, 1945, Bon Bon and his band opened at the Apollo Theater, along with Louis Jordan. On that same date, the Keys ("Formerly With Ella Fitzgerald") were at Wilson's Lounge Bar And Second Floor Night Club in Philadelphia.

However, there don't seem to be any documented appearances at all in 1946. {I really hate it that the names of the 4 Keys from Warren, Pennsylvania, were always given in blurbs.}

The January 16, 1947 Delaware County Daily Times had a blurb titled "Four Keys To Play At Douglass". Not quite the Apollo Theater, they were appearing as part of the music appreciation program at Chester's Douglass Junior High School. But was it them? Yup. They were named as John, William, Joseph, and Arthur Furniss, "products of Chester schools who have won fame as vocal and instrumental artists. They play the piano, guitar, bass violin and drum. Recently returned from a tour of the country [during which time no one saw fit to mention them], they are appearing currently in Philadelphia [at a venue that no one saw fit to mention]. The quartet entertained the audience with semi-classical [?!?] and popular numbers." (Strangely, the headline was in the future tense, but the body said that they'd played there the day before.) This was, however, the only mention of the 4 Keys in 1947.

Melody Melody In spite of no mentions, they did do some recording for Philadelphia attorney Abraham Levin's new Melody label: "Barefoot Days", "You're Gonna Be Sorry", "If I Ever Get My Feet In Indiana", "Stairway To The Stars", "Crying For Someone", and "I Don't Want You In My Dreams". These were all released, but since Levin neither sent them out for review nor advertised them, they're impossible to date precisely. All I know is that the company was set up around March 1947. The recordings were issued as by the "Keys" (they never again recorded as the Four Keys, only the Keys).

at Chubby's Not much in 1948 either, although they'd dropped the "Four" and were just calling themselves the "Keys". In April, they, and Bon Bon, played Chubby's in West Collingswood, New Jersey; they were still there in August. (The club was owned by former boxer, Joseph "Chubby" Stafford.) In October, they (with Bon Bon) were at Lou's Moravian Bar, from which they also had a radio show over WIBG.

(It's a good thing that Helena Rubenstein started advertising "Four Keys To Beauty" so I had something to look at in the papers while searching in vain for Four Keys' appearances)

The October 16 Billboard printed a rumor that Elliot Wexler, a Philadelphia record distributor, had signed the Keys and Bon Bon. However the December 4, 1948 Blllboard had this to say: "Philadelphia record distribber Elliot Wexler denies that the Keys and Bon Bon vocal group has signed to record for his Public label. The quintet have been and will continue under contract to Melody Records, Inc,. also of Philadelphia." (However, Melody, after releasing two records in 1947, seemed to have no further interest in the group.) Wexler was Benny Goodman's manager and was mostly interested in promoting a local singer called Emilie Longacre (who'd sing her way to being Miss Pennsylvania in 1950).

In January 1949, Bon Bon and the 4 Keys (back to using the "Four") were at the Hotel Douglass Showboat (the Basin Street Boys had moved into the Moravian). I can find sporadic listings for the Bon Bon & the Keys radio show in January and February.

Also in January, Bon Bon and Slim copyrighted a song called "A Prince In Old Araby", although I don't know if anyone ever recorded it.

Bon Bon Bon Bon August 15, 1949 saw the premiere of "The Bon Bon Show" on Philadelphia's WDAS, sponsored by Spatola Wines ("look for the horse on the label", only 65 cents for a fifth of port). He not only sang, but conducted interviews. Three months later, he received third prize, from the Freedom Foundation, in some sort of contest that involved "speaking up for freedom". His show would last until around November 1950.

The only other mention of the 4 Keys in 1949 is when they entertained at a fashion show and tea given by the Modern Beauticians Association Of Chester, Unit No. 1, Pennsylvania State Modern Beauticians And Cosmotologists, Inc. (boy, do they need to work on that name!). This took place on November 27 at the West Branch YMCA.

In late 1949, the Keys made some recordings for London Records: "Shuffle Off To Buffalo", "The Four Brothers", and "Two-Time Mama". The December 3 Billboard documented the event by saying that "Keys Back On Wax After 10 Years". Well, I can excuse them for not knowing about the Melody releases, since they didn't seem to have been sent out for review, but it had only been about six years since the last record with Ella Fitzgerald.

London The January 14, 1950 Billboard reported that Lou's Moravian had renewed the contract of the 4 Keys for the whole of 1950. Also in January, London released "Shuffle Off To Buffalo" and "Two-Time Mama".

The Keys recorded six more songs for London in March 1950. However, the only titles known are: "Fish", "A Stairway To The Stars", and "The Key To My Heart". They were still at the Moravian.

a white 4 Keys A large ad in the Kingston (New York) Daily Freeman advertised the Four Keys at Sportsmen's Park in Rosendale, New York. However, the accompanying photo was of a white group. (Naturally, it gave their names.)

London London issued "Fish", backed with "The Key To My Heart" in April.


London The May 15, 1950 Philadelphia Inquirer said that Slim Furness, at the Moravian, was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Keys. That would put the start of the 3 Keys in 1930, but I can't find anything for them prior to 1932. Also in May, London released "A Stairway To The Stars" and "The Four Brothers".

London The August 18, 1950 Billboard said that the 4 Keys had gone to New York to record two sides with Teresa Brewer for London Records. They were "Punky Punkin (The Happy Pumpkin)" (who became a Jack-O-Lantern instead of a pumpkin pie) and "Cincinnati Dancing Pig" (which came out "Cincinnatti" on the label). These were released later that month and were a far, far cry from "Nagasaki" and "Rasputin".

From there, they went to the Emerald Show Bar in Wildwood, New Jersey. They were back at Lou's Moravian by December.

A really strange blurb in the December 23, 1950 Billboard said: "The Four Keys, currently at Lou's Moravian and linked with the London label, and who in private life are the Furness brothers, are grooming a fifth and younger brother, Arthur, to join the group and make it a quintet." Arthur ("Peck"), who was the youngest brother, had been with them since the early 40s! As I've pointed out, there was a fifth brother, James, who was actually the oldest, born on February 13, 1904. As I've also said, I can't find any evidence that he (a saxophonist) ever joined the group, although it's certainly possible.

[There was precious little ever written about James A. Furness. When he died in 1970, he was remembered as a self-employed contractor and a member of the Senior Choir of St. Daniel's United Methodist Church, but no mention was made of him having been part of the 4 Keys or the Furness Brothers, although it did say he had brothers William and Arthur (of Philadelphia) and Joseph (of Chester).. He was "James, Jr." in the 1910 census, although he, himself, had a son who was called James, Jr. In 1940, he was working for Congoleum, a flooring company. However, in June 1941, saxophonist Jim Furness was part of the local Seals' Orchestra from West Chester. The August 8, 1941 Delaware County Daily Times said "James Furniss, local musician, also will spend a week at Atlanta, Ga." (Why? Who knows? It's almost like these papers try to tell you nothing.) And, because I can easily become complacent about these things, and the Universe doesn't like to see that, there was a second black family in Chester, containing James W. Furness and James W. Furness, Jr.]

A week later, the December 30, 1950 Billboard reported that Slim Furness had married Gloria Truitt on December 10 in Philadelphia.

At the end of January 1951, the 4 Keys finished up at the Moravian and were headed to an engagement in Denver. (Hope they didn't get too close to California. They might have run into Jimmy Harris and His Four Keys there.) They seem to have also been in Denver sometime in the summer of 1950, but it wasn't documented anywhere. (What is documented, extensively, during this period is Betty Furness and the Furness Shipping Line. Pity me.)

In 1951, George "Bon Bon" Tunnell quit the entertainment business in order to work in sales and public relations for a Philadelphia beer distributor.

MGM On November 30, 1951, the Keys had a session for MGM Records. The four songs were: "Am I In Love?", "(Oh Boy! What Joy We Had In) Barefoot Days", "Out Of A Dream", and "Love You Madly". The first two were released in February 1952.

April 1952 found the 4 Keys at the Capitol Lounge in Chicago.

On May 16, 1952, there was a second session for MGM. This time the songs were: "Paul Revere", "I'm In The Mood For Love", "Tantalizin' Baby", and "Where Are You, Now That I Need You".

In July 1952, the 4 Keys opened at the Rendezvous, in Philadelphia, for a month. The July 17 Philadelphia Inquirer gushed: "It baffles us why some record company hasn't taken the Four Keys under its wing and made national favorites of them . . . This group, now at the Rendezvous, has everything necessary to become a record sensation." While this would undoubtedly seem true to someone who saw them in person, just like the Red Caps and the Treniers, this type of act didn't seem to translate well to records. These groups were highly successful visual performers, but their discs didn't sell well.

By this time, they were mostly calling themselves "The Keys", making it infinitely harder to track them in newspapers (although sometimes they were billed as the "Furness Brothers"). It doesn't help that a white group from around the Pittsburgh area calling themselves the Four Keys released "High Noon"/"Hot Toddy" on Corona Records.

at the Yankee Inn But I doubt that those two groups would have been confused. The real problem came with the explosion of the 5 Keys onto the scene. The October 20, 1951 Billboard had this: "The Keys, original unit made up of Sli [sic] Furness and his brothers, have directed their attorney to remind the 'Glory Of Love' recording Keys how long they've used the name and that it's registered." Maybe yes, maybe no, but when the dust had settled, it was Slim and his brothers who'd folded. All further recordings would be released as the "Furness Brothers", although they continued to be booked as the Keys. The earliest booking as the Furness Brothers that I can find is in March 1953, at the Yankee Inn in Akron, Ohio.

Remember when Slim celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Keys in May 1950? Well, Billboard, on October 18, 1952 said that the "Keys, made up of the four Furness brothers, are celebrating their 10th anniversary as a combo at Lou's Moravian, Philadelphia." Since the 4 Keys first recorded with Ella Fitzgerald in March 1942, that's kinda close, but the "Three Keys and Ernie" (with the same personnel), predates that by several months. I guess that Slim just liked to celebrate at the Moravian.

MGM In October 1952, MGM issued "Paul Revere" and "I'm In The Mood For Love" as the Furness Brothers.

On March 2, 1953, the Furness Brothers opened for a week at the Yankee Inn, in Akron, Ohio. In September, the Keys were at the Rossonian Lounge in San Francisco. From there, went to Basin Street, in New York City.

Furness Brothers The Keys/Furness Brothers (Slim, guitar; Bill, piano; Joe, drums; and Peck, bass) continued on until 1955. Then, on June 10th, John "Slim" Furness, originator of the 3 Keys and 4 Keys, died from pneumonia brought on by cancer. His obituary, in the July 2 Billboard, mentioned that he had three brothers and three sisters, but the fourth brother, James, still alive, was nowhere in sight (he wouldn't die until 1970). [At least James' obituary mentioned his brothers William, Arthur, and Joseph, as well as his two living sisters, Nettie and Amy.]

Now solidly called the Furness Brothers (unless they were called the 4 Keys, of course), William, Joe, and Peck continued on with the addition of guitarist Harry Polk. A blurb in the November 5, 1955 Pittsburgh Courier said that, from now on, they'd be known as the Furness Brothers.

Harry Polk, born in Philadelphia on February 26, 1915, had had "Harry Polk & 5 Polka Dots" (with John Coltrane on tenor sax) in 1950 and had recently been with the Jackie Davis Trio. He'd also been with the King Cole Trio, as a fill-in member. This is from my 3 Peppers article.


The September 21, 1946 Billboard reported that "Harry Polk, guitarist, who twice in two months filled in for Oscar Moore with the King Cole Trio, organizing a trio of his own. Teams with Walt Williams, bassist of recently disbanded Three Peppers, and auditioning for a pianist."

In December 1955, the Furness Brothers were at the Carousel (in Chester) and were then off to Rochester, New York. Harry Polk was still with them then, but I don't know how much longer he continued.

Melmar Sometime in late 1956, the Furness Brothers hooked up with baritone Al Berry (not the one who'd be in the Tymes) and recorded a few sides for Max Dickman's Melmar label, a local Chester concern. Released as Al Berry & Furness Brothers, the sides were: "Only Fate", "Lookin' Out The Window", "Please Don't Call Me Fool" and "King Of The Blues". The first two were released in late 56.

at the Broomall - 12-56 December 1956 found the "Furness Brothers Of The Original Keys Fame" at the Broomall, in Holmes, Pennsylvania.

Melmar In March 1957, Melmar released the other two sides by Al Berry and the Furness Brothers. These would be re-released, on Prep, in May.


Future Shortly after this, there was a Furness Brothers record on Melmar without Al Berry: "Say It Isn't So", backed with "Come Back, Honey". Sometime later in 1957, they released a record on Philadelphia's Future label: "I Want A Date With You", coupled with "You Name It".

at the Broomall - 5-57 at Beck's Theater By May 1957, still (or back) at the Broomall, they were the "Furness Brothers Quintette". I don't know who else was in the group other than the three Furness Brothers. Ads place them there through July of 1958. In late September, they were at Beck's Tavern, in Hagerstown, Maryland.

at the Flamingo Room Ads from October 1959 show that the three Furness Brothers had been augmented by vocalist Al Berry and sax player J. J. Johnson. If Berry had appeared with them prior to this (at any time since their 1956 recordings), it wasn't noted anywhere. They opened on October 12 at the Flamingo Room, in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. (Note that J. J. Johnson isn't the famous trombone player of the same name.)

at La Mainas In June 1960, the Furness Brothers were at La Maina's, in Camden, New Jersey. Were Berry and Johnson still with them? Ads are silent.


Rae Cox The last two Furness Brothers records came out in 1960. The first was on Teddy McRae and Eddie Wilcox's Rae Cox label from New York City: the overdone "One Little Moment With You" (with a lead who sounds like Al Berry) and the nicely jazzy "Duke's Place".

Buzz The other was "Stroll-N-Twist", backed with "Hold It", released on Joe Fallone's New York-based Buzz label in December 1960.


at Club Cali at the Dunes In May, 1961, you could catch the Furness Brothers at Club Cali, in Bridgewater, New Jersey. From there, the Furness Brothers Combo appeared in the lounge of the "The Fabulous Dunes" in Neptune, New Jersey. In September, they were at the Baroque Room of the Belmont-Plaza Hotel in New York. This was in the September 23, 1961 Indianapolis Recorder, concerning the Belmont-Plaza appearance: "The Furness Brothers were so impressive when they played their 'Old Masters Suite' while headlining the Belmont Plaza Hotel's 'Musical Buffet' in New York, that they're now being urged to put the tunes on wax as 'collector's items'. Included in the suite are tunes in the style of Fats Waller, Jimmy [sic] Lunceford, Chick Webb, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman." [Yes, I know it was written by a press agent.]

And then came the Red Caps. Starting in the late 1930s as the 4 Toppers in California and morphing into the 5 Red Caps in New York, by 1962 they'd relocated to Philadelphia. But there were tax problems and the group split into two. This, somewhat abridged, is from my Red Caps article:

Red Caps After the Red Caps split apart in 1962, Steve Gibson and Emmett Mathews constructed a new Red Caps group around the Furness Brothers, Bill, Joe, and Arthur ("The Entertainment World's Handsomest Quartet", although I don't know who the fourth member was at the time.)

Gibson's Red Caps appeared at the El Morocco in Montreal in May 1962; the female singer was Joan Proctor. The review said "... They even manage to make the deadly dull slam slam of the twist rhythm sound interesting once in a while. To make this pitiful excuse for music sound good all the time is impossible. To do it once in a while is remarkable...." Note that Joan Proctor bounced back and forth between the Red Caps and solo appearances.

Band Box The last known original release by Steve Gibson and the Red Caps was on Band Box, a Denver label, in late 1962: "No More" and "Peppermint Baby" (both probably led by one of the Furness Brothers). Trying to keep up with the times, these songs were part of the twist craze (and weren't really all that bad). By that time, guitarist Bert Payne had joined the unit.

When Jay Price (a former member of the Red Caps) returned from a tour of the Far East in 1965, he rejoined Gibson, Mathews, and the Furness brothers for a while. They played the Q Lounge in Wildwood, New Jersey, after which the Furness Brothers left the act.

Joan Proctor The next mention of the group was in September 1966, when the Furness Brothers, with Joan Proctor as their femme singer, were appearing at the Beefers Inn in Media, Pennsylvania. They were advertised as "Original Keys", "Furness Brothers", and "Formerly Of Red Caps". In October, the Furness Brothers and Joan Proctor were at the Erie Social Club in Philadelphia for a week..

at the Sportsman's Club On April 9, 1967, the Furness Brothers and Joan Proctor were at the Sportsman's Club Of Delaware County (where Chester is), in Springfield, Pennsylvania. From May 30 to June 3 they were at the Weldwood Supper Club in Eynon, Pennsylvania.

at the Latin Casino at the Top Of The Plaza They spent most of the month of November 1967 at the Turf Lounge of the Latin Casino in Philadelphia. A year later, the month of November 1968 found them at the Top Of The Plaza in Rochester, New York.

After this engagement, Joan Proctor left. (Her husband, said the blurb in the November 25, 1968 Democrat And Chronicle (Rochester), drove up from Philadelphia and convinced her to quit and take care of their three children. (He was Sal Reyes, former bus driver for the Red Caps.) However, by December 1970, she was singing with the George Giroux Trio.

at Schillig's In December 1968, the group was at Schillig's Black Horse Farm in Mt. Ephraim, New Jersey.

at Track And Turf Like everyone else who was ever in the Red Caps, the Furness Brothers tried to capitalize on that fact. (You may not think the Red Caps were all that famous, but they were; just not as recording artists.) When they appeared at the Track & Turf Lounge in Maple Shade, New Jersey in June 1969, it was as the "Furness Brothers Quintet - Formerly With Steve Gibson & The Red Caps". Strangely, ads from May didn't mention either "Quintet" or the Red Caps.

Furness Brothers at Pittsford In August 1970, they were at the Pittsford Tavern, in Rochester, New York. Ads said they were held over until October 4, but they must have made a better deal since they were actually there through the end of the year. They were back at the Pittsford Tavern in April and May 1971 and then again in November and December. They returned on April 8, 1972, appearing through the end of May and again in November and December.

Furness Brothers Photos from 1973 onward show the three Furness brothers and sax player Albert "Al" McQueen, who'd once been with Ray Charles (he'd change his name to Mahmoud Akbar in 1980). However, I'm not sure if the sax player in a 1971 photo is McQueen. In early 1973, they were in Fort Worth, Texas, but I don't know where.

at Tiffany Lounge Also in 1973, they started a rotation: April and May would be spent at the Pittsford Tavern in Rochester, followed by a local appearance in the Philadelphia area. (In 1973, that was the Windjammer Room of a Philadelphia Marriott. In 1974 and 1975, it would be the Tiffany Cocktail Lounge of the Brandywine Hilton.) Then back to the Pittsford in November and December.

George "Bon Bon" Tunnell died in Yeadon, Pennsylvania on May 20, 1975. He'd been out of the entertainment business for over 20 years at that point.

at Tiffany Lounge The Furness Brothers' schedule continued through 1976, when it changed a bit. They were at the Tiffany Lounge in January and February; the Pittsford in April and May; the Tiffany Lounge in June and July; and back to the Pittsford in November and December. In 1977, they spent January at the Tiffany Lounge, April and May at the Pittsford, June and July at the Tiffany Lounge, and (just so you won't get bored), December at the Towpath Room of the Hilton Inn On The Campus in Rochester. They wouldn't appear at the Pittsford Tavern again until 1982.

In 1978 and 1979, the only appearances I can find are at the Towpath Room. They were there in November and December 1978, and April, May, June, November, and December 1979.

at Rancocas at Mead Inn There was a whole new schedule for 1980. They started off at Rancocas Inn in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey (January through March). Then the Towpath Room for the remainder of March (and possibly April). Back to Rancocas from June to the middle of November, and out to the Mead Inn in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin in November and December. (All the Mead Inn ads said that they were "back again in response to your special requests", but I can't find any prior appearances there.)

Furness Brothers In 1981, they spent April at the Horizons Room of the Franklin Pierce Hotel (anyone remember that he was once President of the U.S.?) in Philadelphia, then back to the Mead Inn for May through August, and back to the Horizons Room for September and October. Finally, they closed out the year at the Mead Inn in November and December.

1982 opened with them at the Horizons Room, then on to the Rancocas Inn, back to the Pittsford Tavern in May, and the Mead Inn in June. I don't know what they did from July through September, but they were back at the Mead Inn in October. How did they do it? I barely have the stamina to write about their comings and goings.

at Rancocas In mid-March to early April 1983, they were at K.C.'s Restaurant And Cocktail Lounge in the Rowntowner Motor Inn in Rochester. They spent the rest of April at Horizons. A small blurb mentioned that they were still Bill, Joe, and Art Furness, along with Mahmoud Akbar (Al McQueen). May was spent at the Rancocas Inn (where they were still advertising that they'd been with Steve Gibson & Red Caps), and then back to K.C.'s in December.

at Dinkler's There's only a single mention of them in 1984, when they played at the Dinkler Motor Inn (Syracuse, New York) on Mother's Day (May 13). There are no mentions of them at all in 1985, but in May 1986, they were playing the Mead Inn from May 6 through May 9. There are no further documented appearances. [I'm ashamed to admit that I was kinda glad to read that the Furness Brothers auto repair business in Hartford, Connecticut was destroyed in a fire in 2003. There'd been almost as many mentions of them for me to wade through as there were for the singers.]

I'm not sure if they'd stopped performing at that point, but, on March 8, 1987, Arthur Harvey "Peck" Furness died. He was followed, the next year (November 27, 1988) by William Netter Furness. The last brother to die was Joe, on October 29, 1998. (The fifth Furness Brother, James, had passed away on June 23, 1970, but I still don't know if he was ever a part of the group.)

Of the others over the years, Ernest John Hatfield died on November 21, 2002 in Seattle; Jimmy Shirley on December 3, 1989 in Harlem; Harry Polk on May 9, 1983 in Philadelphia; Jimmy Pitts (remember him from 1933?) on July 3, 1950 in Chester; and Al McQueen, from Hamilton, Ohio, on October 8, 2005 in Oklahoma City. I believe that Al Berry was the Albert Berry who was born in Elko, South Carolina on February 8, 1926; if so, he died on May 2, 2000 in Philadelphia.

In my opinion, the 3 Keys were great. They deserved the adulation they received in their short radio and recording career. Unfortunately, the group wasn't all that stable with Bob's drinking and Bon Bon's defections. By the time Slim had formed the 4 Keys, they'd turned more mainstream. But, like the Red Caps and the Treniers, they must have had an exciting in-person act, since the Furness Brothers kept it going for over 40 years.


Special thanks to Doug Friedman, Victor Pearlin, Tony Fournier, Neil Hirsch, Jay Bruder, Mark Cantor, Charlie Horner, and Bob Halverson.


THE 3 KEYS

COLUMBIA
2706-D Mood Indigo / Somebody Loses - Somebody Wins - 9/32

   UNRELEASED COLUMBIA
      Zonky (recorded 8/16/1932)


BRUNSWICK
6388 Jig Time / Someone Stole Gabriel's Horn - 10/32
                     Reissued on Vocalion 2730 - 6/34
6411 Fit As A Fiddle / Nagasaki - 11/32
                     Reissued on Vocalion 2732 - 7/34
6423 Basin Street Blues / Wah-Dee-Dah - 11/32
                     Reissued on Vocalion 2744 - 7/34


MOVIE SHORT
"Rambling 'Round Radio Row #6" - Warner Brothers - 3/33
            The 3 Keys sing "Them There Eyes"


BRUNSWICK
6522 (I Would Do) Anything For You / That Doggone Dog Of Mine - 3/33
            Reissued on Vocalion 2755 - 8/34
6567 Rasputin (That Highfalutin Lovin' Man) / Oh By Jingo! - 5/33
            Reissued on Vocalion 2765 - 8/34

   UNRELEASED BRUNSWICK
      Wah-Dee-Dah (recorded 9/8/32)
      Fit As A Fiddle (recorded 9/8/32)
      Nagasaki (recorded 9/8/32)


PARLOPHONE
R1409 Somebody Loses - Somebody Wins / [Goodbye Blues - Art Jarret] - ca 9/33
R1431 Mood Indigo / [Beale Street Blues - Charleston Chasers] - ca 10/33
            The above are British reissues of the Columbia sides


VOCALION
2523 Heebie Jeebies / Song Of The Islands (Na Lei O Hawaii) - 9/33
2569 I've Found A New Baby / You Can Depend On Me - 11/33


ELLA FITZGERALD & HER FOUR KEYS

DECCA
4315 I'm Gettin' Mighty Lonesome For You / When I Come Back Crying (Will You Be Laughing At Me) - 4/42
18347 All I Need Is You / Mama Come Home - 5/47
18472 (I Put) A Four Leaf Clover In Your Pocket / (Nobody Knows Better Than I That) He's My Guy (no vocal group) - 8/42
18530 My Heart And I Decided / [I Must Have That Man - Ella Fitzgerald] - 2/43

            NOTE: Some were also issued as Ella Fitzgerald & The Keys


THE KEYS

MELODY
1021 Barefoot Days / You're Gonna Be Sorry - 47
1022 Crying For Someone / I Don't Want You In My Dreams - 47
1050/1051 If I Ever Get My Feet In Indiana / Stairway To The Stars - 47


LONDON (45 RPM record number in parentheses)
574 (30027) Shuffle Off To Buffalo / Two-Time Mama - ca 1/50
669 (30101) Fish / The Key To My Heart - 4/50
698 (30177) A Stairway To The Stars / The Four Brothers - 5/50
768 (30188) Punky Punkin (The Happy Pumpkin) / Cincinnatti [sic] Dancing Pig - 8/50
                        (Backing Teresa Brewer)


MGM
K-11168 Am I In Love? / (Oh Boy! What Joy We Had In) Barefoot Days - 2/52

   UNRELEASED MGM
      Out Of A Dream (recorded 11/30/51)
      Love You Madly (recorded 11/30/51)
      Tantalizin' Baby (recorded 05/16/52)
      Where Are You Now That I Need You (recorded 05/16/52)


THE FURNESS BROTHERS


MGM
11356 Paul Revere / I'm In The Mood For Love - 10/52


MELMAR (Al Berry & Furness Brothers)
114 Only Fate / Lookin' Out The Window - late 56
115 Please Don't Call Me Fool / King Of The Blues - ca. 3/57
            Re-released on Prep 107 - 5/57


MELMAR
116 Say It Isn't So / Come Back, Honey - 57


FUTURE
1002 I Want A Date With You / You Name It - 57


RAE COX
104 One Little Moment With You / Duke's Place - 60


BUZZ
F101 Stroll-N-Twist / Hold It - 12/60


THE FURNESS BROTHERS IN THE RED CAPS

BAND BOX (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
325 No More / Peppermint Baby - 62



BON BON TUNNELL RECORDINGS WITH JAN SAVITT
(since none of these are R&B, I'll just list the titles
and recording dates, but not the record numbers)


BLUEBIRD
11/17/1937
      My Heaven On Earth
      Am I In Another World?
      You Started Something
      Gypsy In My Soul
      I Live The Life I Love
      A Kiss for Consolation

3/18/1938
      Moonshine Over Kentucky
      Something Tells Me

5/13/1938
      My Margarita
      Sweet And Tender
      Dust
      It's The Little Things That Count

6/17/1938
      Fol Da Rol Dol
      'S Good Enough For Me
      So Lovely
      Hi-Yo Silver

7/22/1938
      What Are You Doin' Tonight?
      I Haven't Changed A Thing

8/25/1938
      There's No Place Like Your Arms
      Sweetheart Of Sigma Chi
      When I Go A-Dreamin'
      Ya Got Me
      Tutti Fruitti (with Harry Roberts)

10/21/1938
      Just A Kid Named Joe
      Wait Until My Heart Finds Out
      Gardenias

DECCA
2/26/1939
      There's A Hole In The Old Oaken Bucket
      In A Moment Of Weakness
      I'm Happy About The Whole Thing

4/1/1939
      Little Sir Echo
      And the Angels Sing
      Snug As A Bug In A Rug

8/29/1939
      Vol Vistu Gaily Star
      It's A Hundred To One (I'm In Love)
      The Paper Picker

9/23/1939
      Stop! It's Wonderful.
      The Last Two Weeks In July
      Alla En Rancho Grande (My Ranch)

10/4/1939
      If What You Say Is True
      Indian Summer
      Sweet Dreams, Sweetheart
      Good Morning
      Stranger Things Have Happened
      Many Dreams Ago

11/5/1939
      It's A Wonderful World
      After All
      Honestly

1/24/1940
      Make Love With A Guitar
      Imagination

2/4/1940
      Rose Of The Rio Grande

4/12/1940
      Secrets In the Moonlight
      Make Believe Island
      Ask Your Heart

04/29/1940
      W.P.A.

VICTOR
10/27/1941
      M-O-T-H-E-R
      Ev'ry Time
      There's A Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon For New York
      Moonlight Masquerade

11/27/1941
      You Don't Know What Love Is
      Not a Care In The World
      Now And Forever
      A Nickel To My Name

1/12/1942
      I Remember You
      Sing Me A Song Of The Islands
      Blue Shadows And White Gardenias
      Tica-Ti - Tica-Ta



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