[NOTE: I like doing things my way. There are certain conventions in English that I don't adhere to, because, to me, they're just plain stupid. One of them is not capitalizing "minor" words in a sentence. Grammarians would write the name of the group as "Day, Dawn and Dusk". Not me. As long as it's not part of a quote, I'll write it "Day, Dawn And Dusk" (and use DD&D as often as I can to save money on typewriter ribbons). It kills me not to use the serial comma (that is, "Day, Dawn, And Dusk"), but I can't justify using it here, because the group never did. It's lonely being an iconoclast. If you're actually interested in my views on grammar, see my "Essays" page and select "No Lowthing Matter".]
Day, Dawn And Dusk were another of those groups who were lionized in person, but never had much success in their recording career. Although their act was different, this puts them in a class with the Red Caps, the Treniers, the 3 Chocolateers, and the Harlem Highlanders.
The first mention of any of the future members of DD&D was from a November 21, 1925 article in the New York Age that talked about a recital of the Dextra Male Chorus. One of its members was a second tenor named Morris Caver, who performed a solo.
Robert Morris "Bob" Caver (first and second tenor) was born on January 8, 1903 in Helena, Arkansas, the son of a clergyman. By the early 1920s, he'd relocated to New York City, where he'd spend the rest of his life. He was known as Morris Caver (or R. Morris Caver) until the middle of 1929, when he switched exclusively to Robert or Bob. In the 1930 census, he was a "singer - theater"; in 1940 he was a "vocalist". The high tenor in the group, he'd be known as "Day". At least two of his siblings, Marie Augusta and Ruth, were also singers and mentioned in various columns.
On January 21, 1926, he ("now studying in [unnamed] School of Music" according to the January 30 Pittsburgh Courier) sang a solo number at the Young People's meeting at the 13th Avenue Presbyterian Church (presumably in Pittsburgh). In a November 10, 1984 interview, Bob told researcher Ray Funk that he came to New York in 1924 to attend the Institute Of Musical Art (subsequently renamed the Julliard School).
In order to make some money, he'd sing and play piano with small groups. "They were club date groups, little pickup groups", he told Funk. "It was a thing here called the Clef Club, a group of Black musicians. I was one of the few who could read music. Of course, when they needed a piano, I went along with them. I could do this with a minimum amount of rehearsal." Bob considered himself a singer; he only knew piano because the Institute required it.
In May 1926, he was a member of the St. Mark's Choir (of St. Mark's Methodist Episcopal Church). They performed at Carnegie Hall on May 24 and he and Minnie Brown sang solos in a piece called "Serenade". Soon after that, he joined the Hall Johnson Choir.
Then, there was Augustus Simons. Augustus Dewey "Gus" Simons (second tenor) was born July 17, 1898 in the Bronx and lived in New York City all his life. As a child, he was in the St. Augustine Church choir in the Bronx. His whole family was musical and helped him to develop his voice. When he filled out his World War 1 registration in September 1918, he was a multigraph operator. Only 5 feet 2 inches, he was "Dusk" in the group.
By August 1926, Gus Simons and Morris Caver were members of the famed Hall Johnson Choir. As the Hall Johnson Jubilee Singers, they held a radio concert on August 8 (on WEAF in New York). Morris Caver led "Ride On Jesus" and Gus fronted two songs: "Done Written Down My Name" and "In Dat Great Gittin' Up Mornin'".
At a benefit show for the 137th Street YMCA, Morris Caver "sang so delightfully that he was forced to respond to repeated encores" said the November 20, 1926 New York Age. He was presented by and accompanied by Hall Johnson. On December 16, the Hall Johnson Singers gave a concert for the benefit of the New York Urban League; Morris Caver performed a solo.
On January 4, 1927, Robert M. Caver married Marguerite Anderson in Manhattan. The November 19, 1927 Pittsburgh Courier had a photo of their new-born daughter, Alexa. "Mr. Caver, the baby's father, is a theatrical man now touring one of the big-time circuits in the West." Would it have killed them to mention his name?
A February 12, 1927 blurb in the New York Age gave all the members of the Hall Johnson Singers. Two of them were Morris Caver and Augustus Simons. (Another was Viola Simons, Gus' sister.) The same issue talked about a concert given for the Business Girls' Club of the West 137th Street YWCA. "On the program will be Morris Caver, formerly soloist in St. Mark's Church choir, now preparing for extensive booking on the Keith-Albee Circuit as one of a fine male quartet."
Morris Caver and soprano Marguerite Avery performed "Paigi o cara" (from the Verdi opera La Traviata) at Musicians' Night at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church on February 8, 1927. The February 19 New York Age said: "The splendid qualities of their voices were displayed with charming and agreeable results and the latter half of the duet had to be repeated." We'll see what Caver did with opera later, but he must have loved it.
But both soon left Hall Johnson to go with Eva Jessye's Dixie Jubilee Singers, which appeared on the radio on March 27, 1927. On April 2, they were part of the stage presentation at the Capitol Theater in Manhattan. "The Major Triad, composed of three male members of the Singers - Morris Caver and Augustus Simons, tenors, and G. Willard McLean, basso - goes on the air every Tuesday evening, 8:30 to 9, during April, from the WLWL station." said the April 2, 1927 New York Age.
A large blurb in the May 14, 1927 Pittsburgh Courier detailed all the guests invited to a tea given by Augustus Simmons [sic] in honor of his sister, Viola. Among them, were Morris Caver and Edward Coleman, whom we'll meet in a short while. The blurb ended with "Mr. Simmons [sic] will sing one of the leads in Hall Johnson's 'Goophered.'" ("Goophered" means "bewitched" or "conjured".) So it looks like Gus was with both Hall Johnson and Eva Jessye at the same time. ((It had supposedly gone into rehearsals a year earlier, but it looks like "Goophered" was never actually produced.)
As long as I mentioned him, the third future member of Day, Dawn And Dusk was Edward David "Ed" Coleman (baritone and pianist), who was born September 6, 1903 in Aberdeen, Mississippi. He, too, had relocated to New York City in the 1920s. Ed would become "Dawn" in the group. From the list of guests at that party I just mentioned, we can tell that Caver, Simons, and Coleman all knew each other, but as far as I can tell, Coleman wasn't professionally associated with the other two at this time.
On June 7, Morris and Augustus were again listed as part of Eva Jessye's Dixie Jubilee Singers when they gave a recital at the Calvary Baptist Church.
A confusing blurb. The September 17, 1927 New York Age had an article titled "Quintet Of Singers At Mrs. Little's Funeral". Aside from Noble Sissle and Hinton Jones, the other three singers were those who'd been named as "The Major Triad": Morris Caver, Augustus Simons, and G. Willard McLean. The problem? The text started with: "One of the most impressive moments during the funeral services ... over the body of the late Mr. Arthur Little...." Exactly whose funeral was it; Mr. Little's or Mrs. Little's? While the answer has no bearing on our story, such is the life of a researcher.
Edward Coleman turns up again as the accompanist for the September 22 performance of the Sekondi Players at the New Negro Art Theater (on 135th Street). Then, for Lincoln's Birthday (back when it was celebrated on February 12) in 1928, he was the accompanist for Eva Jessye's Dixie Jubilee Singers when they appeared at a Wanamaker's store. Neither Caver nor Simons was listed among the other members, although G. Willard McLean was. On March 10, he was pianist for the Hall Johnson Negro Choir appearance at the Pythian Temple. No other members were named.
Then, there was the Kentucky Jubilee Choir (also known as the Kentucky Jubilee Singers, the Kentucky Singers, and Forbes Randolph's Kentucky Singers), which had formed around 1927. All of these fine Kentuckians came from New York (or, at least, lived there), but it was a very evocative name for a black choir. In January 1929, the Singers were an octet consisting of J. Arthur Gaines and Robert M. Caver (first tenors), Hinton Jones and Augustus Simons (second tenors), William Veasey and Frank Politt (first basses), and Arthur Payne and Matt Houseley (second basses). (A first bass is really a baritone.) Gus Simons had been with them for a while and appears in the 1928 "shorts" that they made for Fox Movietone. It was Hinton Jones who did all the arranging.
Bob Caver told Ray Funk about Forbes Randolph "[He didn't sing, he] was just a guy with an idea. He was so terrible to try to sing. He wanted to do Al Jolson and have us back him up. Of course, he was so bad he realized it himself and gave it up. He only did the business. A very nice man."
On January 13, 1929, they appeared at the Republic Theater on West 42nd Street, both Caver and Simons having solos. Gus Simons sang "Exhortation" and it went over well. Said the New York Age of January 19 (in an article titled "Kentucky Jubilee Choir, Singing At Republic Theatre, Wins Favor, but Simons Cuts Antics With Spirituals"):
This was Simons' first number as an incidental soloist and it was largely due to his sense of the humorous that the song was so well received .... Simons, however, in his interpretation, gave some sway to his gyratory ability in dramatizing his rendition, and this was well received by the audience, which showed its appreciation by enthusiastic applause. For it was left to Mr. Simons to bring to the program an element of humor, expressed through acrobatic contortions and gestures, that stirred the audience, it is true, to laughter and applause, but which were decidedly out of place in the interpretation of a program of Spirituals.
The "Exhortation" is not a Spiritual and such gyrations are entirely in keeping with its rendition. But Mr. Simons led in singing "It's Me, O Lord," "Who'll Be A Witness," "Great Getting Up Mornin'," and "Heaven," and the hearty reception given by the audience to his comedy, both in vocal and bodily exhibitions, seemed to serve as an inspiration, leading him on from one comedy antic to another. It was a fine exhibition of how Spirituals should not be sung, even though it meant winning favor with a Caucasian audience.
It continued: "Among the effective added numbers were 'Poor Mourner' and the universal favorite 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot,' Caver singing the theme."
The Kentucky Singers had a "short" called "Going Home" in the spring of 1929. Presumably Caver and Simons were in it.
In the early summer of 1929, the Kentucky Jubilee Singers went on a tour of Australia and New Zealand. Still an octet, there had been some personnel changes since January, although both Robert Caver and Gus Simons remained in the company. They appeared for a week at the Grand Opera House in Wellington, New Zealand. On October 17, 1929, Caver and Simons returned home, leaving Sydney, Australia on the S.S. Niagara, along with the rest of the singers.
The February 9, 1930 Los Angeles Times reported that: "Mr. Forbes Randolph ... has just signed a contract with the Tiffany-Stahl studio to present two 'shorts' with his singers." Those turned out to be "Old Black Joe" (released on May 1, 1930) and "On The Plantation" (May 10, 1930).
But before the shorts were released, the Kentucky Singers had sailed for England, landing in Southampton on May 1, 1930. They were a sensation in London and wherever else they played (which included Berlin, Paris, and Monte Carlo). They were so well received, in fact, that they remained there for all of 1931. At this time, the group contained Robert Caver and Augustus Simons as singers, as well as Edward Coleman as pianist.
I suppose that, in spite of the blurb saying that they were going to make two shorts, they actually made four others: "Pickin' Cotton" (released December 13, 1930); "The Road Home" (November 1930); "Slave Days" (December 1930); "Welcome Home" (December 12, 1930). Since they'd left the U.S. in April, these must have been filmed prior to that. I've seen "Pickin' Cotton" and it's mind-numbingly boring. These shorts portrayed blacks with a "plantation days" mentality and couldn't possibly be made today (and probably shouldn't have been made then).
Soon after they arrived in England, they recorded a video (called "Shout All Over God's Heaven") for British Pathé (released June 23, 1930). In it, Gus Simons leads the group and Bob Caver is second from the left. Note that, since there's no song title given in the video, the title is usually rendered as "I Gotta Robe". Gus is very animated, flapping his "wings" all over heaven, but it gets tiresome after a while.
On January 2, 1932, Robert Caver (singer) left Liverpool, England on the S.S. Adriatic. Augustus Simons arrived back in the U.S. from Southampton, England on the S.S. Bremen on January 13, 1932. I don't know why they came back at different times.
The Kentucky Singers were then in the Tiffany Studios movie "Lena Rivers", released March 28, 1932. It had been filmed between February 11 and early March and then rushed into circulation for some reason. They backed up Clarence Muse on "Stephen Foster Songs" (which ones elude me).
Gus teamed up with Hall Johnson again to be in a "folk drama" called "Run Little Chillun". It supposedly had a cast of 150 and ran from March 1, 1933 to June 17, 1933 at the Lyric Theater. Gus played Brother Goliath Simpson. Robert Caver and Edward Coleman weren't in it.
None of our protagonists makes any appearance at all in 1934, but in February 1935, the Kentucky Singers (now numbering five) were in Sweden. However, Gus Simons wasn't with them because he was in "Green Pastures", a revival production that ran from February 26, 1935 to April 27, 1935 (as a tenor in the choir). I don't know where Bob Caver was; he might have been with them. In April, they played the Olympian Theatre in Paris, performing a "Musical Phantasy in Black and White" (they were joined by eight white pianists).
Gus continued to get Broadway work, playing "Peter, The Honey Man" in the original production of "Porgy And Bess" that ran from October 10, 1935 to January 25, 1936 at the Alvin Theater. Todd Duncan was "Porgy", Ann Wiggins Brown was "Bess", and the cast included John W. Bubbles ("Sportin' Life"), Ford Buck ("Mingo, the undertaker"), and the Eva Jessye Choir (one of whose members was Howard Scott, future member of the Rhythm Kings).
In late May 1936, Gus Simons went to Europe with the cast of Lew Leslie's "Blackbirds". After some postponements, it opened in Manchester, England in late June. The best you could say for the show is that it was a disaster. On January 14, 1937, Gus returned on the S.S. Paris with other members of the cast. The January 23, Pittsburgh Courier chronicled the mess:
The reports made by this paper several weeks ago that after several months of an unsuccessful run in England, Lew Leslie's once famous "Blackbirds" had run aground, leaving its entire cast stranded across the water, came to an end last Thursday when most of its members returned home to America on the French liner, S.S. Paris. [There followed a list of cast members, including Gus.]
According to the stranded cast, upon the closing of the revue more than three weeks ago, Leslie departed for America, leaving them with the assurance that he would obtain money from some source for their return home; a promise which he kept three weeks after reaching America. During their days in Europe without either work or funds to leave for home, the large group, unlike other stranded units in days gone by, enjoyed itself to the fullest. Not only did its members eat well and sleep in the best places, but also found enough ready cash to travel throughout the provinces.
Though thankful for the experience and the chance to see what the other half of the world looks like, each member of the ill-fated company was loud in his sentiments of Lew Leslie, assuring the writer that he would never work for Leslie again.
Later that year, Gus was in "Virginia", which ran from September 2 to October 23; he was part of Will Vodery's Negro Choir.
Edward Coleman returned from Le Havre, France on the S.S. President Roosevelt on October 23, 1937. On the same ship were Frank Riley and James Logan, who were also members of the Kentucky Singers. On December 16, Robert Caver returned from Antwerp on the S.S. Ilsenstein. I assume that the Kentucky Singers had been performing In Europe. According to Caver, they were then the Five Kentucky Singers: Arthur Payne, Frank Riley, Gus Simons, Eddie Coleman, and himself. When Arthur Payne died in Paris, they continued on with just the four. They did a film in Paris, but Caver couldn't remember the title. When Gus Simons left them to come home, James Logan replaced him. After the group returned to the U.S., Riley just wandered away.
Now, with Bob Caver, Ed Coleman, and Gus Simons all back in the U.S., they decided to give up singing in a large chorus and teamed up to form a group called the "Rigoletto Trio".
Why the "Rigoletto Trio"? One of the features of their act was putting on "operas" with jive arrangements. This can be seen in two of their subsequent Soundies: "Rigoletto" and "Faust". Audiences loved these (and, since they're both on YouTube, I bet you will too).
Their first mention was in the Detroit Free Press of May 18, 1938: "There are 12 acts gathered together for the new Bowes amateur show." There followed a list of the acts, including the Rigoletto Trio; all had been winners on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour radio show. Bowes would collect winning acts and put together traveling shows that played in theaters all over the country. This particular show was called "Jamboree".
They couldn't have been with the Bowes show for very long, because at some point they headed for Europe again. I know this only because I can find the manifest for their return voyage on the S.S. Ile de France, landing in New York on October 7, 1938.
The New York Sun of December 8, 1938 had this to say about them:
The Garbo, at 148 East Forty-eighth street, is probably the only place of its kind in the country where a trio of Negro entertainers sing Swedish folk tunes.
They are Bob, Eddie and Gus, who have returned after eight years [sic] in Europe to head the "Swede and Hot" revue which the Garbo is presenting these days.
This trio sang before King Gustav V of Sweden at a command performance and delighted him, we are told. It has the distinction also of being the first foreign attraction ever to be engaged by a cabaret in that country.
[While I'm usually extremely skeptical about press releases, it's possible that they really did sing for the king of Sweden. There were many references to it over the years, but if you've been following along up to now, you know that the "eight years" claim is pure nonsense. The Garbo restaurant was, of course, named after Swedish actress Greta Garbo.]
Prior to the Garbo engagement, said the January 7, 1939 Amsterdam News (a black newspaper published in New York), they'd appeared at the Apollo Theater as part of an Amsterdam News benefit show (no date was given).
Once again, there was nothing written about them for months. That's because they'd returned to Europe. (Note that it's much easier to track people coming back to the U.S. than leaving it, so I don't know when they left.) They worked out of Paris and went from there to Monte Carlo, to Ciro's in London, then back to Monte Carlo, Switzerland, and Sweden. According to Caver, they knew they had to leave when Germany invaded Poland on September 1. On September 29, 1939, the three landed in New York on the S.S. Drottningholm from Gothenburg, Sweden.
Almost immediately, they hooked up with Major Bowes again. There's an ad from November 2 that places the Rigoletto Trio in Major Bowes' "World's Fair Review" [sic]. The only other performer whose name I know is Stubby Kaye. It opened on November 3 at the Fox in St. Louis. The St. Louis Star And Times of November 4 had this to say:
On the Fox stage is Major Bowes' World's Fair Revue, a parade of select amateur talent in ten acts, some musical, some acrobatic. Outstanding among them are the Bernay Sisters, acrobatic dancers who do a unique "caterpillar roll" in making their exit; Burt and Betty, tap-dancers; George Bell in a violin and trumpet novelty act; the Rigoletto Trio, Negros who convert classical music into swing, and Harry Robinson, 76-year-old Texan, especially agile with his feet.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch of November 5 added: "The Fox stage show, assembled by Major Bowes from 250 broadcasts, has more variety and more talent than Bowes units heretofore sent to St. Louis. .... the Rigoletto Trio, three swing artists who do the 'Quartet' from Mr. Verdi's opera." [The "Rigoletto" that was the subject of their act, recording, and Soundie, was based on "Bella figlia dell’amore" ("beautiful daughter of love"), the vocal quartet with which the opera concludes. Bob Caver plays "Verdi", trying to stop Simons and Coleman from making a "swing" tune out of his creation.]
On November 30, 1939 the revue appeared at Walker's Theater in Santa Ana, California ("One Day Only - 3:30 - 7:00 - 10:15"). While the show was in California, reported the December 14 California Eagle, our old friend Hall Johnson reappeared:
Giving the social ball a push, Hall Johnson and his renowned choir honored Eddie Coleman, Morris Caver [note that it's "Morris" again], Gus Simons, professionally known as the "Rigoletto" trio, touring the coast with one of Major Bowles' [sic] units, at a dinner party at The Harlem in So. Los Angeles. Over 300 guests were there to welcome the trio and to help Hall Johnson and his choir celebrate a preview of their 15th anniversary to be held next year. The trio will be remembered as first appearing with Hall Johnson when he organized his first aggregation in 1926. Since then they have been appearing on circuits in Europe with the Kentucky Choir, but due to the war, were forced to return home last week.
I'm not sure how returning on September 29 qualifies as "last week" in late November, nor had Eddie Coleman ever been previously mentioned as having been part of Hall Johnson's choir, but it was nice of him to recognize them.
They continued on with the Bowes unit in 1940. In early March, it played the Lincoln Theater in Lincoln, Nebraska. Later in March, it was at the Egyptian Theater in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader of March 31 singled them out for praise in an article titled "Bowes Show Has Usual Stuff But Is Worth Seeing - Colored Trio Burlesques Rigoletto in Best of 10 Acts at Egyptian".
Take the Rigoletto Trio (and we'll take it over any other act in the show). Three brown boys dish out a parody on Rigoletto that's funny and a little musical, then follow through with a camp meetin' execution of a Negro spiritual that should crack the most stoic of the deadpans in any audience.
One's short and black [Gus], another tall and bronzed [Bob]. The third is an ascetic looking, bespectacled individual with a full time job as pianist for the troupe [Eddie]. Anyway, you get the idea.
In August, the show was at the Penn Theater in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The week of October 4, it played the Buffalo Theater in Buffalo, New York. October 19 found it at the Lyric Theater in Indianapolis. The Rigoletto Trio was advertised as "Swinging The Classics". On October 29, the show opened at the Capitol Theater in Davenport, Iowa. Strangely, a November 6 ad for the Lyric Theater in Fitchburg, Massachusetts said "Rigoletto Trio - Bell-Boy, Porter and Laborer". I don't understand that, unless it was some other part of their act that was never otherwise mentioned.
And that was the last mention ever of the Rigoletto Trio. In early 1941, they abandoned the name (because there was an acrobatic team called the Rigoletto Brothers) and became "Bob, Eddie and Gus". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle of February 14, 1941 told us: "Dave Martin's orchestra has returned to the Bermuda Terrace of the Hotel St. George. At the same place a Sepia trio named Bob, Eddie and Gus have moved into the Cafe Bar during the cocktail and supper hours." A photo of the guys from the same paper (March 1) was captioned "Bob, Eddie and Gus, three dusky entertainers who are heard nightly except Sunday in the St. George Cafe Bar during the cocktail and supper hours. Eddie plays the piano and sings baritone, Bob and Gus, the first and second tenors, sing operettas and comic spirituals."
But "Bob, Eddie and Gus" wasn't a catchy name like the "Rigoletto Trio", so in 1942, they changed it again, this time to "Day, Dawn And Dusk". Bob Caver was "Day", Ed Coleman was "Dawn", and Gus Simons was "Dusk".
The first mention of the group under their new name was in the March 13, 1942 Philadelphia Inquirer, which said: "There's another new opening, official on Monday [March 16], up at Frankford and Torresdale, where DiPinto's Cafe is to headline Day, Dawn and Dusk, recently with Ben Bernie." This is the only mention of Ben Bernie associated with the group, so I don't really know what to make of it. DiPinto's reopened on that date, presumably after renovating.
According to Bob Caver, "We could just about call our own shots because we were just past the age the President wanted in his army." (The cutoff age for the draft was 38.)
From DiPinto's they went to Hopkin's Rathskeller in Philadelphia (described, probably humorously as "bombproof" [there was a war on]), where they opened on May 25. However, on May 15, they were advertised as being at Frank Palumbo's and were still there on the 30th. A lot of acts worked two venues in Philadelphia, so I suppose that's what was going on here. The May 30 Billboard said of the Palumbo show:
Closing spot goes to Day, Dawn and Dusk, sepia trio of song impressionists, whose material and delivery indicate that the three boys have been singing in the music halls overseas rather than the Harlem hotteries. It's their first time in this town, and most impressive. With one of the boys at the piano, trio warms up with Boogly Woogly Piggly and Rose O'Day and clinches the impression with a satire on operatic arias. On the recall, boys' vocal impression of a calliope sets the stage for the circus finale.
This is the first mention of their calliope imitation, but it would become another crowd pleaser over the years and would be used to close their act for the rest of their career.
Bolstering what I said about them appearing at two venues, the May 29 Philadelphia Inquirer reported that they'd been held over at Hopkin's Rathskeller. On July 10, the Inquirer told us that: "Day, Dawn and Dusk go into their seventh and final week at Hopkin's Rathskeller".
I don't know if they continued on at Palumbo's, but the September 18, 1942 Philadelphia Inquirer reported: "For one thing, the Open Door Cafe at 1001 Rising Sun Ave. has just lured Day, Dawn and Dusk through its wide-flung portals. Long on our hit parade as creators of swingy vocal arrangements, they go to bat there Monday [September 21]." It was supposed to have been a two-week engagement, but on October 9, the Inquirer said that they'd been signed for an additional three weeks. On November 6, it was reported that they were in their seventh week there.
Since the only mentions of Day, Dawn And Dusk in 1942 are in Philadelphia, I have to believe that they had a local manager and/or booking agent.
But in 1943, DD&D finally made it to New York. The April 10 New York Post said that they were to be part of a Vaudeville show at the Hotel Riverside Plaza the following night.
On April 26, they were in a variety show sponsored by the Travelers Girls' Club at Bushnell Memorial in Hartford, Connecticut. The show was put on to sell war bonds ($14,175 worth). The Hartford Courant of April 27 said: "Day, Dawn and Dusk, Negro singers who were particularly well received in their interpretation of a small-town opera company." This is the only time their act was characterized that way, but it would certainly explain how they worked up to presentations of "Rigoletto" and "Faust".
On May 1, 1943, they joined the show at Julius Monk's club, Le Ruban Bleu (the blue ribbon), on East 56th Street in Manhattan. This was their first of many appearances at the club over the years. The New York Post of May 7 mentioned them: "The Ruban also offered last night a new trio of Negro singers, Mr. Dawn, Mr. Day and Brother Dusk (Eddie Coleman, Bob Caver and Gus Simmons [sic]). They're Harlem boys who worked abroad in top places, such as Ciro's in London, then returned to tour this country. They have novelty material, including their version of 'Strip Polka,' 'The Kiss,' and, so far as I've seen, the first imitation in New York of a calliope."
The May 24, 1943 New York Post said of them: "[Maurice] Rocco isn't the only delight to the ear in the Ruban Bleu's current divertissement. There are three other sepia gents - Day, Dawn and Dusk, they're called - who have one of the most unusual vocal turns extant. They do straight harmony (one of them at the piano), they sing 'Night And Day' in French, they give forth with a veritable production on 'Glory Road,' they burlesque a couple of corny opera singers mutilating 'Il Bacio,' ["The Kiss", an operatic song by Luigi Arditi] and they sing hot. You might call them versatile."
On May 23, they were part of the entertainment at the Fulton-Sumner Canteen in honor of the soldiers at the Powell Street Barracks. Others on the show were Calvin Jackson, Maurice Rocco, Betty Roach, Billy Banks, and Midge Williams.
I don't know when they left Le Ruban Bleu, but in late September they'd returned. They were characterized by the September 22 New York Sun as "Day, Dawn and Dusk, the mirth-provoking trio who sing seriously when they wish, are back again."
On October 23, 1943, they were part of the show at the Sixth Annual Entertainment Dinner and Dance sponsored by the Automatic Music Operators' Association of New York. (Operators were the ones who owned the jukeboxes found in bars and other establishments.) The only other entertainer whose name I recognized was Yiddish Stage star Molly Picon.
Sometime in November 1943, in New York, they recorded "Shortnin' Bread" for an AFRS Jubilee disc that was "released" in December. (AFRS Jubilee recordings were made by black entertainers and broadcast on the Armed Forces Radio Service; the discs weren't meant for commercial release.)
The December 25, 1943 Billboard had a list of "Bondbardiers", "... show-business personalities and organizations who purchased War Bonds with money they would have spent for Holiday Greetings advertisements in this issue of The Billboard." DD&D were on the list, along with Fred Allen, the Andrews Sisters, Jack Benny, Judy Canova, impresario Earl Carroll, Spade Cooley, stripper Ann Corio, Xavier Cugat, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Dick Haymes, Woody Herman, Celeste Holm, Bob Hope, Harry James, Sammy Kaye, Herman Lubinsky (owner of Savoy Records), Jimmie Lunceford, Jay McShann, Ella Mae Morse, comic Jan Murray, Roy Rogers, Hazel Scott, Frank Sinatra, Kate Smith, Sophie Tucker, Lawrence Welk, and Paul Winchell, among hundreds of others. Pretty good company to be in.
They were still at Le Ruban Bleu on January 15, 1944, when the Evening Recorder of Amsterdam, New York said: "The opening act is Day, Dawn and Dusk, three sepia singers, one of whom plays the piano. Their burlesque of 'Rigoletto' is really tops with their other numbers equally good."
They'd leave the club soon after because, on January 21, 1944, they began what was to be four weeks at Ralph Berger's Latin Quarter in Chicago. Their manager, Fred Martens, placed an ad in the March 25, 1944 Billboard that was headed "Consistently Held Over Everywhere". A review of the show in the April 4 Billboard said that they were then in their tenth week and "... holding the spotlight with their comedy numbers, swing spirituals and original arrangements. Their The Glory Road packs a real punch, but the big surprise is their renditions of Jewish songs which they do exceedingly well."
The June 10, 1944 Billboard said that "DAY, DAWN and DUSK signed with Columbia for Sing While You Dance." When the movie was released, in late July 1946, the guys were nowhere to be seen (or heard). (According to Mark Cantor, it's at least true that they were signed. If they did anything at all in the film, it was subsequently cut in the two years it took to release it.)
In early July, they opened at the Glen Casino in Williamsville, New York. They were [modestly] advertised as the "World's Greatest Singing Trio". The ad continued: "If you like the 'Mills Brothers' and the 'Inkspots' [sic] then we know you, too, will rave about these superb singers". They were held over for at least another week.
Then, it was off to the West Coast, where they opened at Slapsie Maxie's Theatre-Restaurant (Los Angeles) on August 18. The Pittsburgh Courier blurb of August 19, 1944 consistently referred to them as "Day, Dusk and Dawn", although it got their names correct.
While they were in Hollywood, they made another AFRS Jubliee recording, "Sweet Kentucky Babe". It was recorded in August and "released" the same month.
The Wilkes-Barre Record reported on August 28 that "The Negro trio, 'Day, Dawn and Dusk,' speak six languages and are booked for Mexico City when they finish at Slapsy [sic] Maxie's."
Another movie. The September 30, 1944 Billboard said "DAY, DAWN AND DUSK recorded Shortnin' Bread for a spot in Columbia's Tonight We Dance." Filmed between August 14 and August 30, the film was re-titled "Dancing In Manhattan" before being released on December 14. "Shortnin' Bread" was, indeed, in the film, but there's no credit for who sings it and I don't know if they appear onscreen, although I believe that they do.
By October 7, DD&D were back in New York and at Le Ruban Bleu again. They were reviewed in the November 4 Billboard. It said that Imogene Coca and the Cedric Wallace Trio had been held over and that the guys had been added since that show had last been reviewed. "Day, Dawn and Dusk, Negro comedians. Outfit, with one working the keyboard, exhibits a repertoire of jive business built around Is You Is?; Oh, No, John, and other tunes. Some of this biz is funny, some is not. But East Side mob liked 'em well enough to bring them back for two encores."
In November 1944, they had their first record on the mysterious Stan-Lee label (Lee And Roth Enterprises). The tunes were "Kentucky Babe" and "Let Me Call You Sweetheart". "Kentucky Babe" turns jivey, but it reminds you that they were basically a visual act. Gus Simons (as the baby) tells his daddy that he doesn't want milk, but a whole list of foods, including "kosher corned beef" and "chop suey". Fortunately, you can see their filmed Soundie rendition on YouTube (under "Sleep Kentucky Babe"). "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" is a straight reading and is kind of boring. The disc was on a Billboard list of records released between November 23 and November 30.
There was an article in the March 24, 1945 Billboard that talked about small record companies and how they had a lot of masters, although production had slowed to a crawl. (Pressing plant employees had been drafted and there were few parts available to keep machines maintained. Something to do with a war, no doubt.) It concluded with "In the same fix is Stan-Lee which goes in strongly for cocktail combos and now has a heavy load of unreleased disks held up by lack of production facilities." It's possible that there were other Stan-Lee recordings by DD&D, but we'll never know.
In January 1945, DD&D were held over at Le Ruban Bleu (as was Imogene Coca). The Decatur (Illinois) Daily Review of January 26 said: "At Ruban Bleu, [Metropolitan Opera baritone] Lawrence Tibbett bravo-ing Day, Dawn and Dusk, the Ruban's very funny Sepian trio, as they tear into their jive version of 'Faust'."
Columnist Earl Wilson's January 28, 1945 column said "I found out that they thought up the names Day, Dawn and Dusk while traveling by bus from Duluth to Chillicothe, O." (I guess you found out when their press agent fed you that malarkey, eh, Earl?)
On February 2, 1945, they were part of the entertainment at the Roundup Committee's cocktail party for the benefit of the Sydenham Hospital Fund. It was held at Smalls Paradise and also saw performances by Thelma Carpenter, the Cedric Wallace Trio, Gladys Bentley, and Garland Wilson.
Meanwhile, at Le Ruban Bleu, DD&D had introduced their version of the German romantic comic opera "Martha". I guess it wasn't all that successful, since it was never mentioned again.
Finally, a really important blurb. Dorothy Kilgallen's column, published in various newspapers from February 7 to February 10, told us: "Diminutive Gus Simon [sic] (Brother Dusk of the Day, Dawn and Dusk trio) actually knits during one of his routines at the Ruban Bleu. He's already finished a scarf and is now engaged in doing the old knit one, purl two on a sweater."
During the week of February 12, 1945, Day, Dawn And Dusk recorded some songs for RCM Productions, to be made into Soundies. Filming was done later that month and all were released in 1945. The titles were: "Faust" (released May 14), "Rigoletto" (released June 25), "Fare Thee Well" (released July 9), and "Sleep Kentucky Babe" (released September 3). Caver said this was set up by their manager, Freddie Martin.
As long as he was available, Gus Simons made a guest appearance in a Delta Rhythm Boys Soundie being filmed at the same time: "Snoqualomie Jo Jo". Wearing a zoot suit, he appears in the scene where bass Otha Lee Gaines is dressed as an Indian, surrounded by "squaws". (Note that the song itself was mistitled. The name of the Washington city is actually "Snoqualmie".)
On March 16, they were part of the talent at the FEPC Ball at the Golden Gate Ballroom (142nd Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem). Others on the bill were Alfred Drake (currently starring in "Oklahoma" on Broadway), Canada Lee, Rollin Smith, Thelma Carpenter, Garland Wilson, and Art Tatum. (FEPC was the government's Fair Employment Practices Committee.)
There was a big article about them in the March 17, 1945 issue of The Afro-American, titled "Day, Dawn and Dusk Trio Capitalizes on Burleskue [sic] of 'Rigoletto' and 'Faust'". It began with a ridiculous press-agent statement that they were rumored to have bought "a substantial hunk of a colored newspaper in Chicago", which they "neither confirmed nor denied". Some of it, however, is actually factual. Bob Caver spoke:
I am Day and Edward Coleman, the pianist and baritone, is Dawn. Augustus Dewey Simon [sic] is Dusk. Our specialty is comedy-singing, and that's where we always bring down the house. Our burlesques on operas like "Rigoletto" and "Faust" are what the customers like best. We also do spirituals and swing numbers.
We were all members of the Hall Johnson Choir when we formed a quintet called the Kentucky Singers. In 1938, we became a trio and called ourselves Day, Dawn and Dusk. That's when we began moving up the ladder. [Again, I can't find any record of Coleman having been with the Hall Johnson Choir or the Kentucky Singers. There's no mention of Forbes Randolph, who actually put together the Kentucky Singers. And, he left out billings as the "Rigoletto Trio" and "Bob, Eddie and Gus". At least he got 1938 correct.]
We've been here [Le Ruban Bleu] since September and the management wants us to stay as long as we want to. That's fine with us.
By the way, we just finished doing a picture called "Dancing In Manhattan" for Columbia Studios. Right now, RKO wants us in that new musicale they're planning, "Sweet Georgia Brown". They say that Lena Horne may get the starring role. [No movie by that title was ever made.]
[After saying that they'd been in some television shorts, which they like because "they have a fast and moving act which photographs very well", Bob went on to say:] There's no money in television now, but I think it's a good idea to get in on the ground floor now and build up a solid reputation. After the war, there'll be a lot of commercials, and we'll already be in it with plenty of experience.
The article also claimed "In this country, they were held over for 16 weeks at the Roxy Theater. They have played the Paramount and Palace Theatres, too. This is their second extended stay at Le Ruban Bleu." I suppose they did play those theaters, but that was never mentioned anywhere else.
Another entry in the "Things You Need To Know" column. The Decatur (Illinois) Daily Review of April 27, 1945 let us in on this secret: "Xavier Cugat and Eddie Coleman, of the Day, Dawn and Dusk Trio, discovering at the Ruban Bleu that they both have their toupees made by the same rug-cutter and promptly engaging in a discussion of Coogie's new feather-edge job." Aren't you glad you read my articles?
The May 5 Billboard reviewed the show at the Ruban Bleu and had this to say: "Day, Dawn and Dusk, Negro comedy-song trio, also go over strongly here with their combo of hoked-up ballads, gag opera and acted pops. Mob [audience] rewards them handsomely."
In early May, they were at the Loew's State Theater in Manhattan. The show was reviewed in the May 12, 1945 Billboard, which said: "Day, Dawn and Dusk, fresh out of a long run at the Ruban Bleu nitery, don't do as well here as at the club because, for some reason, they are omitting their best numbers. After initial straight Shortnin' Bread they go into a hoked-up Sleep, Kentucky Babe which doesn't quite come off, then into a gag opera routine. Latter earns them an encore, Belz, sung in Yiddish, where they show good harmonic work and win a 'thank you' bowoff."
The "thank you bowoff" would be lukewarm applause meaning "thanks for the encore, now get off the stage". We'll see "Belz" again in a bit.
Another less than complementary review appeared in the Pittsburgh Courier of June 30:
People are still talking about the recent engagement played by Day, Dawn and Dusk at Lowe's State, and in most cases they did not like the choice of numbers by the trio, nor the way in which they were presented, with echoes of "Uncle Tom" ringing loud and clear. Of course there isn't much else to be done with tunes like "Shortnin' Bread!" For an act whose versatility automatically lifts it from the "stoop to conquer" class, it seems a pity that they couldn't have made a better impression on members of their race during their first Broadway theatre appearance!
And more useful knowledge. Many newspapers printed this gem: "Day, Dawn and Dusk own a gray cat called 'Twilight'." (Some of the blurbs said "gray alley cat".)
After the Loew's State show, they went into the Cafe Zanzibar (at Broadway and 49th Street), along with Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, Bill Bailey, and the Claude Hopkins Band. The show, titled "Zanzibarabian Nights", was reviewed in the June 5, 1945 New York Sun:
Long favorite sons at the elegant little Ruban Bleu on the East Side, Day, Dawn and Dusk now essay a Broadway club. Their exceptional voices and their musicianly arrangements of a wide repertoire automatically assure them of success wherever they are heard. They have sung here and abroad - and one of the amusing moments in their offering is when the trio sings in Jewish. At times their selections verge on the classical and then they raise their voices in what is probably the best singing to be heard in any of the Times Square clubs."
Billboard also reviewed the show in their June 2 issue: "Day, Dawn and Dusk are next. Their gag opera and spiritual routines don't seem to pull here as they did at Ruban Bleu, possibly because they punch too hard. Closing number Eli-Eli, is most inappropriate in nitery of this kind and should be dropped. Responses were good." "Eli-Eli" is a musical version of the 22nd Psalm, although, as a folk song, it was mostly re-written from Hebrew to Yiddish, which is how DD&D would have sung it.
The New York Age of June 2 said: "Day, Dawn and Dusk, the melodious and mirthful threesome, who are featured with Cab Calloway in the new show at the Cafe Zanzibar, and who are regularly featured on the radio program 'Gloom Dodgers,' have completed a collection of their own arrangements of old Negro folk songs for publication. Day, Dawn and Dusk were popular entertainers on the continent before the European war began and are in possession of an invitation from King Gustav of Sweden to return to Stockholm for a protracted engagement as soon as transportation facilities permit."
[Brooklynites will understand this: The Brooklyn Dodgers, who had some of the sports world's most devoted fans, always seemed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. WHN radio (which carried Dodgers games), created a daily show called "Gloom Dodgers" that used comedy and music to help fans feel a bit better after the team's latest disaster. It was hosted by comic Morey Amsterdam, and also had singer Vic Damone.]
They were back at Le Ruban Bleu in mid-June, when this item was printed in the Danville (Pennsylvania) Morning News: "At Le Ruban Bleu, sweet-faced Molly Picon, the Yiddish theater's queen of hearts, giggling as jesters Day, Dawn and Dusk rip through their jive version of "Mein Statele Belz" in fluent Yiddish."
On August 12, 1945, they were guests on a radio show called "Sunday Evening Party". The Jackson (Tennessee) Sun of that date said:
Day, Dawn and Dusk, the negro trio that rose to international stardom from the ranks of the Hall Johnson Choir, will be the guests of Metropolitan Opera Tenor Donald Dame and Contralto Louise Carlyle during the melodic Sunday Evening party over WTJS today at 5:30 p.m.
The singing group, which features ballads, novelties and varied songs in seven different languages met as members of the newly founded Hall Johnson Choir. Tiring of straight choral word, the trio - Eddie Coleman, Robert Caver and Augustus Simon [sic] - joined with several other vocalists to form the Kentucky Singers, headed for Europe and enjoyed an outstanding success in appearances on the Continent.
Other members of the troupe gradually drifted away, eventually leaving only the threesome. In 1939, the group sang its last European engagement in Stockholm and returned to New York for radio, night club and theater appearances.
Another suspiciously "press agent" article appeared in the Detroit Free Press on September 29, 1945: "It took the king of Sweden to reconcile Bob Caver's father to the fact that his son had decided to go into show business. Caver, a tenor in the close harmony trio of Day, Dawn and Dusk at the Bowery, is the son of a minister in Little Rock, Ark. His father was swung over only when he found out that King Gustave [sic] of Sweden had commanded the trio to sing before him . . . gave Caver an autographed tennis racket." I suppose it says that King Gustav gave Caver the tennis racket and not his father, but it's really unclear. As it said, they were playing Detroit's Bowery night club at the time (there for a week, they were held over).
From there, they went to the 5100 Club in Chicago. The October 20, 1945 Billboard said: "Day, Dawn and Dusk, last caught here at the Latin Quarter, have added more showmanship and zest to their work. Won three encores after three numbers. Best was their straight version of a Yiddish Lullaby."
But all appearances can't be top-notch. On February 19, 1946, they were the entertainment at an award ceremony at which the members of the Pelham (New York) High School football team received gold footballs in appreciation of their undefeated season. (I suspect that the footballs weren't pure gold.)
Sometime in February, they did some recording for Collectors Items of 119 East 57th Street in Manhattan. If you've never seen one of the labels, it starts with the large word "Collector:", followed by a line on which you're supposed to write your name. Then, it says "Item:", followed by the usual label copy. They recorded at least four songs: "Basin Street Blues", "Rigoletto In Harlem", "Mein Stetela Belz", and "Bones, Bones, Bones", all released in March.
Note that "Bones, Bones, Bones" (actually "Dry Bones") has an unidentified bass player; none of the others do. "Mein Stetela Belz" (which should really be "Mein Shtetele Belz") is a Yiddish song fondly reminiscing about the singer's little town of Belz (in the western Ukraine). This one doesn't work for me at all. When they sing it straight, it's monumentally boring; when they start to jive it a bit, they don't go far enough. Since it was mentioned in several reviews of their stage performances, I have to believe that there was something about their live performance that didn't come through on the recording. The true winner was "Rigoletto In Harlem", although (if you watch the Soundie, you'll also get the benefit of their comedic routine as well as their singing).
In early March 1946, Day, Dawn And Dusk went to Brazil to appear at the Casino Atlantico and the Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro (I suppose there were other venues). They returned, by plane, on May 7.
I assume they took a few weeks off to rest up then, because, on May 27, they began a three-week double Philadelphia engagement: at Ciro's and Palumbo's, both owned by Frank Palumbo. At this time, they used Jolly Joyce as their booking agents.
Then it was off to the Bowery night club in Detroit, for an August 19 opening. It was supposed to be for a week, but they were held over.
Sometime in October, they returned to Le Ruban Bleu, along with Muriel Gaines and the Cedric Wallace Trio. The New York Sun of November 11, 1946 talked about the show:
Cafe society's special pets, Day, Dawn and Dusk, singing trio at Le Ruban Bleu, suffer an embarrassment of riches, it seems. The customers vie with one another in calling out their favorite tunes the moment the three come onstage. And the stage is practically in the audience at Le Ruban Bleu, affording what you might say is a close call indeed.
The superb "Glory Road" and the free-style rendition of arias from "Faust" with a finale in the Savoy Ballroom are good for as long as the boys want to sing them. "No, John" is another, and "Shortnin' Bread." Various properties - wigs, knitting, frippery - dress up the tunes and give Day, Dawn and Dusk a reputation for comedy work, but their beautiful voices, heard in original arrangements of each number, will always bring forth a serious response along with the chuckles.
On March 3, 1947, they began another double Philadelphia engagement at Ciro's and Palumbo's in Philadelphia, this time for two weeks. At Ciro's they replaced the Red Caps.
And then it was back to Le Ruban Bleu for their sixth engagement there. Their repertoire included "Shortnin' Bread", "Frankie And Johnny", "Rigoletto", and their calliope imitation.
On April 12, 1947, they were part of the show at the St. Mark's Methodist Church benefit. They shared the stage with Maxine Sullivan, Juanita Hall, the Peters Sisters, Cedric Wallace, and Garland Wilson.
The May 7 Morning Herald (Uniontown, Pennsylvania) reported that "The Deep River Boys subbed for Day, Dawn and Dusk at Le Ruban Bleu. Dusk [Gus Simons] is ailing."
May 18 found them at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music in a show that was put on by the Brooklyn Concert Bureau. The May 17 New York Age spoke about their appearance: "Topping the list of stars at this concert which begins at three o'clock is Day, Dawn and Dusk, internationally famous singing trio, making their first appearance in Brooklyn at a concert of this type where they will sing classics in the same manner as they pleased in their own way in some of the country's most exclusive night clubs." [That was actually painful to read.]
Since some of the performers at Le Ruban Bleu had changed, the June 7, 1947 Billboard reviewed the show again: "Day, Dawn and Dusk, holdovers reviewed earlier, make a sock trio. Their songs, highlighted by a keen comedy sense, ranged from Shortnin' Bread and Shadrack, Mesach, Abednigo to satiric excerpts from the popular operas. They showed top harmony and rhythm, and to demonstrate their versatility, did the Whiffenpoof Song straight to win healthy returns. Their top drawer Calliope and many of their other bits were loaded for laughs and frequent yocks."
Astor Pictures incorporated Day, Dawn And Dusk's 1945 "Faust" Soundie into "Ebony Parade", a feature-length film that opened in New York in early July 1947. In spite of newspaper articles crowing about the star-studded cast that was assembled in New York to make the film, it was simply a collection of old Soundies, featuring Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Mabel Lee, Dorothy Dandridge, the Mills Brothers, Francine Everett, the Jubalaires, Vanita Smythe, and DD&D, each introduced by "fortune teller" Mantan Moreland.
Said the April 12, 1947 Pittsburgh Courier: "NEW YORK - Going along with the 'Back to New York' movement currently taking place in motion pictures, Astor Pictures Corporation announces completion of a new sepia all-star musical, which was entirely filmed in this city. The picture is called 'Ebony Parade,' and stars Cab Calloway, Count Basie, the Mills Brothers, Mantan Moreland and a large cast. Arrangements are under way for a Gotham premiere for the flicker, and a plan for as many of the participating stars as possible to make a personal appearance." If you had read that, prior to the film's July release, you would certainly have believed that Basie, Calloway, and the Mills Brothers had actually been recruited for the film. Once the flick opened, there was no indication in the press that any of the film's "stars" showed up for the premiere.
One reason for using old clips is that the Soundies market was drying up, causing them to recycle old videos in their weekly releases.
In August 1947, DD&D were back at the Bowery night club in Detroit. In October, they returned to the Latin Quarter in Chicago, along with Phil Foster. The Chicago Tribune of October 26 reviewed the show, saying: "Day, Dawn and Dusk are show stoppers as usual. These three singers are splendid, and their comedy ranges from satire on opera to satire on spirituals. They are smart entertainers and thoroughly delightful." There was also this, from the October 25 Billboard: "Day, Dawn and Dusk, working next to closing, were the show-stoppers, winning three call-backs, an unusual distinction for a supporting act in this town. The Negro harmony threesome started out with a trio of their tried and true standard numbers, saving two newies, a smart parody built on Low Flies The Gentle Lark [sic; should be "Lo, Hear The Gentle Lark"], in which the effect of the visit of G.I.s to foreign countries is shown on the music of the European nations, and an animated vocal impression of a steam calliope to reap huge mitts [get a lot of applause]."
In February 1948, they were at something called the "25 Year Club", along with Henny Youngman, the Mack Triplets, and Muriel Gaines. This was reported in Ed Sullivan's column, but he didn't explain what or where it was.
The May 5, 1948 Billboard talked about their act at the Silver Frolics in Chicago: "Day, Dawn and Dusk stopped the show as they always do in Chi. Negro trio went thru its standard routine of kidding the classics and the old English folk tunes, with Dusk spearheading a display of showmanship, vocal ability and strong material that reaped show's strongest reward. Dressed up their familiar material with bits of business that won chuckles all the way."
In July, they were at the Last Frontier in Las Vegas. Then, they were off to Los Angeles, to appear at Larry Potter's Supper Club. Early September found them, and the dancing 3 Rockets at a Showboat-type show held in Salem, Oregon.
On October 11, 1948, they, and Hal McIntyre's Orchestra, were the main attractions at the Knights Of Columbus Charity Ball in Kingston, New York. The December 4, 1948 New York Age ran a large article about Gus Simons. While not the usual press agent garbage, almost all of it is irrelevant to our story.
On December 3, 1948, Day, Dawn And Dusk were part of a stage show that followed a college basketball game at the Fairgrounds Coliseum in Detroit. Lest you think that this was a come-down for them, the others on the bill were Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, and Fletcher Henderson. Go figure.
In February 1949, they opened at Tony's Venetian Room in Des Moines, Iowa. From there, they went to Curly's in Minneapolis. There was a big write-up in the March 7 Minneapolis Star:
Three energetic singer-buffoons, who call themselves Day, Dawn and Dusk, are making the dishes rattle at Curly's theater cafe with their loud-lunged vocalizing. They belong definitely to the louder-and-faster school of nightclub entertainers: they haven't a dulcet note in their repertoire.
The other night they went all the way from "Shortnin' Bread" to souped-up grand opera, and generated excited approval among the customers.
The three boys juggle rhythm and satire with brassy effect. They take such contrasted fare as "St. Louis Blues" and the quartet from "Rigoletto," mix in broad mimicry and bodily movement and dish it out straight and hard.
This bang-bang delivery, with no time out for a deep breath or a quiet moment, is doubtless the time-tested approach for niteries. But I thought the fellow named Dusk would have been funnier if he hadn't been mugging and gyrating wildly at all times, and that the garish treatment given "Oh No John" and a Negro spiritual was a case of murder rather than adaptation.
In other items, the trio wrought rousing results. "Frankie and Johnny" had its drolleries, and the finale, an imitation of a circus calliope, made a howling parody of the bigtop's steam pipes.
June 1949 found them at the Latin Quarter in Cincinnati. The June 12 Cincinnati Enquirer started a blurb by saying: "Day, Dawn and Dusk, sepia singing stars opening at the Latin Quarter Friday night, come to Cincinnati riding the crest of more rave notices than have been garnered by a night club act in many a moon." Fame is so fleeting: the June 17 Cincinnati Enquirer printed a photo of Bob Caver to mention that the group was at the Latin Quarter; he was identified as "John Day".
In September, they were back at Larry Potter's Supper Club in Hollywood. Among their songs were "Lo, Hear The Gentle Lark", "I Want A Big Fat Mama", "Hurry On Down", and the spiritual "Fare You Well".
From there, they made their first appearance at the Chi Chi in Palm Springs, California, opening on October 9, 1949; they'd make many return trips over the years. It said that they came directly from the Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas, but that must have been right before Larry Potter's.
In late November, reported the Palm Springs Desert Sun of December 2, one of the visitors to the Chi Chi was Irving Berlin, who, it said "was enthusiastic in his praise of the show". On the 16th, they entertained at the annual fall party for the Palm Springs Chamber Of Commerce at the Chi Chi. It was hosted by Mayor Charles Farrell, whom you might remember as having starred in "7th Heaven" with Janet Gaynor in 1927 (and yes, he played Gale Storm's father in "My Little Margie").
They opened again at Cincinnati's Latin Quarter on August 4, 1950. From there, it was another appearance at the Thunderbird in Las Vegas. By October, they were at Tony's Club 100 in Des Moines, Iowa. That was probably allied with Tony's Venetian Room, which they'd played the prior year.
They started off 1951 at the Elmwood Casino in Windsor, Ontario (just across the river from Detroit), where they were held over.
The May 5, 1951 Billboard spotlighted several acts that they thought would have good television careers. This is what they said about DD&D:
A particularly colorful vocal trio, Day, Dawn and Dusk have developed a batch of routines, parodies and special material songs which include some fine visual bits. Plenty of night club and theater experience shows in the group's polish. In addition, each of the lads demonstrates vocal ability a shade above average. Since one of the trio also plays piano, they could probably stand up well enough in a 15-minute show of their own. For variety-type shows, the trio's handling of straight spirituals, pops and comedy routines like the hoked-up quartet from Rigoletto, would offer both ear and eye appeal.
[In early television, many acts had 15-minute shows. Examples are Perry Como, Jane Froman, Jo Stafford, Tony Martin, Dinah Shore, Eddie Fisher, and Nat "King" Cole.]
And then, it was off to Canada. In June they played (and were held over at) the Gatineau Country Club in Ottawa. I don't know why they selected it (or even what it was supposed to mean), but this is the time they started using the tag line "Twenty-Four Hours Of Vocal Magic" to describe their act. On July 10, they began a two-week engagement at the Sportsman's Paradise Hotel in Lac des Piles. In between, they seem to have been at the Chez Paree in Montreal.
The June 11, 1951 Ottawa Journal talked about the June 9 Gatineau show:
They had to show the "closing time" sign to the late show patrons at the Gatineau Club Saturday night to get the new singing trio "Day, Dawn and Dusk" off the floor. Few acts have been better received at Mr. Saxe's suburban sanctum than was this classy-looking classy-sounding colored trio which headlines the show this week....
"Day, Dawn and Dusk" have plenty in the book that hasn't been aired around here. Their treatment of the old tunes is new, refreshing. Two of their productions - big hits in Paris, we're told - brought down the house. The first is the story of a GI in Europe whose impressions of things musical take an awful beating. The GI discovers that Piccadilly has gone Broadway, Champs Elysees has gone Broadway. Rome is strictly Tin Pan Alley.
The other exceptionally big hit by D, D and D was "Circus" which combined a little Swiss yodeling with some comical calisthenics. Among the oldies the boys put over were "Frankie And Johnnie" and the "St. Louis Blues".
They'd made such a big hit at the Gatineau that they were invited back on September 7 for another week. The ad said that they were then off to Hollywood to "fill a movie contract". However, they never seem to have made any movies at this time.
But they did go West (young man), appearing at the Thunderbird in Las Vegas in late September through early October.
I'm assuming it happened at this point (although it was never reported in any papers): Gus Simons left the group. My feeling is that his leaving was health-related (he'd die in July 1955, at the age of 57). His replacement, the new "Dusk", was Mack Smith. The only mention of Gus' departure was in the August 30, 1952 New York Age: "Gus Simon [sic] is no longer with Day, Dawn and Dusk trio - and after years, too." By April 1952, Mack Smith was in photos of the group, but there had to have been a long period of rehearsals until he was up to speed with this unique aggregation. That's why I picked late 1951: I couldn't find any appearances for them during that period. As far as I can tell, this was the only replacement in the 25-year history of the group.
McKinley Hayes "Mack" Smith, a baritone, was born July 2, 1918 in Winter Haven, Florida. He was in the army in World War 2 and had also been a boxer. The July 8, 1939 Orlando Sentinel said of him: "A negro baritone singer, McKinley Smith, will be the soloist at a special young people's service of the First Christian Church.... It was explained that the negro singer's voice was so brilliant and his singing so inspiring that there was no hesitancy at having him appear at a white church service." On January 3, 1949, he was the winner on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. When Eleanor Roosevelt received the "Cooperation Award" on October 1, 1950, McKinley Smith "baritone star of stage, radio and television" provided the entertainment.
On February 29, 1952, they were guests on Kate Smith's television show on NBC TV. On March 6, they were part of "NAACP's Great Night" at Madison Square Garden. Others on the bill were: Juanita Hall, Ella Fitzgerald, the Billy Williams Quartet, Tallulah Bankhead, Canada Lee, Erroll Garner, Nipsey Russell, Sidney Poitier, Jimmy Durante, and Ed Sullivan.
Then it was back to the Gatineau Club for the week of April 11. By that time, they'd added "Cigareets and Whusky" and "You'll Never Walk Alone" (led by Mack Smith) to their repertoire. From there, it was on to Mother Kelly's in Miami.
Presumably they'd made a hit on the Kate Smith show, since she invited them back on June 6. On October 20, they were on the Dixie Showboat TV show in Los Angeles. The next night, they opened at the Maison Jaussaud French restaurant in Bakersfield, California.
October 27, 1952 found them at the Harvey Auditorium at Bakersfield College. The songs they sang were: "San Fernando Valley", "Basin Street Blues", "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans", "Lo, Hear The Gentle Lark", "Up A Lazy River", "St. Louis Blues", "Sweet Georgia Brown", "Sleep Kentucky Babe", and, of course, "Calliope".
By mid-December, they were at the Bank Club Casino of the Golden Hotel in Reno, Nevada. (That hotel would be destroyed in a spectacular 1962 fire, in which six people died. The entire affair spotlighted the tragedy of not having life-saving building codes in place.) From there, it was back to the Starlite Room of the Chi Chi in Palm Springs. The December 22 Desert Sun (Palm Springs) said: "A tidal wave of melody and comedy coupled with mirth is sweeping the Starlite room of the Chi Chi these nights. Occupying the starring spotlight are Day, Dawn and Dusk who bring laughter, sadness and nostalgia to patrons as they sing in the finest melodic tones ever heard here."
On January 21, they opened at the Lou Collins Club in Miami (the place that had formerly been Mother Kelly's).
March 19, 1953 found them back at the Latin Quarter in Cincinnati. The March 20 Cincinnati Enquirer mentioned that McKinley Smith was new to the act. (I guess he was, as far as Cincinnati was concerned, although he'd been with DD&D for nearly a year and a half.) They said: "This excellent trio of Negro singers has changed in one respect since its last appearance here, but the change has been all for the better. The group has a new Dusk in McKinley Smith whose fine baritone voice brought him into prominence a couple of years back as a winner on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Show."
On May 14, they returned to Europe, flying to Copenhagen on SAS Airlines. By August, they were headlining the show at the China Theater in Stockholm. It was, supposedly, their second annual trip, although there was nothing in the press about the first one, nor can I find any travel records.
They flew back to New York on September 1, just in time to open at the Gold Room of the Hotel Golden Bank Casino, in Reno, on September 9. From there, it was a return to Larry Potter's Supper Club in Hollywood, opening on September 25.
They made their third appearance at the Chi Chi in Palm Springs in late October 1953. By December they (booked by Bob Corash) were at the Wolhurst Club in Denver. (The Dominoes would be there for New Year's Eve.)
In December 1953, the Destiny label (4532 Orchard Avenue, Los Angeles) released DD&D's "When The Saints Go Marching In". The flip was an instrumental called "Swing-Shift" by the Dick Taylor Orchestra. The January 2, 1954 Billboard gave it a 65, calling it "satisfactory", although they also said, "Boys sell the ditty with life." They tried to jazz it up with bits about a trumpet man and a drummer (both from Dick Taylor's Orchestra), but there wasn't much they could do with it.
February 27, 1954 found them at the Syria Mosque Theater in Pittsburgh as part of the annual Hillel Academy benefit show. Strangely, the February 24 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called them "the hoofing trio of Day, Dawn and Dusk"! On April 17, they started a two-week appearance at the Colonial Manor in Pittsburgh. Two blurbs mentioned the big hit they'd made at the Hillel Academy benefit show.
Then, it was back to Europe. On May 30, 1954, they flew to Stockholm on SAS. Before that, however, they'd done some more recordings, this time for Herald Records. "The Kiss (That Broke My Heart)" and "All Through The Years" were released on Herald in late June 1954. (Note that some 78s say "Thru", rather than "Through".) Just to keep us on our toes, on this record, label credit was to the "Day, Dawn, Dusk Trio".
The sides were reviewed in the July 3 Cash Box, which gave "All Through The Years" a "B" and the flip a "C+", calling them a "new group". Considering how unique their live performances were, they sound like a generic white Pop group on these.
On September 8, 1954, Edward Coleman and Robert Caver flew back to New York on SAS. I don't know where Mack Smith was.
They were at the Oregon State Fair (in Salem) again sometime in September (it was held from the 4th to the 11th, but I don't know if they appeared every day). December 1 found them back at the Gold Room of the Hotel Golden Bank Casino in Reno for a two-week engagement.
By late April 1955, they'd returned to the Gatineau Country Club in Ottawa.
Meanwhile, they'd done some more recording: "Miss Petunia" and "Let The Tears Fall" were released on Apollo in June 1955. Both sides were co-written by Charlie LaVerne, whose name is on the label as the backup orchestra ("Charlie LaVerne and his Quitars"), as he had been on Herald (as the "Chas. Laverne Orch.")
At least they don't sound white on "Miss Petunia", which is reminiscent of the Treniers. "Let The Tears Fall" can't make up its mind if it wants to be Pop or Rock 'N Roll. They were reviewed in the June 11, Cash Box, which gave "Miss Petunia" a "B" and the flip a "C+".
On July 17, 1955, they appeared on the ABC-TV "Chance Of A Lifetime" talent show, hosted by John Reed King. The July 23 Pittsburgh Courier remembered that they "were quite popular back in 'Soundie' days". The July 30 edition said that they "just missed winning top honors on 'Chance Of A Life Time' by an applause." (I have no idea what that means; they either got more applause than the others or they didn't. You can't lose by a single applause, whatever that is.)
When they were at the Black Orchid in Chicago, their performance was reviewed in the August 8, 1955 Billboard: "Day, Dawn and Dusk, opening the show, got the customers off their hands with 'Unchained Melody,' 'When The Saints Go Marching In,' 'Ain't Misbehaving.' The old-time circus parade was brought home vividly with a bit called 'Calliope' that brought a nice hand."
Another trip to Salem for the Oregon State Fair. It ran for a week, starting on September 3. A write-up in the Salem Daily Capital Journal of September 12, said that Mack Smith had "replaced a member of the trio who died". (Of course, he'd only died a little more than a month previously and Mack had been with the trio since 1951, but it makes for good reading. On top of that, they called Bob "Carver", and said that he was "Dawn", although he was always known as "Day".) But I would have gone because the show also had "Zippy, the roller-skating chimp".
On October 14, 1955, they were back at the Starlite Room of the Chi Chi. You could get a complete dinner from $2.25.
Probably around this time, they made some recordings for the Kent label, owned by their current manager, Lee Silver: "Let The Tears Fall" and "A Cheat's A Cheat". (The label gave its address as 767 7th Avenue in Manhattan, which it had been, but by this time, Silver had relocated to Los Angeles). He wouldn't release these for several more months.
On March 30, 1956, DD&D ("Shades Of Harmony"), along with Buddy Hackett opened at the Beverly Hills, in Cincinnati. Then, on April 24, they ("vibrant trio of song") switched to the Black Orchid in Chicago.
And another record, this time on Josie: "Anytime, Anyplace" (note that some copies just say "Anytime") and "Who Are You Kissing?" (both led by Mack Smith) were released in April 1956. The May 12 Billboard gave them a 73 and a 70, respectively. "Anytime, Anyplace" was a real Rock 'N Roll ballad, which, again, doesn't really reflect what the guys were doing in person. "Who Are You Kissing?" is, once more, a song that wanders between Rock 'N Roll and Pop.
Their Lee Silver recordings, "Let The Tears Fall" and "A Cheat's A Cheat", were released, on his Kent label, in July 1956 (based on the delta numbers in the wax), not in 1970 or 1976. This was their last known record. "Let The Tears Fall" is the same tune they'd done for Apollo, but a completely different version. More Rock 'N Roll fodder.
Friday, August 31 had them back at the Chi Chi. On December 4, they (and Morey Amsterdam) opened at the KoKo Restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona, following the Mills Brothers.
May 13, 1957 found them starting an engagement at the Glen Park in Williamsville, New York, near Buffalo. Then, it was back to the Gatineau in Ottawa, where they opened on May 20 for a week. The review of the show in the May 21 Ottawa Journal was wonderful:
Dawn, day and dusk are simply o'clocks until you visit the Gatineau Club this week where Day, Dawn and Dusk are a trio of entertainers. There must be flaws in their act but for the life of me I can't remember one.
There aren't many night club vocal acts able to handle any kind of tune, but this threesome went through a wide variety of calypso, spirituals, modern and a dozen other types, each one getting bigger reception than the other. At the end, the audience practically refused to let them off.
DD&D were the entertainment at the Magic Valley hospital benefit in Twin Falls, Idaho on November 15, 1957. On November 30, they opened at the Hacienda in Fresno, California.
But then, there's a gap of around a year before they surface again, this time at the Kiamesha Lodge in Kiamesha Lake, New York for Labor Day, in September 1958. (Kiamesha Lake is in the Catskill Mountains, a vacation spot a few hours from New York City, that used to be called the "Jewish Alps".) Then, they were in the "Happy Holiday Revue" at the Holiday House (Pittsburgh) in early October 1958.
They vanish again until March 16, 1959, when they open at the Terrace Room of the Park Hotel in Great Falls, Montana. After that, it was back to the Chi Chi in Palm Springs. The April 28 Desert Sun said: "... they appeared to have put a lustrous gleam to their act." They sang "Wagon Wheels", "Up A Lazy River", "Anytime, Anyplace", "When The Saints Go Marching In", and "Stand Up And Fight" (from "Carmen Jones"; a perfect vehicle for Mack Smith), "In That Great Gettin' Up Mornin'", and, of course, the calliope routine.
While they were there, they took a photo with Art Aragon, a Mexican-American lightweight boxer. Since Mack Smith had also been a boxer, it shows Aragon delivering an uppercut to Smith's jaw.
In an article in the Desert Sun of May 5, 1959, they talked about recording for Sunbeam Records in New York over the summer. For whatever reason, it either never happened or nothing was ever released. Bob Caver credited Mack Smith with turning them into a commercial group. I'm not sure what he meant by that. Their well-appreciated live act doesn't seem to have changed that much (although it looks like they dropped the "operas"), but their recordings had a sound that cried out to be lost in the crowd (which they were).
On May 13, 1959, they were at the Glen Park (Williamsville, New York) again for a week. Then, it was another week at the KoKo in Phoenix. In early October, they were back at the Elmwood Casino in Windsor, Ontario. Later that month, they had an engagement at the Town Casino in Buffalo, New York. In December 1959, they were scheduled to head up the Cotton Club Revue at the Diplomat Hotel in Miami.
DD&D started off 1960 by returning to the Terrace Room of the Park Hotel in Great Falls, Montana. They were there from January 18th through the 23rd.
In April, they were back at the Chi-Chi, this time along with comedian Gary Morton (who'd marry Lucille Ball the following year). Mid-August found them at the Delano Hotel in the Catskills.
Nothing more until March 1961, when they played a week at the Elmwood Casino in Windsor, Ontario. On April 17, they returned to the Terrace Room of the Park Hotel in Great Falls, Montana.
A new venue was the Bagdad Room at the Tucson Inn (Tucson, Arizona). The little blurb in the December 3, 1961 Arizona Daily Star managed to call Bob Caver "Dawn" and Eddie Coleman "Day". Another new one was the Playboy Club in Miami, where they opened on May 18, 1962. From there, it was off to the Playboy Club in Chicago, where they appeared with Jerry Van Dyke and Jackie Vernon. Keeping with the "we haven't been here before" theme, they were at the Maplewood Hotel & Country Club (Maplewood, New Hampshire) for Labor Day 1962.
Not a single mention in all of 1963, but in January 1964 they were at the Sea Gull Hotel in Miami Beach. They were still there in March.
The June 5, 1964 News-Herald (Willoughby, Ohio) had an article about Mrs. Grace Alexander. It said: "She is one of four sisters who chose the life of a welfare case worker. Only Mrs. Alexander's brother went astray. He sings in a trio, 'Day, Dawn and Dusk,' which has performed in Europe and South America." The daughter of a minister in Little Rock, Mrs. Alexander was Bob Caver's sister. I really can't figure out if she was joking about him going astray.
The last appearance that I can find for DD&D was at the Gatineau Country Club in Ottawa in late September 1964. That seems to be the end of a very long career; Bob Caver and Eddie Coleman had been together since at least 1926. (It's possible that they continued, on a part-time basis, for a while, but Bob Caver started collecting Social Security in October 1967 and Ed Coleman in July 1968). When it was all over, Mack Smith mostly gave up singing (other than his church choir); he became a cab driver.
Ed Coleman died on November 12, 1995 in Manhattan. Bob Caver on January 4, 1999 in the Bronx. McKinley "Mack" Smith on October 30, 2000 in Manhattan. As I mentioned before, Gus Simons had died on July 29, 1955 in Manhattan.
The last time DD&D achieved some fame was when "A Cheat's A Cheat" was incorporated into the soundtrack of the "Scoundrels" episode of the TV show "Vegas" (starring Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis), which aired on April 20, 2013. I doubt, however, that many viewers knew who'd sung it.
With two exceptions ("Rigoletto In Harlem" and "Miss Petunia"), I have to say that Day, Dawn And Dusk's recordings do nothing for me. But, boy, do I wish I could have seen them in person. Bob Caver said: "We always joked about our records. They sold like hotcakes ... not like records! That was our joke; they never sold."
Special thanks to Steve Propes, Mark Cantor, Bob Halverson, Tony Fournier, Charlie Horner, Ray Funk, and Michael Dover.