Notebook Cover


By Marv Goldberg

© 2016 by Marv Goldberg

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: You know the old saying: "Be careful what you wish for". I spend a lot of space making fun of press agents and their absurd press releases. Not this time; I couldn't find a single article about the 4 Clefs. Other than one 1938 advertisement, and RCA session sheets, nothing ever gave all their names. They split into two groups in 1945, but I usually can't tell them apart because there are no names given. Nothing at all was ever written about them other than straight-forward one-liners telling where they were appearing. This is going to be a challenge.

A NOTE ON THE PHOTOS: Their names and what they played came from that same 1938 ad. Since they're all shown with their instruments in that photo, identification is a snap. Otherwise, other than Happy Green (who appears alone in one ad), I have to admit that I'm guessing at who's who. That's why the photos say "My guess is".]

Let's start with this: I like the 4 Clefs. I guess audiences did too; they were around for possibly 30 years in some form or other. For those of you who don't like long articles, here's a summary of their career: Almost all their appearances that I can find were limited to Illinois. (They had short engagements in Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania [but only Pittsburgh], as well as about a year in California in 1945-6. They never appeared in New York at all, certainly not at the Apollo.) There were a few scattered forays into radio, but nowhere near the number made by their contemporaries. They didn't appear in any movies, nor were they tapped for any Soundies. They really seemed to go out of their way to stay relatively anonymous. The only exception was that they recorded 41 songs for RCA Victor's Bluebird subsidiary in five sessions between 1939 and 1945 (all but two of those tunes being issued). While none of them ever made any charts, RCA kept re-releasing them up until 1959. The faint of heart can leave now.

The 4 Clefs began in Springfield, Illinois in the early 30s. The members were Melvin C. "Sonny" Chapman (bass and violin; born April 26, 1908), his brother, William Kenneth "Chappy/Chappie" Chapman (drums and vibes; born July 28, 1910), Johnny "Happy" Green (guitar; born September 26, 1907), and Jimmy Marshall (piano and organ; born around 1905). Since that 1938 ad is the only source of all the names (other than the RCA files), I don't know if this was the original line-up, although it probably was. (Both James T. Marshall and John R. Green were listed in the 1934 Springfield City Directory as musicians; the Chapman brothers were listed too, but without occupations. Interestingly, both James and John were married to women named Cleo.)

at The Tavern at the Maple Club The first trace of the group (as the misspelled "4 Cliffs") is a July 1934 ad showing them appearing at The Tavern, in Bloomington, Illinois. On December 28, they appeared at the Maple Club in Lincoln, Illinois (which had so few people in 1934 that the club's phone number was simply "76").

All was quiet for about a year, until the 4 Clefs ("a popular colored orchestra from Springfield") appeared at the Illinois College Junior Prom, held on December 13, 1935 at the New Dunlap Hotel in Jacksonville, Illinois. It was, the blurb said: "... one of the outstanding social events of the college year, a brilliant event that sparkled with the spirit of the approaching holiday season." The 4 Clefs "were placed on a fern banked orchestra stand in the hall room". Be still, my heart.

at Caroline's at The Maple Club In March 1936, they began a stay at Caroline's Club in Decatur, Illinois. However, the club, which had been a speakeasy in the days of prohibition, was destroyed by fire on July 28. With Caroline's in ashes, they returned to the Maple Club in Lincoln. The last week in December found them back at the rebuilt Caroline's. Note that many of the early ads refer to them as the "Four Clefs Orchestra".

May 2 to May 8, 1937 was designated as National Music Week, a Federal project (don't forget, the Great Depression was still raging). As far as local doings, "Observances are planned in the hospitals and welfare institutions of the city..."., said the Decatur Herald of April 22, 1937, "... at the Ann Rutledge home the Four Clefs have agreed to give a program".

The Four Clefs at Caroline's They were still at Caroline's on January 6, 1938, and the club's advertisement gives us our first look at the group, even if they were called the "Four Cleffs". (However, get used to the misspelling; it occurs often.) Actually, if it weren't for Caroline Knudsen (bless her), we wouldn't have any photos of the group in their early days.

at Kenney's Cafe at cottage Hills at Towne Tavern January 21 found them at the grand opening of Kenney's Cafe in Bedford, Indiana. On March 8, they were at the President Night Club in Alton, Illinois ("coming Thursday, Skeets & Frankie"). In July, they were at the Cottage Hills Club, also in Alton, and were described as an "all-string orchestra", although how drums, vibes, and piano qualify as strings is beyond me. Right after that, they ("The Four Cliffs Orchestra") went into the Towne Tavern in Alton. Also on the bill were "Skeets, the Golden Voiced Yodeler; Frankie, the Accordion Wizard; George, the Drummer". Laugh if you will, but I found more appearances for Skeets & Frankie in 1938 than for the 4 Clefs!

On September 15, they were the dinner entertainment at the South Side Country Club in Decatur. The event was called "Play Day", a golfing contest, followed by a chicken dinner.

A piece in the Decatur Herald (October 16, 1938) talks about Caroline's Club:

Caroline's ... is a spot that is modern of moderns. From all over the country offers come almost daily, tempting away the Negro musicians of the "Four Clefs" who have been the principal attraction of this place for two years. Led by "Chappy" Chapman, drummer and singer, this little band is capable of taking the most decorous hymn and turning it into something that sounds like a piece sired by Paul Whiteman, out of darkest Africa.

That is the music that Decatur likes well enough to pay for, day in and day out the year around. By and large, it is pretty good; a measure of slowly advancing standards through our whole population.

So, from this we find out that (1) the 4 Clefs, when they haven't been anywhere else, have probably been performing at Caroline's and (2) there was at least one columnist with the Decatur Herald who aspired to be the writer of award-winning purple prose.

ad for Caroline's The Four Clefs And now, think of your favorite R&B stars of the 1950s: the Orioles, the Ravens, the Flamingos, the 5 Keys, the Moonglows. What kinds of appearances did they make? There was the Chittlin' Circuit: a week here and there at the Apollo, the Royal, the Howard, the Earle, the Paradise, the Regal. And then it was off on a 342-cities-in-80-days tour. Contrast this with the announcement in the December 30, 1938 Decatur Daily Review: "Held Over Another Year By Popular Demand! - The Four Famous Clefs". This is the advertisement that finally gave their names.

All wasn't sweetness and light, however, Caroline's was in Long Creek Township, which in June 1939, voted to go "dry" (that is, not allow the sale of alcohol on the premises). But owners Peter and Caroline Knudsen quickly bought up another property outside of the Township and re-opened there, 4 Clefs and all. The old building was converted into the Harlem Club, which had no liquor license.

While all this was going on, the 4 Clefs had obtained a recording contract with Bluebird Records, an RCA Victor subsidiary and, in early June, they journeyed to Chicago for their first session. Whereas most acts recorded 4 songs in a 3-hour session, Bluebird cleared their schedule and the Clefs waxed 13 numbers on June 6, 1939, most, seemingly, in a single take: "Shanghai Honeymoon", "Down In My Heart", "You Tore Up My Heart", "Why Should I Care" (with vocal by Willie Chapman), "Hiding All My Cares", "Losing My Mind Over You", "Blue 'Lude No. 2", "Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet", "We Love To Swing", "Spo De O Dee", "Swanee River Swing", "The Jive Is Jumpin'" (with vocal by Willie Chapman), and "Blue Lude In C Sharp Major".

map So far, I don't believe they'd made a single appearance outside of Illinois. There had only been jobs in Bloomington, Jacksonville, Lincoln, Decatur, and Alton (and, I suppose, in Springfield). Interestingly, each of these is in a different county, so at least they got to travel a bit.

You Tore Up My Heart Shanghai Honeymoon In July, Bluebird released the first 4 Clefs record: "We Love To Swing"/"Losing My Mind Over You". This was followed, in August, by "You Tore Up My Heart"/"Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet". October's entry was "Shanghai Honeymoon" (with Jimmy Marshall playing the organ)/"Swanee River Swing".

On October 6, 1939, the 4 Clefs (an "orchestra from Caroline's club") performed for Decatur's Macon County Tuberculosis Sanitarium patients. "It was given on the lawn in front of the porches", said the October 10 Decatur Daily Review, "where the patients could hear from their beds".

Why Should I Care Hiding All My Cares In November, Bluebird issued "Why Should I Care", backed with the wonderful "The Jive Is Jumpin'". These were followed, in December, with "Hiding All My Cares"/"Blue Lude In C Sharp Major".

January 1940 saw Bluebird release the Clefs' sixth disc: "Down In My Heart"/"Spo De O Dee". Sometime in 1940, their first six records were reissued on the Montgomery Ward label, which purchased the rights to Victor and Bluebird masters (as well as those from other companies) to sell in their stores.

In July 1940, Bluebird issued "Blue 'Lude No. 2"/"New Shanghai Honeymoon". "New Shanghai Honeymoon" was actually Take 2 of the original "Shanghai Honeymoon", recorded at the same June 1939 session, but utilizing a very different arrangement.

On December 5, 1940, the 4 Clefs had their second Bluebird session, also held in Chicago. Not as robust as the first one, they still managed to lay down eight tracks: "Watching My Ships Go Drifting By", "Inspiration Of Love", "You'll Always Dwell In My Heart", "Returning", "I Guess I'll Be On My Way", "It's Heavenly", "Honey Dear (If I Were You)", and "Dig These Blues".

It's Heavenly Inspiration Of Love In February 1941, Bluebird released "Watching My Ships Go Drifting By"/"I Guess I'll Be On My Way", followed by "It's Heavenly"/"Dig These Blues" in March, "Inspiration Of Love"/"Honey Dear (If I Were You)" in April, and "Returning"/"You'll Always Dwell In My Heart" in May

4 Clefs - 1941 By this point, the 4 Clefs were doing well for themselves. So well, in fact, that each of them bought an Oldsmobile Cruiser. On July 12, 1941, when they took delivery, someone was there to photograph them with their new cars. Note that they have sequential license plates - 642 151, 642 152, 642 153, and 642 154. (At least I'm guessing that Happy Green's was 642 153; his plate has fallen off and is lying in front of the bumper.)

They were back in the Chicago studios on July 22 to record another eight tunes: "Blue Paradise", "I'm In Love With You", "I Must Have Been Dreaming", "Until I Return" (with a vocal by Willie Chapman), "Fair Enough", "These Blues Comes On", "I Like Pie, I Like Cake", and "Get Together".

A strange listing in the August 30, 1941 Billboard. February's "I Guess I'll Be On My Way" showed up in a column headed "Hillbilly and Foreign Record Hits of the Month". For some reason, they threw the 4 Clefs in with recordings by Gene Autry and the Tennessee Ramblers.

I'm In Love I Must Have Been Dreaming I Like Pie Blue Paradise Four more months; four more Bluebird releases: "I'm In Love With You"/"Fair Enough" in September; "I Must Have Been Dreaming"/"These Blues Comes On" in October; "Blue Paradise"/"Get Together" in November; and "I Like Pie, I Like Cake"/"Until I Return" in December. No one could say that Bluebird wasn't giving them every opportunity to succeed.

Frederick Brothers ad There was a big ad in the December 27, 1941 Billboard taken out by the Fredericks Brothers Agency of Chicago, the 4 Clefs' management and booking agents (as far as I can tell, the Clefs never had any other). The ad tells us that they also represented Red Saunders, Ernie Fields, Ethelene & The Variety Boys, and Walter Fuller (not listed was another up-and-coming client, Lawrence Welk).

On February 23, 1942, Bluebird held another session for the 4 Clefs. The eight songs they recorded that day were: "You're My Secret Desire", "When The Clouds Roll By", "My Tiny Bundle Of Love", "You Should Be Satisfied", "Take It And Git", "Love Has Come My Way", "Why Pretend", and "The Four Clefs Woogie". All had vocals by Willie Chapman, except "You're My Secret Desire" (vocal by Charlie MacBride), "Take It And Git" (with multiple voices), and "The Four Clefs Woogie" (an instrumental, with Theodore Roosevelt Marshall on piano).

The Four Clefs I have no idea who Charlie MacBride is; his name appears on the label as the vocalist on "You're My Secret Desire", but he isn't associated with the 4 Clefs on any other occasion. Was he just a vocalist or did he also play an instrument? Was he part of the group or only used at that session? Also, did Theodore Roosevelt Marshall replace Jimmy Marshall for this one session or was he a permanent replacement? Again, I have no idea. I can't track people with either name reliably enough to say that they were the ones in the 4 Clefs. (Of course, it's possible that James T. Marshall was James Theodore Roosevelt Marshall, but I can't find any corroboration of that. A couple of the tunes feature an organ rather than a piano. Jimmy Marshall played both, but that's not really proof that he and T.R. are the same person.) Photos continued to show Jimmy Marshall.

Take It And Git Bluebird released "Take It And Git"/"You're My Secret Desire" in March 1942. Also in March (from at least the 27th through May 30), the 4 Clefs had a radio show. They came right after Xavier Cugat and Harry James, and right before Artie Shaw and the Ink Spots. (The listing only shows up in Amarillo, Texas papers, so there's a possibility that it's a different 4 Clefs group, but it's probably ours.)

Bluebird ad Why Pretend May's Bluebird record release was "Why Pretend"/"My Tiny Bundle Of Love". The record was reviewed in the June 7 Richmond, Virginia Times Dispatch:

The Four Clefs (Bluebird) that West Coast vocal group [???], scores another hit with their version of "Why Pretend". It swings along easily with the piano carrying the melody until William Chapman sings and then comes vocadance treatment that's different but pleasing. Companion piece, "My Tiny Bundle Of Love", is more on the ballad side and the accompaniment is supplied by a Hammond electric organ. The group is fairly new to the wax works, but a platter like this and their previous "Someone's Rocking My Dreamboat", should put their discs on the best-seller list. [The reviewer has obviously gotten them confused with Dusty Brooks' Four Tones.]

at the Maples at The Maples The July 28, 1942 Afro-American reported that "The Four Clefs will follow Stuff Smith into the loop Garrick theater bar [Garrick Stage Bar] late this month, marking their first Chicago date in some time". (I've never run across any up until now.) In Early August, however, they were at the Maples in Peru, Illinois; it turned out that Stuff Smith was held over for an additional month, and there's no indication that the 4 Clefs ever got to play the Garrick. The ad in the August 6 Bloomington, Illinois Pantagraph said "In musical presentations that will surpass anything you've heard before. If you've heard their Victor records, come now and see them in person. An attraction that we unconditionally guarantee". They were still there at the end of August.

Bluebird ad When The Clouds Roll By The Four Clefs at the Buvette Another Bluebird release in September: "When The Clouds Roll By"/"The Four Clefs Woogie". Later that month, they moved into the Buvette Nite club in Rock Island, Illinois. "Only recently", went the ad, "was this foursome made available for personal appearances. [Really? They'd been appearing for at least eight years!] The Buvette [is] one of the first establishments to book this unit. Record crowds are turning out to see these four record makers". Could F. Scott Fitzgerald have turned these phrases more charmingly?

The October 4, 1942 Richmond, Virginia Times Dispatch had a review of their latest record:

The Four Clefs (Bluebird) really dig in on a fast-moving boogie number they call "Four Clefs Woogie". The hot honors go to Theodore Roosevelt Marshall for the fancy figures on the piano, and combined [with] some smart rhythm work, it makes a swell groove item. The other sides [sic] of the disc offers "When The Clouds Roll By", with an impressive vocal by Bill Chapman and an electric organ providing a unique background.

at the Lido They may have remained at the Buvette for the rest of the year, but by January 1943, they'd transferred to the Club Lido, in South Bend, Indiana. This is the first instance I can find of them appearing outside of Illinois.

Also in January, Universal Pictures released "How's About It", starring Shemp Howard, Mary Wickes, the Buddy Rich Orchestra, and the Andrews Sisters. No, the 4 Clefs weren't in it, but the Andrews Sisters sang "Take It and Git" (which had also been recorded in a wonderful version by Andy Kirk & His Clouds Of Joy in 1942). Since the song had been composed by William Chapman, Mel Chapman, James T. Marshall, and Johnny Green, the guys must have picked up a few bucks.

February 1943 found them back on familiar turf: the White City Club in Springfield Then, they had another radio show that ran from March 10 to May 26. This one is only listed in Oakland, California newspapers and, as before, I can't swear it's the same group (although given the sheer volume of Bluebird records that had been released, I believe it is). The May 22, 1943 Billboard mentioned that they'd been held over again at the White City Club.

The Billboard issue of July 3 had an article entitled "Brewery Promotes Juke Box Play By Passing Out Coins". It turns out that Brewmaster's Special Beer was popular in Cleveland. To promote the product, the company was handing out cards and nickels (to be used to play "Harlem Hit Tunes" on juke boxes). The card read: "The management suggests that you listen to these hit tunes on the music box while enjoying Brewmaster's Special Beer, etc." (Beats me what "etc" was supposed to mean in that sentence.) Songs that were supposed to be played included the Ink Spots' "Can't Stand Losing You" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", the 4 Vagabonds' "Rose Ann Of Charing Cross", Charlie Barnet's "Oh, Miss Jackson", Ella Fitzgerald's "Cabin In The Sky", Billy Daniels' "Diane", Buddy Johnson's "Let's Beat Out Some Love", and the 4 Clefs' "Dig These Blues".

They wound up their White City engagement on July 19, and then, according to the Billboard blurb of July 17, they were due to "head westward". It went on to say "White City, incidentally, will give up its live entertainment policy for a spell." I'm not sure I want to know what happened there.

at the Lakeside In spite of Billboard saying that they were going to head westward, they actually headed eastward, opening at the Lakeside Club in Decatur, Illinois on July 20 (the ad referred to them as the "Four Clefts", quickly changed it to the "Four Cleffs", and finally settled down to the "Four Clefs"). The Lakeside (spelled "Lake Side" in some ads) was a restaurant that had recently (July 3) been sold and re-opened as a nightclub. For about a month, ads claimed that the 4 Clefs were "Your Old Favorites", but, since entertainment there was a recent development, that really meant "everyone in Decatur knows who the Four Clefs are". They'd remain at the Lakeside through late October.

New to the 4 Clefs was a female singer (there'd be a couple over the years). Right now, it was Gladys Angelette (misspelled as "Angioletti" in all the Lakeside's 1943 ads). She'd recently been with the Earl Hines Orchestra, and Eddie McCants' before that. (She was born in 1914 in Louisiana and was a "night club singer" in Chicago in the 1940 census.)

at the Lakeside A blurb in the Billboard 1943 Yearbook (unknown late 1943 printing date) had a press release (albeit a tame one) from their management company, Frederick Brothers: "One of the best known colored cocktail groups which has to its credit 38 Victor records [they meant "recordings"] plus prominent cocktail lounge and theater engagements. They hold a top spot in the business because of their strong comedy arrangements and individual four-way vocals. [No, I don't know what that means.] One of their latest recordings Take It And Git was featured by the Andrews Sisters in their recent Universal picture How's About It? They are continuing their long date at the Lakeside Club, Decatur, Ill. Managed by Frederick Brothers' Music Corporation."

Finally, another trip out of Illinois: they opened at the Flame Club, in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 1, 1943. After that, they were booked into the Beachcomber, Omaha, Nebraska, on December 25. I think the traveling bug has finally bitten them.

Certainly the traveling bug had bitten William "Chappy" Chapman. On January 21, 1944 he joined the U.S. Navy, remaining in service until December 5, 1945. His replacement was drummer Jack Martin.

at the Lakeside at the Lakeside Soon after Chappy left, on February 1, 1944, the 4 Clefs were back at the Lakeside Club in Decatur, remaining until June 9. The club's April 14 through May 25 ads mentioned that they featured "Lill" Christenson, torch singer, who seems to exist nowhere else. (It's tempting to think she's the Lillian Christensen of Springfield, but that lady was a white nurses' aide.)

On August 26, 1944, Musician 3rd Class William Chapman (subsequently promoted to Musician 2nd Class) turned up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (site of the U.S. Navy's aviation Pre-Flight School). He was now the drummer and vocalist in the 4 Clefs, part of a local Navy orchestra called the Pre-Flight Band and was referred to as "formerly one of the original Four Clefs". The other members were George Roberts (piano), Jasper W. Allen (bass), and James H. Brown (guitar). They were the subject of an article in the August 12, 1944 issue of Cloudbuster, the newspaper of the Navy Pre-Flight School.

the Navy 4 Clefs The Cloudbuster article claimed that pianist George Roberts was another original member. Since it went out of its way to mention that "half of the original Four Clefs are now in the Navy ... and the other half still hold forth in civilian ranks. Both have made the needed replacements so today there are two groups - one for civilian consumption and one for the Navy. In the original outfit and now stationed here are William Chapman, who plays the drums in the above photo, and George Roberts, who is pictured at the piano. Both hail from Springfield,, Ill." This sounds accurate (as long as we're forgiving of the word "original") and would mean that, at some point, George Roberts had replaced Jimmy Marshall (or, possibly, Theodore Roosevelt Marshall).

George Riley Roberts (November 3, 1917 - March 6, 2007) was born in Champaign, Illinois, but when he and Leo Hickman copyrighted "Everything Else But You" on March 8, 1947, he was living in Springfield. Jasper Ward Allen (January 25, 1899 - March 29, 1995), the article said, "came into the Navy via Kansas City, and played in the Wee Willie Smith band at Great Lakes [Naval Station, near Chicago]." James Brown "worked with Artie Starks' Walkathon Band at Chicago [February 1941] and also with Chuck Logan". Other than a couple of mentions of them playing for dances, there was nothing else ever written about them (however, this was a more extensive piece than anything ever printed about the civilian 4 Clefs).

at the Melody Club In September and October, the civilian 4 Clefs went into the Melody Club in Peoria, Illinois, but they were back at the Lakeside on December 5, remaining until the end of January 1945. Gladys Angelette was back with them (this time misspelled as "Angeletti"; the Lakeside finally got it right in their December 20th ad).

at the Lakeside Not only did they open at the Lakeside on December 5, they also started a 15-minute radio program over WSOY (at 10:15 every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday). The Decatur Herald of that date said "For years, the dusky Clefs have been one of the favorite music-making groups of Decaturians."

Love Has Come My Way Bluebird hadn't forgotten the guys, releasing "Love Has Come My Way"/"You Should Be Satisfied" that same month. Billboard reviewed them on January 13, 1945: "Comprising piano, string bass, guitar and drums, these Four Clefs pound out an orthodox brand of music that carries not a single design of distinction. Nor does William Chapman's singing of his own songs rise above the unit's mill-run level. It's matter-of-factly playing that doesn't reach beyond the efforts of the pick-up combos at the cocktaileries. Love Has Come My Way is a rhythm ballad while You Should Be Satisfied is a sentimental piece for which the organ replaces piano in the set-up. Nothing in the songs or their playing that arrests any degree of attention. Nothing here for the music ops, save tor those servicing the race locations where the Four Clefs may manifest some degree of following." Ouch.

at the Lakeside A blurb in the Billboard 1944 Yearbook (unknown late 1944 printing date) repeated some of 1943's text: "This well-known colored quartet has to its credit 38 Victor-Bluebird records plus prominent cocktail lounge and theater engagements. They hold one of the spots ["top" was presumably omitted] in the field because of their strong comedy arrangements and individual four-way vocals. [No, I still don't know what that means.] One of their numbers, Take It And Git, was featured by the Andrews Sisters in the Universal picture How's About It? They've just wound up a 20-week engagement at the Melody Club in Peoria, Ill. Managed by Frederick Brothers' Agency". Not an awful lot of care or thought went into this re-write of the bland original.

In mid-February 1945, they opened at the Show Bar in Evansville, Indiana. The engagement was to last for four weeks, after which they were due to abandon the Midwest and head for the Last Word in Hollywood in late March. That opening was mentioned in the April 21, 1945 Billboard.

The Four Clefs But before all that, there was one more trip to Chicago, where they recorded their final four tunes on February 26. (Since it had been three years since their last session, it's possible that this was the result of a new contract.) By now, their pianist was Adam Cato (born in Louisiana on December 10, 1910; he'd die in San Diego on December 8, 1980). The line-up (as given in the RCA files) was: Adam Cato (piano), Melvin "Sonny" Chapman (bass), Johnny "Happy" Green (guitar), and Jack Martin (drums). The tunes were: "Lakeside Jump" (although never released, this was their tribute to the Lakeside Club), "V-Day Stomp" (vocal by Johnny Green), "When I'm Low I Get High" (vocal by Jack Martin), and "Why Be So Blue" (vocal by Gladys Angelette).

ad for V-Day Stomp V-Day Stomp In April, Bluebird issued "V-Day Stomp"/"Why Be So Blue". However, Bluebird was in the throes of being discontinued and the sides were also released on Victor that same month.

The April 6, 1945 St. Paul Recorder mentioned that: "George Roberts, former Four Clefs member, played a couple of numbers with the band (he was at the piano)." It's unclear from the blurb exactly where he played and with what band. He was on leave from the Navy at that time. (He'd be out, and performing on his own, by January 1946.)

at the Melody Mill And then, disintegration set in. The July 17, 1945 Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois) had an ad for the Melody Mill, featuring "Sonny Chapman, The Original Four Cleff [sic] And His Dance Band". (According to the September 22, 1945 Billboard, "Melvin Chapman, ex-bassman with the Four Clefs, has his own trio".) It was a long-term engagement; by October, the credit read "Sonny Chapman, The Original 4 Cleff [sic] and His Recording Orchestra"; in December, it was "Sonny Chapman's Band". My feeling is that Sonny was content with just playing local gigs, didn't want to travel to California, and left the group soon after their February 26 Bluebird session.

A December 11 ad said "Sonny Chapman's Band, Featuring Martha And Dee Artis at the microphone". However, by the last week of the engagement, it had been amended to "Martha De Artis at the microphone". I'm not sure if there were two singers named Artis with the band, or possibly she was "Martha D. Artis". Martha was a pianist as well as a singer. We'll meet her again later in an interesting context. Note that after this engagement, there's never another mention of Sonny Chapman.

Happy Green Happy's 4 Clefs Meanwhile, the 4 Clefs (now "Happy Green and His Four Clefs") with their new bassist (whoever he might have been) had abandoned the Last Word in Hollywood for Eddie's in San Diego, where they opened in August 1945. [Just to show you what I go through, did you know there was a color called "happy green" that shows up in many, many, many advertisements?] In October, they opened at the Club Savoy in San Francisco, making $650 per week (with options that could raise it to $900). Billboard said (October 27, 1945): "The Clefs record for Victor and disk deal helps call for better dough." Little did they know that there'd be no further recording sessions for Victor.

But ignorance is bliss: the February 2, 1946 Billboard reported that Happy Green's 4 Clefs had returned to Eddie's San Diego club at $900 a week. When they'd played there the prior August, it had been for $650. Before the Clefs returned, Eddie's had been paying local groups $300. The blurb concluded with, once again, "Outfit records for Victor, and disking probably added up for some extra patronage."

at Eddie's Mary De Pina A Frederick Brothers ad in the March 16, 1946 Billboard says that "Happy Green and His Cleffs [sic] Featuring Mary De Pina" had been held over at Eddie's. However, when that gig was through, Happy and the gang returned home (after spending a bit over a year in California) and Mary hooked up with the Monte Easter Orchestra, releasing "Boogie Woogie Man"/"I Love My Man" on Aladdin.

at the Maples Billboard noted on June 8, 1946 that "Johnny Burns Trio and the Four Clefs started at Colonial Inn, Paterson [New Jersey]". However, this was a different group, because the 4 Clefs ("Famed Victor Recording Artists in person") spent all of June 1946 at The Maples in Peru, Illinois. However (just to keep me from becoming too complacent), the June 8 Billboard said: "Walter Fuller band will open at Eddie's Cafe, San Diego, replacing Happy Green and the Four Clefs. Green goes back to Chi's La Salle Hotel at $700 a week." So who's where? Beats me. I'm willing to believe that the Colonial Inn group has nothing to do with our story, but The Maples and La Salle groups are more problematic. (There are several ads for The Maples, but Happy Green's name isn't mentioned in them. The most probable explanation is that Happy's group was playing Chicago's La Salle (although I can't find any ads for them) and Sonny Chapman had a different group playing The Maples.)

at the Dells Surviving that mess, "Happy Green And His Four Cleffs" were at the Mackinaw Dells, Bloomington, Illinois, starting July 27, 1946 and lasting until August 10.

with Martha Artis August 31 and September 1 found the 4 Clefs and Martha Artis at The Old Pioneer in Lake Fork, Illinois.

Dig These Blues In December 1946, for some reason, RCA Victor re-released "Dig These Blues", paired with "I Miss You So" by the Cats And The Fiddle. This combination would be issued again in 1955.

at the Lakeside at the Lakeside January 1947 found the 4 Clefs back at the Lakeside in Decatur. They were there from at least January 21 through February 14, returning on April 1. The March 27 Lakeside ad assured us that it was "Happy Green And His Clefs With The Torch Singer Gladys Angelette Direct From Hollywood". At least they spelled her name correctly.

4 Clefs with Martha Artis Martha Artis the Bullet record Willie "Chappy" Chapman had gotten out of the Navy on December 5, 1945 and, he became part of brother Sonny's group. In 1947 they recorded a couple of tunes for Jim Bulleit's Nashville-based Bullet label. Released in April 1946, "The First Thing In The Morning" featured a vocal by Chappy and "Am I Still Your Baby" was led by Martha Artis, who, it seems, had stayed with Sonny's group. Note that a photo from this period is the only one that I've encountered showing any 4 Clefs group with a female singer.

The Bullet disc was reviewed in the May 10, 1947 issue of Billboard: "This Nashville label has come up with a potent cocktail group in Chappy Chapman's Four Clefs. Group, unlike most of the small sepia units currently getting shellac attention, is precise and clean musically as well as vocally. Combo features two guitars, bass and piano and on First Thing, the fronter [Chappy, the lead singer] tenors his way thru an original tune that is better than the average hit ditty. Flipover features Martha Artis in another original, which is just average in melody and lyrics. This quartet may hit paydirt in ofay [white] as well as sepia locations. The First Thing pushes the Four Clefs stock up 100 per cent."

A 4 Clefs group played a benefit at the Friendship Fire House (Linwood, Pennsylvania, west of Philadelphia) on October 11. There seem to have been several 4 Clefs aggregations operating in Pennsylvania and Ohio; this was one of them and has no further relation to our story.

at the Blue Mill By mid-November the 4 Clefs were playing the Blue Mill Restaurant in Decatur and also had a 15-minute radio show on WSOY originating from the Blue Mill. The Clefs remained there at least through New Year's Eve.

All Girl Ork At least I know for sure that the 4 Clefs who appeared at some venues in Connelsville, Pennsylvania (southeast of Pittsburgh) in early 1948 were a different group. The ad describes them as an "All Girl Orchestra".

Martha Artis Somewhere along the way, Martha Artis had deserted the 4 Clefs. She appeared at the Melody Mill in late June 1948: "Intermission Music by Martha Artis, Vocalist, Direct from 4-Cliffs [sic] Recording Band".

There was another 4 Clefs group that appeared at the Surf Lounge in Binghamton, New York in September 1948. Once again, no relation.

at the Glass Hat In November 1948, RCA Victor re-released two old 4 Clefs' tunes: "Why Pretend", coupled with "Why Should I Care". This coincided with their appearance at the Glass Hat in East St. Louis, Illinois.

Elmyra and Nate Swanee A December 25, 1948 blurb in the New York Age said that "The 'Four Clefs' are back at Lloyds Pine Room [Newark, New Jersey], knocking all of their patrons out with their renditions of bop plus classical entertainment; also featured are Nat Brown and Elmyra LeGrand, vocalists." All I could find out about Elmyra LeGrand is that she came from Nova Scotia. Nat (actually "Nate") Brown was a singer from Newark. The New York Age on January 22, 1949 said "Nate Brown, the ballad singer, is permanently on at Lloyd's Manor". Sometime in 1950 the 4 Cleffs [sic] had a record on Newark's Coleman label. Nate Brown does the lead on "Swanee River"; the flip, "Get Happy", is an instrumental. (The sides were re-issued on Savoy in June 1951,) This is, once again, a totally different group that only appeared in northern New Jersey.

This isn't going to simplify my life: The January 22, 1949 New York Age said: "COMBO MIX-UPS - Because the name 'Four Clefs' is owned by the former sax man with that combo, the new group cannot use it." Finally, we're getting down to my favorite kind of blurb: the totally useless one. Who was the "former sax man" and who is the "new group"? Well, that same issue had another article entitled "Fifty New 'Combos' Blossom In Newark". One of the combos named was Joe Manning and His Clefs, who were appearing at the Mombasi Club. "The new groups are trying to offer some new angles ... for instance the Clefs have vibes and piano only, no sax and no reeds." (All I know is he's not the 104 year old Joe Manning, Civil War veteran, who was also in the news at that time.) Looks like they're talking about two Newark groups battling it out for the name.

at Forkeyville at Tiny's A more familiar 4 Clefs were appearing at Tiny's, in Du Quoin, Illinois, from at least February 4, 1949 through the 22nd. They were there nightly, and, as the ad points out, they did a radio broadcast from the club each Tuesday, from 5:15 to 5:30 over WMIX. On May 8, they started at the Forkeyville Nite Club in Alton; they were still being advertised on May 20.

Note that after Happy Green's 1947 stint at the Lakeside, his name never again appears as leader of a 4 Clefs group. It's possible that Happy and Sonny combined their groups, but there are no further mentions of members.

Definitely not related were the 4 Cleffs who were at Flory's Melody Bar in Niagara Falls on February 14. Then there's the 4 Clefs who appeared at St. Ann's A. A. in Bristol, Pennsylvania (in the eastern part of the state) on April 30, 1950, along with Al Martino. The ad said "Brass And String Ensemble With Solid Arrangements With A Double Time Rhythm". The group featured sax player Joe Turner and is, once again, unrelated.

[Trust me, I'm as confused as you are at this point. It seems like some malevolent force is creating 4 Clefs groups at random, just to see how long I can keep my sanity.]

at Tiny's I Guess In May 1950, the 4 Clefs were back at Tiny's, in Du Quoin, Illinois. In August, RCA Victor re-issued two more old 4 Clefs tunes: "I Guess I'll Be On My Way" and "You Tore Up My Heart".

at Larry's September 1950 found "The Original 'Four Clefs' - Victor Recording Artists - You've heard them on records ... Now hear them in PERSON!" appearing at Larry's Fairway in Bloomington, Illinois. They were there from at least September 24 through October 7.

I can tell you with confidence that the 4 Clefs who appeared in Sterling, Illinois in March 1951 were a different group. The members were Ronald Ricklefs, Raymond Ricklefs, Bob Baither, and Jim Smith, all of whom were white. Another white 4 Clefs group was the one fronted by saxman Johnny Powell in New Philadelphia, Ohio; their female singer was Peggy Palmer.

Dig These Blues And, once again, RCA Victor reached into its vaults to reissue a couple of old 4 Clefs' tunes in February 1952. This time they were "Dig These Blues" and "Four Clefs' Woogie" (which had originally been spelled "The Four Clefs Woogie"). In spite of the age of these songs ("Dig These Blues" was from 1940), they both got good reviews.

The 4 Clefs were back at the Blue Mill, in Decatur, on March 22, 1952. I have no idea who's in the group at this point. As I said above, I don't even know if Happy and Sonny had separate groups anymore. The 4 Clefs spent the entire month of May 1952 (Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays) at Benya's Supper Club in Nokomis, Illinois.

On April 9, 1953, James T. Marshall , "a former member of the Four Clefs Orchestra" died at the age of 48. In 1948, he was listed in the Springfield City Directory as running the Casanova Club Billiard Parlor.

The Four Clefs On March 10 through 14, 1954, the 4 Clefs, "Victory [sic] Recording Stars" appeared at the Rod & Gun Club in Bloomington, Illinois. Another 4 Clefs appeared in Hazleton on April 30, 1954. That's in Eastern Pennsylvania, so I'm guessing that it's a totally different group.

at the Bali Kea However, a February 25, 1955 ad for the Bali Kea in Pittsburgh characterizes the "Four Cleffs" [sic] as "TV and Recording Stars! Direct from Chicago's Band Box"; this has to be what's left of our 4 Clefs (even though the ad called them The Country's Newest Entertaining Artists").

You wouldn't think it, but they (whoever they were) were still around in 1959. A blurb from the Galesburg Register (Galesburg, Illinois) of May 21, 1959 talks about a banquet for the new officers of the Farmington Alumni Association. "The Four Cleffs of Springfield played for dancing". Note that, in 1959, there was also a Country & Western group called the 4 Clefs that appeared on Roy Acuff's "Open House" TV show.

And, they were still being supported by RCA Victor, which, in September 1959, released an EP with four ancient cuts by the Clefs: "Dig These Blues", "Take It And Git", "Why Should I Care?", and "The Four Clefs Woogie".

In February 1960, our old friend Martha Artis was performing at the Lamp Post Bar in Milwaukee. After one set, she was arrested for accepting a drink from a customer. It turned out that Milwaukee had a B-girl ordinance to stop prostitution and it prohibited female employees from sitting at the bar. Martha appealed the arrest (even though the fine involved was only $1). However, she lost the appeal by a 6-1 decision. She was still appearing in Milwaukee in 1981.

I can easily tell you that the 4 Cleffs that appeared at the Broomall in Chester, Pennsylvania in 1960 was a different group. The ad claimed that they were formerly "4 Of A Kind"

The last time the 4 Clefs name came up was in a blurb in the January 5, 1963 Billboard. It said "The Four Cleffs has snared a 12-week extension of their run at Johnny's Cottman Cafe [Philadelphia]." I suppose they meant "Johnny Cottman's Cafe", but, since they have nothing to do with our 4 Clefs, I really don't care.

Happy Green & Betty Jean In 1961, Johnny "Happy" Green teamed up with his wife, Betty Jean, to form a duo which was known as either "Happy Green & Betty Jean" or "Betty Jean & Happy Green". They played venues in Illinois and Iowa through 1969.

Of the original group, Jimmy Marshall died on April 9, 1953; William "Chappy" Chapman on August 14, 1961; Melvin "Sonny" Chapman on July 28, 1980; and Johnny "Happy" Green in February 1985.

I wish I could say that, after all my digging, I know a lot more about the 4 Clefs than I did before. However, not only wouldn't you believe me, I wouldn't even believe me. If it weren't for their large number of Bluebird recordings and their one trip to the West Coast, I'd have to characterize the 4 Clefs as strictly a local act that never made the Big Time.


8195 We Love To Swing/Losing My Mind Over You - 7/39
            Rereleased on Montgomery Ward 8531 in 1940
8232 You Tore Up My Heart/Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet - 8/39
            Rereleased on Montgomery Ward 8532 in 1940
8281 Shanghai Honeymoon/Swanee River Swing - 10/39
            Rereleased on Montgomery Ward 8533 in 1940
8297 Why Should I Care/The Jive Is Jumpin' - 11/39
            Rereleased on Montgomery Ward 8534 in 1940
8311 Hiding All My Cares/Blue Lude In C Sharp Major - 12/39
            Rereleased on Montgomery Ward 8535 in 1940
8332 Down In My Heart/Spo De O Dee - 1/40
            Rereleased on Montgomery Ward 8536 in 1940
8484 Blue 'Lude No. 2/New Shanghai Honeymoon - 7/40
8624 Watching My Ships Go Drifting By/I Guess I'll Be On My Way - 2/41
8655 It's Heavenly/Dig These Blues - 3/41
8670 Inspiration Of Love/Honey Dear (If I Were You) - 4/41
8690 Returning/You'll Always Dwell In My Heart - 5/41
8809 I'm In Love With You/Fair Enough - 9/41
8832 I Must Have Been Dreaming/These Blues Comes On - 10/41
8859 Blue Paradise/Get Together - 11/41
8884 I Like Pie, I Like Cake/Until I Return - 12/41
11492 Take It And Git/You're My Secret Desire - 3/42
11541 Why Pretend/My Tiny Bundle Of Love - 5/42
11587 When The Clouds Roll By/The Four Clefs Woogie - 9/42
34-0719 Love Has Come My Way/You Should Be Satisfied - 12/44
34-0726 V-Day Stomp/Why Be So Blue - 4/45
            Rereleased on Victor 20-1656, also in April 1945, since Bluebird was discontinued

      Lakeside Jump (recorded 02/26/45)
      When I'm Low I Get High (recorded 02/26/45)

20-2072 Dig These Blues/[I Miss You So - Cats And The Fiddle] - 12/46
            Rereleased on RCA Victor 447-0077 in 1955

BULLET (Chappy Chapman's group)
268 The First Thing In The Morning (voc Chappy Chapman)/Am I Still Your Baby (Voc Martha Artis) - 4/47

20-3234 Why Pretend/Why Should I Care - 11/48
22-0098 I Guess I'll Be On My Way/You Tore Up My Heart - 8/50
47-4507 Four Clefs' Woogie/Dig These Blues - 2/52
EPA-5119 Dig These Blues/Take It And Git//Why Should I Care?/The Four Clefs Woogie - 9/59

COLEMAN (4 Cleffs - a different, unrelated group)
109 Swanee River {voc Nate Brown}/Get Happy - 50
            Rereleased on Savoy 792 in June 1951

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