[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I finally got my wish: a group that's easy to research because its name doesn't pop up hundreds of times in irrelevant contexts. The bad news? Read on.]
The Beale Street Boys were a Really Big Deal. And then they weren't. By June 1934, it would have been hard to turn on the radio without encountering the Beale Street Boys at some time during the day. They blazed on the scene almost overnight; and they faded just as quickly (although lingering on for almost 20 more years). There was precious little written about them in their heyday, and next to nothing after that. (In case you think their 1948 records were important, of the 808 newspaper references to the group that I have access to, 735 of them were from 1934.) I always see the same four names associated with the group, but of course it's never as simple as that. Let's begin.
Hal Hiatt's Beale Street Boys appeared at a dance in Freeport, Illinois on August 5, 1921. Now that I've mentioned them, let's bid a fond farewell to Hal and the guys (I have no idea who they were, but they've finished their part in our story).
Next came [Gus] Cannon and [Hosea] Woods, The Beale Street Boys, who made a couple of records for Brunswick around 1929. Once again, they have no part in our drama except to acknowledge their existence.
Well, so much for the easy part. Now comes "our" Beale Street Boys. The original four were Willie Barnes (first tenor and guitar), Bob Davis (second tenor), James Pugh (baritone), and his brother (but not his twin brother), David Pugh (bass). Amazingly, several articles from 1934 not only named the group's members, but always got their names correct! (That happens so infrequently that I considered it worthy of mention; a sad commentary on the accuracy of press agents and blurb writers.)
There was an article in the June 16, 1934 Baltimore Afro-American, which had lots to say about them. (At that time, they'd been on the Columbia Broadcasting System's national radio network for about five weeks.) They'd started with a twice-a-week 15-minute CBS radio show (which grew to just about daily in the ensuing months) and were also heard on Fats Waller's Harlem Serenade on Tuesday Evenings. So far, no problems. [Note that, in an amazing coincidence, a January 19, 2016 CBS Radio press release said, in part: "Dave Pugh has been named Senior Vice President/Market Manager and Director of Sales of CBS RADIO Phoenix...." Different guy.]
The Afro-American article goes on to say how they'd been part of a 35-voice choir at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. "... two were waiters, one a floor boy [an errand boy], and the fourth a bus boy." At least some of this is true. In the 1930 census, David Pugh said he was a waiter in a hotel and James Pugh said he was a cook. Bob Davis was still in Mississippi in 1930 and I was unable to find any 1930 records for Willie Barnes (also from Mississippi). When the choir disbanded, said the article, the four stayed together and got a show on local CBS affiliate, WREC. (The "Beale Street Boys" don't show up in WREC program listings and I don't believe that they called themselves by that name until they came to New York; however, no blurb states what their original name was). [As an educated guess, I would say that the choir they were part of would have sung in the lobby of the Peabody during the 1933 Christmas season. Note that the Peabody Hotel was big into gimmicks. This was (and still is) the home of the famous "Peabody Ducks" that live in a penthouse apartment and take an elevator to the lobby each day at 11:00 AM to the delight of the guests.]
The article continues with how they were discovered by Morton Downey, Sr. (the voice that most influenced Bill Kenny of the Ink Spots), who heard them when he was in Memphis for a vaudeville engagement. Is this true? It could be; he appeared in Memphis on January 11, 1934.
According to the writer of the article, they arrived in New York on a Wednesday, auditioned on Thursday, signed with CBS the same day, and were on the air Saturday night, as guests on Morton Downey's "Studio Party" radio show on WABC, then part of the Columbia Broadcasting System. This part could be true. May 5, 1934 was a Saturday and, as we'll see later on, Bob Davis claimed (in 1949) that the "Beale Street Boys" name was first used on that date.
This both sets the time of their arrival in New York and, once again, leads me to question whether they were called the "Beale Street Boys" while in Memphis. Thanks to Philip Beauchamp, who interviewed David Pugh in the 1980s, we learn that they were originally called the Peabody Hotel Quartet (or Peabody Quartet). Using that as a starting point, I found the following in the May 12, 1934 Baltimore Afro-American: "Did you hear the Peabody quartet, when it appeared with Morton Downey the other evening? The members are sepia, of course, and hail from Memphis and the Hotel Peabody. Morton Downey heard them when he played the Orpheum in that town." This cements the May 5, 1934 date, although they were still called the Peabody Quartet. It's possible that Downey referred to them on the air as "the Beale Street boys" and they decided to keep that name, rather than the more old-fashioned "Peabody Quartet". However, the first mention of them on the air (Wednesday, May 9, 6:45 PM, WABC) was as the Peabody Quartet [some listings called them the "Peabody Brothers" or "Peabody Brothers Quartet"]). The first mention of the Beale Street Boys was in the May 16 Bennington (Vermont) Evening Banner (they were on WABC at 10:45), although some papers continued to call them the "Peabody [Brothers] Quartet" through the end of May.
A Memphian named George Washington Lee had recently written a widely-read novel called "Beale Street: Where The Blues Began". It would, in July 1934, have the distinction of being the first book by a black writer offered by the Book Of The Month Club. This put the phrase "Beale Street" in everyone's mind and probably led to the group choosing a name based on it. Strangely, at this time, only blacks called it "Beale Street"; it was actually named "Beale Avenue" and wasn't officially changed until the early 1950s.
The Afro-American article concludes with this rousing paragraph: "All four attended LeMoyne College, at Memphis, for a time, and all three, James Pugh being the exception, played on the college football team. Dave Pugh and Davis played ends and Barnes right guard, having won their varsity letters." Those of you who read my articles know how amused I am by press agent puffery, but this went too far, even for me. The Pugh brothers and Willie Barnes were all drafted in World War 2 and had to fill out papers giving, among other things, education. David said that he'd had one year of college (could he have gotten a varsity letter? I know next to nothing about sports, so I'll leave that one to you), James told the draft board that he'd had three years of high school, and Willie had only gone to grammar school. Although not drafted, Bob Davis said, in the 1940 census, that he'd only had one year of high school. So much for their brilliant college football careers.
Here are short biographies of the four members:
VASSAR DAVID PUGH (bass) was born on August 25, 1911 in Memphis and died on April 18, 2000 in New York. He and brother James were the oldest of the 13 children of minister James Henry Pugh, Sr. and Annie Cooper Pugh. In 1930, he was a waiter in a hotel. Drafted on January 20, 1944, his draft papers said that he was married, a musician, had had a year of college, was born in Tennessee, was living in Philadelphia, and had entered the army in Los Angeles. Although he never appeared in Beale Street Boys photos with any instrument, his later career was as a bass player.
JAMES HENRY PUGH, Jr. (baritone) was born in Memphis on August 4, 1913 and died on September 8, 2005 in New York. In 1930, he was a cook in a hotel. Drafted on February 20, 1943, his draft papers say that he's single, six feet tall, born in Tennessee, living in New York, and a "showman". He'd had three years of high school.
WILLIE CORNELIUS BARNES (first tenor, guitarist, and arranger) was born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi on January 29, 1914 and died November 18, 1989. (Although he had lived in Queens, New York for years, he moved to Memphis near the end of his life.) Drafted on August 29, 1942, his draft papers show that he was single, born in Mississippi, living in Brooklyn, 5' 10" tall, and in the class of "music teachers and musicians". He had attended grammar school only. The army seems to have agreed with Willie: by the time he returned from Germany on January 23, 1947, he'd risen to the rank of sergeant. Therefore, he wasn't with the group from August 1942 through January 1947.
ROBERT ANDERSON DAVIS (second tenor) was born in Charleston, Mississippi on August 8, 1909 and died in Buffalo, New York on July 8, 1967. He usually went by the name Bob A. Davis, but was also known as Robbie Anderson Davis, Robbie A. Davis, and R. A. Davis. In 1930, Robbie Davis, a mill laborer, was living with his grandparents in Charleston, Mississippi. In 1940, Robbie A. Davis was living in New York and was the owner of a restaurant, along with his wife, Katherine. In the 1948 New York City Directory, Bob A. Davis listed his occupation as "composer", with an office at 325 West 52nd Street.
As we've seen, the Beale Street Boys probably came to New York in early May 1934 to start their CBS network radio career. They initially had a 15-minute show twice a week: Wednesday at 6:45 and Friday at 5:45. (But don't get too attached to these days and times; they were all over the place during the rest of 1934 - I don't plan to document the moves.) At some point, their CBS announcer became Bert Parks.
By June 3, they'd already become so popular that they were one of the guests on the first night of George Jessel's new hour-long "Voice Of Columbia" shows, singing "Stay On The Right Side Of The Road", "Darktown Strutters' Ball", and "Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen". They were also regulars on Fats Waller's Tuesday night Harlem Serenade show, beginning on May 29, at 10:45 (with Luis Russell and Tiny Bradshaw).
Occasionally, newspapers listed the songs that the Beale Street Boys were going to perform on that day's show. On June 21 they sang "The Night Shall Be Filled With Music", "I Must Be Dreaming", "My Mom", and "Blue Kentucky Moon". On June 28, they gave out with "St. Louis Blues".
Fats Waller got a new Tuesday and Thursday evening show in July. Called "Fats Waller's Rhythm Club", it featured the Beale Street Boys and Johnny Augustine's Orchestra. On the July 9 edition, they sang five songs: "Me And My Shadow", "My Lord's Writing All De Time", "Sometimes I'm Happy", "Mood Indigo", and "Baby".
One song that I would love to have heard them do is "Two-Buck Tim From Timbuctoo", a tune that had been recorded in 1933 by Sydney Lipton & His New Grosvenor House Band on the British Sterno label. (It's on the Internet; take a listen.) They sang it on their July 12 show.
And then, the Really Big Time: after being on national radio for less than two months, they were tapped to appear in the Universal movie "Gift Of Gab". That was enough for CBS, which immediately renewed their contract. Their participation in the film was announced as early as June 28, giving an indication of how quickly they skyrocketed onto the scene.
On their August 7 show, they sang "Cocktails For Two", "Eleven-thirty Saturday Night", "It's The Talk Of The Town", and "Don't Let Your Love Go Wrong". The Harrisburg Telegraph reported on August 7: "WHP starts another evening of broadcasting the best in radio entertainment at 6 o'clock presenting that popular Negro quartet from down New Orleans way ... yowsah ... The Beale Street Boys in another of their inimitable programs of close-harmony." (I guess Beale Street isn't all that far from New Orleans. Yowsah!)
On their August 21 program they sang "My Gal Sal", "When Mother Played The Organ", "By A Waterfall", "There Goes My Heart", and "Sweet Sue". August 26 found them singing "I'd Do Anything For You", "Just A Girl", "Be Still, My Heart", and "I Saw Stars".
There was a column in the August 24, 1934 Dayton Herald that talked about the Mills Brothers. It said, in part:
There have been many teams on the air who have attempted to copy their style, but this bothers them little. They know that as long as this manner of song presentation is popular they will always be tops. When Columbia first signed The Mills Brothers, NBC attempted to put over a trio billed as "The Three Keys" but they soon faded and are now "just another radio act." Their most dangerous competitors at the present are The Beale Street Boys or Five Spirits Of Rhythm . . . But they are a long way from the top . . . which is being successfully cornered by the four Piqua brothers.
An August 25 blurb in the Pittsburgh Courier announced that "The Beale Street Boys are back on their CBS harmony schedule after a trip to Hollywood to make pictures. They are quoted as having said on their return to New York." (Beats me what they were quoted as having said.) I also don't understand what "back on their CBS harmony schedule" means. Between August 1 and August 25, the only days they weren't on the air were the 3rd, 8th, 15th, 16th, and 22nd, which was pretty normal for them; they don't seem to have missed any of their shows.
Could they have been flown to California? I doubt it. Coast-to-coast air travel was an expensive, long, dangerous affair in those days. Moreover, the DC-3 had not yet been introduced. (Why was that important? According to Kathleen Burke in the April 2013 issue of Smithsonian Magazine: "In 1934, the year before the introduction of the DC-3 [actually, it was introduced in 1936, not 1935], a flight from New York to Los Angeles was a grueling ordeal, typically requiring 25 hours, more than one airline, at least two changes of planes and as many as 15 stops or so.") Of course, going by train was also a long drawn-out affair (it took the 20th Century Limited around 20 hours just to get from New York to Chicago). CBS must have arranged for them to remotely broadcast their programs during the time it took to get to California, film their sequences (probably done in one or two days), and travel home again. There are no indications that they made any appearances in California.
Ethel Waters, who was also in the movie, filmed her segment in New York, since she was currently in the Broadway show "As Thousands Cheer" (in which she introduced "Supper Time"). I initially thought that the Beale Street Boys did so too and press agents just made up that they'd gone to California. However, I finally got to see the film and they're definitely onstage with Gus Arnheim's orchestra and star Edmund Lowe (and later with Gene Austin), so they really were in Hollywood. However, their total screen time, in three sequences, only amounted to around 75 seconds. Even Ethel Waters was only seen for a minute and a half. (But they both top Boris Karloff, who shines for a single minute, and poor Bela Lugosi, who only gets five seconds on the screen.) There were just too many stars in the show (and too much absurd plot) for any act to be on for very long. (Of course, there's no way to know how many routines they filmed that were subsequently cut, but my feeling is that there weren't any.)
Quite frankly, I can't imagine why Universal went to the expense and trouble of bringing them out to the Coast since there were plenty of Los Angeles groups around. Their contribution to the movie was both minimal and nothing special. All I can think of is that they were so hot on radio that it paid for Universal to advertise that they were in the film.
The first mention of the group appearing outside of radio was when they and Fats Waller were part of a vaudeville show at the RKO Albee (Albee Square, Brooklyn) in early September. They shared the stage with Raye, Ellis, and LaRue (in their "Under The Sea" ballet), the Two Daveys (comedy jugglers), and Captain Willie Maus ("famous war ace, who taught Baron von Richthofen to fly [yeah, sure], presenting his thrilling bicycle novelty"!). On the screen was Harold Lloyd in "The Cat's Paw". The September 18, 1934 Memphis Commercial Appeal said: "The Beale Street Boys make their bow in Vaudeville this week at the Palace in New York. Remember them as the Peabody Quartet?" (Actually the Albee show predates the Palace.)
In case you'd like to know why they started appearing outside of radio, there's this revealing item from the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal of September 7: "Some of the sustaining [no sponsor] talent at CBS has withstood the slash up to date.... Those being dropped are Edith Murray, Charles Carlile, Bill Huggins, and the Beale Street Boys." It looks like they were given a month's notice; the last 1934 broadcast I can find is on November 7. Just six months and their blazing radio career has become ashes.
"Gift Of Gab", was released in September 1934. Starring Edmund Lowe, Gloria Stuart, Victor Moore, and Hugh O'Connell, it featured performances, at a fictitious radio station, by loads of stars like Ruth Etting, Ethel Waters, Paul Lukas, Binnie Barnes, Phil Baker, Gene Austin, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, the Downey Sisters, Alexander Woollcott, and the Gus Arnheim Orchestra. Chester Morris, Sterling Holloway, Andy Devine, and the Three Stooges (but not the ones you're familiar with) are also there.
The spectacular Hollywood career of the Beale Street Boys starts off with them singing "Trivers Livers, I Love You", a jingle advertising the Trivers Chopped Chicken Livers Company, fictitious sponsor of the radio program. Then they, and Ethel Waters, sing the really cute "I Ain't Gonna Sin No More". However, they're not backing her as a vocal group; both acts sing different parts of the song, since they were filmed 3000 miles apart. (The song is initially sung in the film by the Downey Sisters, three cute blonds, who suffer from a serious lack of personality. Compared to Ethel Waters, they look and sound ridiculous doing the tune.) At the very end of the film, after Alexander Woollcott's boring, pointless, and painfully unfunny commentary, the Beale Street Boys reprise "I Ain't Gonna Sin No More" with small solo parts by Bob Davis and David Pugh.
You knew where the Brooklyn Eagle's September 26 review of the movie was going from just its title: "'Gift Of Gab' Offers Brief Glimpses Of Radio Celebrities And Not Much Of Anything Else". "It is...", it went on, "pretty much of a bore." The Beales were mentioned in the review, but just as having been in the movie. Others weren't so kind: one theater manager later told a newspaper that it was "The worst entertainment we have run during the first four months of 1935." Many black newspapers played up Ethel and the Beales, omitting most of the rest of the cast in their ads.
And another live appearance: on October 11, they entertained at a dance at the Lido Ballroom, along with Monette Moore, George Shields, and Avon Long. They'd just come off a week at the Palace Theater, along with Fats Waller. (Note that the Beale Street Boys on Fats Waller and Ada Brown's 1943 recording of "That Ain't Right" was just his band, not our group.)
On October 23, 1934 their recording career began when they waxed a single side for Columbia: "Be Still, My Heart". (They were on the Columbia network, but Columbia Records had long since sold off its ownership of CBS.) Its master number indicates that this was a test recording, but I don't know its purpose.
The October 29 Dayton Herald told us: "The Beale Street Boys have gone commercial on the eastern CBS web for a scouring powder." In other words, they finally got an (unnamed) sponsor for their show.
But then the other Really Big Time: the week of November 9, 1934, they made their first appearance at the Apollo Theater. Others on the bill were Charles Barnet (not yet "Charlie"), Ada Brown, Pigmeat Markham, Ralph Cooper, and Jimmie Baskette (who would go on to play Uncle Remus, and sing "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah", in Disney's 1946 "Song Of The South"). A New York Age article about the Beales, from November 17, said that after the Apollo, they'd be going on a road tour of vaudeville houses. (If true, none of those appearances were ever documented.)
On March 20, 1935, the Beale Street Boys appeared at an anniversary tea given by the Medical Social Auxiliary of Queens. It mentioned that they were currently appearing at the Rhythm Club in Manhattan. They were still on the air in 1935, but I can only find listings for April and May.
The Beale Street Boys were back on the air on April 12, 1935 (over New York's WMCA). For the next month and a half, they kept a bewildering schedule, lasting until May 28.
In June 1935, they were at Jim Healey's Rendezvous, a club on West 52 Street in Manhattan. A review in the New York Post of June 15 said "These melodious sepians offer perfect cafe entertainment for diners - they are restrained, soothing and expert, a delight to the ear." They were still there in October.
In early January 1936 they were at the Club Richman (on 56th Street in Manhattan), although they'd probably carried over from 1935. June 1936 found them at Dan Healey's Manhattan nite spot. In early August, they were at the Bonita (somewhere in New York City).
August 21, 1936 found them back at the Apollo Theater for another week. This time, they appeared with the Sunset Royal Serenaders, Mamie Smith, and Pigmeat. A review of the show, from The New York Age (August 29, 1936), said "Now the happiest surprise of all is the work of the Beal [sic] Street Boys. This act, that has had indifferent success on the radio turned out to be the most resourceful and personable units to yet show in a stage appearance. Their version of 'Shoe Shine Boy' is a honey. They show three individual soloists who really set me to raving." It also said "After all these years, we still find Mamie Smith as a featured performer. But what we should hurry and tell you is that she shows to excellent advantage working with the Beale Street Boys."
Mamie and the Beales appeared together at the Town Casino (on 52nd Street), and even got into politics. That same year, they made a 3-minute film, shown in black theaters, singing "Oh Susannah" and making pitches for Republican presidential candidate Alf Landon.
Another radio show, this time on New York's WNEW. However, it looks like they only appeared three times: the only listings I could find were from December 8, 1936, February 23, 1937, and March 2, 1937.
Although more sporadically, they were still on the air in 1937. The Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), talking about the Louis Armstrong radio show that night (April 16): "The Beale Street Boys, outstanding exponents of the Memphis 'blues'; Alma Turner, tap dancer; and Sonny Woods, singer will be heard on the 9 o'clock broadcast over the WJZ network." (Sure are a lot of singers named "Sonny Woods".)
On August 8, 1937, they recorded five more masters for Columbia ("Campin' In Caroline", "The Ghost Of The Violin", "The Cab Man's Serenade", "Confessin'", and "Swing, Brother Swing"). These also have master numbers indicating test recordings, which were made for an unknown purpose.
In early February 1938, the Beale Street Boys began a long-term engagement at Jack White's Club 18, at 18 West 52nd Street in Manhattan. Appearing there for over a year, they received "orchids" (high praise) from influential columnist Walter Winchell in his June 24 column.
May 29, 1938 found them (still at the Club 18) as part of a benefit show at the Apollo Theater for the Children's Aid Society. Others on the bill were the orchestras of Chick Webb (with Ella Fitzgerald), Stuff Smith, Duke Ellington, and Edgar Hayes There were also Aida Ward, the Four Step Brothers, White's Lindy Hoppers, the Peters Sisters, Peg Leg Bates, Jackie (pre-Moms) Mabley, the Six Scotchmen (predecessors to the Harlem Highlanders), and the Palmer Brothers.
On October 6, 1938, the Beale Street Boys returned to the air as part of the cast of "First Prize Time", a variety show (Thursdays, 6:30 on WJZ); it aired through November 24. Hopefully, this answered the question posed by the Akron Beacon Journal on November 7: "Wonder what's become of ... The Beale Street Boys who used to broadcast over Columbia". (Coincidentally, the question was asked exactly two years to the day after their last CBS broadcast.)
All I can find for 1939 is that they were still at the Club 18 in February and moved with it to larger quarters (next door) in April. In 1940, their only mentions were appearing at the Rendezvous, in Philadelphia (unknown date) and being heard on WIP (also in Philadelphia) on May 22.
But on October 16, 1940, when David, James, and Willie registered for the draft, not one of them was working. I can't find a record for Bob.
However, in December 1940, they appeared at Butler's Tap Room on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan.
March 1941 found them (and the Roy Lewis Band) at Harold Minsky's "51" Club (51 West 52nd Street, Manhattan). In April, they appeared at Smitty's, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. However, every Smitty's ad called them Victor recording artists.
They were at the Ship Deck (at the Breakers Hotel, Atlantic City, New Jersey) in August, a venue run by Irvin Wolfe, owner of the Rendezvous, to which they then journeyed. The September 5, 1941 Philadelphia Inquirer said: "Back from the shore come the Beale Street Boys, here to sing and play and possibly sway at the Hotel Senator Rendezvous. Co-featured in the show-cycle are Bob Davis, the thrush, and Walter Lane, the latter a budding variety star." Did they just call Bob a female singer? In November, they appeared at Lou's Moravian in Philadelphia, before heading back to the Rendezvous.
A strange blurb from the January 3, 1942 Billboard: ".... And the Beale Street Boys, always big at the local night clubs, go to the Okeh label." However, there were never any releases (or even known masters) on Okeh. Did this have something to do with Columbia (Okeh's parent)? In the same issue, it claimed that they were "skedded [scheduled] to return to the NBC airwaves next month." (But I can't find any listings from February 1942.) In late January, they were still at Irvin Wolf's Rendezvous (in the Hotel Senator in Philadelphia).
A funny thing happened while they were there. The January 26 Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the police had raided the place at 4 AM the prior day (liquor laws required that it close at midnight): "At the Rendezvous, a quartet were singing on a raised platform behind the bar [when the raid took place]."
A blurb from the February 13, 1942 Philadelphia Inquirer talks about the shows at the Rendezvous: "Alternating with them [the Three Internationals] are the unfailingly popular Beale Street Boys, with Bob Davis soloing and Bill Barnes strumming the guitar." No other names were mentioned. That one sentence is, as far as I know, the last time any members are named as being currently in the group, although there are references to singers, over the years, as having formerly been in the Beale Street Boys.
In April 1942, the Beales were at Kelly's Stable (137 West 52nd Street) as part of its third anniversary (at that location) celebrations. Another blurb, about their return to the Breakers Hotel (unknown date in 1942), said that they were "now augmented by a fifth member" (not named, of course).
In early August, they began an engagement at Irvin Wolf's Shipdeck in Atlantic City. It looks like they replaced the 4 Toppers.
Willie Barnes was drafted on August 29, 1942, and didn't return from Germany (as a sergeant) until January 23, 1947. I imagine he was replaced in the group, but I don't know by whom. (Or, if they'd been a quintet at the time, he might not have been replaced.) Another possibility is that the group disbanded at this point (see the next paragraph), because I can't find any mention of them, either appearing or on the radio, between mid-1942 and December 1944.
The November 14, 1942 Billboard reported that "David Pugh, previously with the Beale Street Boys...." is now a member of the 4 Chimes, a New York group handled by Gale Miniature Attractions (the part of the Gale Agency that handled small groups and combos). The other members were Charlie Ford (former pianist/arranger for the Deep River Boys), Vivian Eley (who'd been in the chorus of Bill Robinson's "Hot Mikado"), and Christine Royce. With the weight of the Gale Agency behind them (the outfit that handled the Ink Spots), the 4 Chimes should have done well. In fact, there's not a single other mention of them. (Charles Ford would later turn up in the Ginger Snaps.)
On December 16, 1942, Bob Davis was one of the entertainers at a dinner given for servicemen at the Bethel Church on 114th Street in Harlem. Over the years, Davis would do a lot of benefits for servicemen and veterans; this is the first documented one. From now on, there'll be more mentions of Bob Davis on his own than there will be of the Beale Street Boys. Since there are sporadic appearances by the group, Bob had to be coming up with new members, but not one of them is ever named.
James Pugh was the next to be Gone With The Draft, on February 20, 1943. I don't know if David Pugh had ever come back to the Beales (assuming the 4 Chimes didn't make it), but he too was drafted (on January 20, 1944). In spite of this, the Beales (whoever they might have been; only Bob Davis was still a civilian) played Lou's Germantown Bar (Philadelphia) in December 1944.
In October 1943, David Pugh joined the Brown Sisters, Thelma and Melba, replacing youngest sister, Velma, who'd gotten married. The act was now called "The Brown Sisters And Dave".
An announcement in the Brooklyn Eagle on January 9, 1945 said that "The Beale Street Boys Quartet comes back to the air tonight via WHN." However, it didn't say what time and the daily listings just contained shows characterized as "music". Why would a paper waste the space to say that an act was going to be on without telling you what time? In the same vein, another blurb, from the January 10, 1945 Philadelphia Inquirer, starts off with "The Beale Street Boys' quartet, newly discharged from the Army, has started a new air series on WHN." Of course, it didn't bother to mention any of the members. They could have been talking about either, or both, of the Pugh brothers, but not Willie Barnes, who wouldn't return to the States until 1947. They were still broadcasting over WHN on February 15 (at 8:00), but there are no listings past that.
The next blurb (from the New York Age of August 31, 1946) has Bob Davis ("formerly second tenor with the Beale Street Boys") out on his own as a soloist and songwriter (a career that he pursued more and more over the years). His latest song, "I Guess I'll Have To Get Along Without You", had been recorded by Erskine Hawkins (vocal by Dolores Brown) on RCA in late 1945. The article mentions that his previous "hit" (usually a meaningless term in these blurbs) was "Ain't Gonna Worry 'Bout A Soul". This would be recorded by the Delta Rhythm Boys, but not until October 1947. Duke Ellington also waxed it, but I don't know when. The article also said that Bob was being managed by Freddie Fulton, a Broadway promoter, who got him most of the gigs entertaining servicemen and veterans.
For example, on October 9, 1946, Bob Davis was the singing master of ceremonies at the Kingsbridge (Bronx) Veterans Hospital. On November 13, 1946, he was one of the entertainers at the Renaissance Casino. On February 14, 1947, "Big Bob Davis the singing songwriter" entertained at a benefit for patients at the Veterans Administration in Northport, Long Island. He sang for more veterans on May 6 of that year.
Finally, someone to confuse them with. Pianist Milt Buckner put together an instrumental group for Savoy called, variously, the "Beale St. Boys", the "Beale St. Gang", and the "Hot Shots". The first Beale St. Boys record "Raisin' The Roof"/"Lights Out" came out in 1946, at a time when our Beale Street Boys don't seem to have been in existence; the other ("Fatstuff Boogie"/"Lazy Joe") was from around May 1949, after the group had re-formed (but might have disintegrated again).
By the spring of 1947, the Beale Street Boys had gotten back together. The August 10 Cumberland Sunday Times (Cumberland, Maryland) says that "The Jones Brothers and Beal [sic] Street Boys are packing them in at the Cadillac with their song routines." By this time, all the drafted members were back home and had re-formed the group. A slightly earlier Cadillac ad in the June 29 Cumberland Sunday Times (a whopping third of a page) had this to say:
Here's pre-war, top notch Broadway organization that has finally re-organized, after serving in the armed forces. Having decided to go on a road tour before returning to New York, the Cadillac was indeed fortunate in securing such an outstanding quartette. If you like the Mill's [sic] Brothers ... you'll really enjoy these boys.
OK, it needed serious proofreading (it really says that the Cadillac has decided to go on a road trip), but what, exactly does "re-organized" mean here? To me, it usually means that some members of a group have left and new ones have joined, but in this case it meant that all the old ones have come back. They were at the Cadillac for several weeks, but I can't find any mentions of other engagements. For what it's worth, in 1930s photos, Willie Barnes is always pictured with a tenor (4-string) guitar; in the 40s, he plays an electric 6-string.
The October 25, 1947 Pittsburgh Courier ran an ad for the Harlem Hit Parade, a record store in Brooklyn. One of the records they advertised was "Hastings Street Bounce" by the Beale Street Boys. (The record was actually by the Paul Williams Sextette, but I guess the two names were easily confused.)
On November 28, Bob Davis entertained at a benefit at New York's Golden Gate. There was no mention of the Beale Street Boys. With few exceptions, he always did a solo act at these benefits and veterans shows.
Then, on November 29, 1947, MGM Records announced the signing of the Beale Street Boys. At the time, MGM was only about a year old, having come into existence in late 1946.
But a storm was brewing in the recording industry. James Petrillo, the head of the Musicians Union, had called a strike, to begin on January 1, 1948. After that date, and for the duration, no union musician was supposed to play on recordings. This caused companies to keep their recording facilities going around the clock, in November and December, in order to stockpile enough masters to last them for the indefinite period of the strike. Accordingly, the Beales waxed 18 masters during December 1946. (Another wrinkle was that record companies figured that when the strike was over, they'd have to pay musicians more, so now was a good time to record as much as possible.)
Their first MGM session took place on December 8, when they recorded "I'd Like To Know You Better Than I Do", "Teach Me, Teach Me, Baby", "Whoa! Gee! Haw! Gid-Dup!", and "The Kind Of Girl I've Dreamed Of". That same night, they appeared at the Bedford Theater (Brooklyn).
They recorded four more masters on December 18 ("I Wish I Had A Dime", "Why Does It Have To Rain On Sunday", "Johnny's Got A Yo-Yo", and "I've Kept Everything The Same For You"), followed by another four on the 22nd ("Cucamonga", "I'll Buy The Ring And Change Your Name To Mine", "Baby Don't Be Mad At Me", and "Wedding Bells (Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine)").
The final six masters were waxed on December 30, just under the deadline: "Wait'll I Get You In My Dreams Tonight", "Just A Girl That Men Forget", "Delivery 'Mon' (What Is In That Bag You Got)", "Home", "Because They All Love You", and "My Sugar-Coated Sugar".
MGM first released "Why Does It Have To Rain On Sunday", coupled with "Teach Me, Teach Me, Baby", but there's some debate as to when. While it wasn't reviewed until April, it was mentioned in a "BMI Pin Up Sheet - Hit Tunes For January" ad in the January 10, 1948 issue of Billboard. This listed four acts that had recorded this popular song: Freddy Martin, Snooky Lanson, the Milt Herth Trio, and the Beale Street Boys. However, since only Martin and Lanson showed record numbers next to the label names, my assumption is that BMI knew that Herth and the Beales had recorded it, but it hadn't yet been released by either. Strangely, although Dennis Day had been added to the BMI Pin Up Sheet by March, the Beales had been removed (they weren't in BMI's April list either).
The record first appears in the April 3, 1948 Billboard Advance Record Releases column and was subsequently reviewed on April 17. "Teach Me, Teach Me, Baby" received an 86, one of the highest scores I've ever seen for an R&B song ("These boys can push the Mills, Spots or Ravens" went the review). The flip got a respectable 75 ("clean and impressive"). Other reviews that week were for Eddie "Sugarman" Penigar's "Yes That's A Woman", Rose Murphy's "Honeysuckle Rose", T-Bone Walker's "I Want A Little Girl", Martha Davis' "Sarah, Sarah", Gatemouth Moore's "Don't You Know I Love You, Baby", Lonnie Johnson's "Working Man's Blues", Dinah Washington's "Walkin' And Talkin'", Buddy Johnson's "L'il Dog", Slim Green's "What's The Reason", and Brownie McGhee's "Mabelle".
Having a record released by a big company can do wonders for your career. On April 26, they were on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts show (competing against violinist Julius Hegyi, baritone Kevin O'Sullivan, and soprano Eileen Capraro). I assume, due to lack of subsequent hype, that they didn't win (but there was no subsequent hype for any of the others either). Billboard said "Group may get a summer network sustainer [a radio show that had no sponsor]." However, I can't find any 1948 radio listings for them.
Then, on April 30, they got second billing at the Apollo Theater, right behind Dizzy Gillespie; they were characterized as "record stars". A blurb in the New York Age of May 1 said: "This will be their first appearance in New York." I'm not sure what that means, since they'd already appeared twice at the Apollo, as well as many local clubs. Possibly they hadn't made any appearances in Manhattan since getting back together a year before (although they'd appeared in Brooklyn the prior December 8).
Frank Schiffman, owner of the Apollo Theater recorded his (and his audience's) impression of the Beale Street Boys on May 6: "Bought on recommendation of having appeared on local broadcast [the Godfrey show?]. Were not good. Rarely got over with this audience."
The May 4, 1948 Variety said this about their Apollo appearance:
Smartly dressed Negro quartet from radio conveys infectious harmonies to self-accompaniment of guitar and bass. They're excellent on such tunes as "Them There Eyes," "Teach Me Baby," etc. However, there's a disturbing sameness to their vocalizing in that all numbers fall in the same melodic groove. Mixing in a Latino song or a jump tune for theatre dates would help break the monotony. Shape up as okay caliber for vaud and cafe circuits.
After "Teach Me, Teach Me, Baby" didn't become a hit, MGM released "Wedding Bells (Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine)", coupled with "Baby Don't Be Mad At Me". The Red Caps' interpretation of the 1929 weeper "Wedding Bells" (Mercury, January 1948) was doing well (as the #2 disk jockey pick in the country by the end of May) and this prompted MGM to release the Beale Street Boys' version in June..
When reviewed in the June 5 edition of Billboard, "Wedding Bells" got a disappointing 65 ("Fair rendition of the barbershop oldie, with the boys on an Ink Spots kick." [they actually sound nothing like the Ink Spots on this]), while "Baby Don't Be Mad At Me" received an 82 (although the Mills Brothers version got an 87). Note that the disc had been sent to the Pop reviewer, rather than the R&B reviewer. Other reviews that week were for the Red Caps' "Turnip Greens" and Annie Laurie's "Wondering Blues".
My own feeling is that the ratings should have been reversed; "Wedding Bells" is not only my favorite Beale Street Boys tune, but my favorite version of the song (but that's what makes a ballgame, I suppose). I couldn't agree more with what George Moonoogian had to say about "Wedding Bells" in his Big Ten Inch Harmony column in Echoes Of The Past magazine (issue #36; summer 1996):
It begins with a dynamite bass talking intro: "Gee, what a lonely town this is.... where is everybody?" The bass singer then begins the song: "Not a soul down on the corner..." he is supported by very tight harmony backing. However the clincher is the bass' talking part later on as he meets his old friends: "Hello, Jim ... Bob". His speech is quite poignant as he realizes his old buddies can't "hang" with him because of marriage commitments. Jim and Bob, by the way, are the real first names of other group members!
This is what the October 6, 1948 Louisville Courier-Journal had to say about "Wedding Bells": "Another M-G-M record of interest finds The Beale Street Boys playing, talking and moaning their way through 'Wedding Bells.' The bass sounds the way most of us would like to think we sound when we break into song." I think they liked it.
The guys were back at the Cadillac, in Cumberland, Maryland on July 4, 1948. This is the last appearance I can find for the Beales until 1950 and my feeling is that they broke up within the next few months.
MGM issued their third record in September: "Wait'll I Get You In My Dreams Tonight", backed with "Home". On September 25, Billboard gave the top side a 63 ("Muffled effect of lead warbler's vocal detracts from pleasant tune. Deficiency is in the recording, not the performers."), while the flip received a 66 ("Listenable but ordinary job of this oldie."). Other reviews were for T-Bone Walker's "West Side Blues", Camille Howard's "Has Your Love Grown Cold?", Dinah Washington's "I'll Wait", and Albert Ammons' "Baltimore Breakdown".
On November 22, 1948, David Vassar Pugh [sic] and Evelyn Morris Johnson copyrighted "In A Melancholy Mood". On March 7, 1949, they copyrighted "I'll Cherish Your Love". Evelyn Johnson would become David's wife.
Then, something happened. On March 25, 1949, Bob Davis (as Robbie Anderson Davis) made application to the United States Patent Office to have "Beale Street Boys" declared a service mark (a trademark used to advertise a service, rather than a product). The application was granted and registered a year later, on May 30, 1950. No one else was named in the application. Why was this done at all and why was it done now? All these years, no one had thought to do it (and most groups never did it at all). My only thought is that the group had once again disintegrated at that point and Bob was trying to keep others from using the name. However, other than the Milt Buckner band mentioned above, I haven't found any mentions of other acts using it.
The application states, in part: "Robbie Anderson Davis ... has adopted and is using the service mark shown in the accompanying drawing for ENTERTAINMENT SERVICES RENDERED BY A VOCAL GROUP THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF RADIO, TELEVISION, AND PERSONAL APPEARANCES [capitalization is theirs].... The service mark was first used on May 5, 1934...." You probably don't remember, but Saturday, May 5, 1934 was the date I surmised that they appeared on Morton Downey's show, marking their first appearance on national network radio.
This is what the registered service mark looked like. Strangely, after taking the trouble to create it, Davis seems to have never subsequently used it, in that font, to advertise his group.
Lending credence to the disintegration theory is an article from the April 30, 1949 Winona (Minnesota) Republican about the De Paur Infantry Chorus. The relevant part of the article is: "Another [member], Will Barnes, was the tenor and arranger of the original Beale Street Boys."
On June 17, 1949, one of the acts at the All-Star Mixed Fashion Show And Dance (a benefit) was Bob Davis, "singing tunesmith [song writer]".
MGM released their final record in September 1949: "I've Kept Everything The Same For You", backed with "I Wish I Had A Dime"; they were ranked 70 and 63, respectively in the September 17 Billboard. Other reviews were for the Ravens' "Someday", Billy Wright's "Blues For My Baby", Jimmy Smith's "Ma-Ma", Johnnie Lee & Ebonaires' "You Can't Lose A Broken Heart", Monette Moore & Ebonaires' "Peace, Sister, Peace", Little Miss Cornshucks' "So Long", Cliff Butler's "When You Love", Rudy Render's "A Stranger", Big John Greer's "Hey Bruz", and the 4 Shades Of Rhythm's "Don't Blame Me".
In early September 1949, there was a show for the Northport (Long Island, NY) Veterans Psychopathic Hospital. One of the acts was Bob Davis, "formerly with the Beale St. Boys...." Are you getting the feeling that the group no longer existed?
The Beale Street Boys were never invited back to MGM to record, nor did MGM issue any of the 10 unreleased songs in the can. This isn't surprising; the released records were flops (and possibly MGM had found out that the Beales were no more).
But leaping into the vacuum was Howard Yancey and the Beale Street Boys, who entertained at the Cotton Pickers' Jamboree in Blytheville, Arkansas on October 6, 1949.
October 27, 1949 found Bob Davis recording with the orchestra of trombonist Lawrence "Snub" Mosley. Bob and Snub do the vocal on "Could It Be Love" (one of Bob's compositions). Released on Penguin 0860, it was mentioned in Billboard's December 17, 1949 Advance Record Releases column. Bob isn't heard on the flip, "Abrazame" and I don't know if he had any real affiliation with Mosley or, more likely, was just on this single side.
Also, in October, the "Magnetones" were appearing at Harlem's Baby Grand. This was a vocal/instrumental trio put together by Dave Pugh and Willie Barnes. The third member was pianist Rip Harrigan, who had recently been featured on Freddie Mitchell's Derby recordings of "Auld Lang Syne Boogie" and "Jingle Bell Boogie"..
On February 21, 1950 "Big Bob Davis" once again entertained veterans, this time at the Hotel Henry Hudson.
From March 1, 1950 through the end of May, there was a Beale Street Boys radio show on KWHK (Hutchinson, Kansas), Wednesdays at 4:15. However, since this is the only station on which they show up, my feeling is that it was a different, local group.
That feeling is borne out by a June 11, 1950 appearance (noted in the New York Age the day before): "Big Bob Davis, the singing songwriter formerly with the Beale Street Boys" entertained at another benefit for wounded veterans.
However, Davis had gone to the trouble of filing for a "Beale Street Boys" service mark, so the logical thing to do, once it was granted on May 30, was to get another group together. He did, and this time there were five of them (but some of the members remain unknown). Charles Pugh, last of the Pugh brothers, looked at the 1950 photos and confirmed that David Pugh, James Pugh, and Willie Barnes aren't present.
One member of the new group was Donald Ashby. There was a blurb about bass/baritone Donald Ashby in the Albany, New York Times Union of May 15, 1955. He was then with a group called the Clicks (possibly the Josie group, but if so, the article ran before their recording session, so that wasn't mentioned), and it goes on to say: "He also apprenticed with the Beale Street Boys...." Ashby's name is never otherwise associated with the Beales, but I can pick him out in the 1950 photo. However, I can find no trace of a "Donald Ashby" who could possibly be him in any census, leading me to believe that "Donald" wasn't his actual first name.
Jumping even further ahead, the April 3, 1965 Billboard has this intriguing sentence: "Bill Bodkin, formerly of the Beale Street Boys, appears every night at the Luau."(a club in Rome). The December 16, 1944 Afro-American had a small article about baritone/bass William Bodkin, saying that he was the "first colored artist to debut with the [New York Little Symphony]." In addition to being an operatic singer, he also played classical piano and organ. He made concert appearances in the 40s (for example, on March 16, 1946, he sang the bass aria "Il Lacerato Spirito", from the Verdi opera "Simon Boccanegra", at Town Hall during that year's Interracial Justice Week). He made his debut at Carnegie Hall in 1948, singing with the New York Symphony Orchestra. Then, probably just to see how the other half lived, he appeared at the December 31, 1950 New Year's Eve revue at the Brooklyn Elks No. 32 Hall (a show that also featured a female singer and a stripper). A few weeks later, he sailed for Genoa as the musical director for the Katherine Dunham Dancers (possibly to forget the Elks performance). He studied opera in Italy and then played piano on the European hotel circuit, not returning to the U.S. for 30 years. I don't know if Bill was with the group as a singer or as an accompanist (although I suspect the latter), but he could only have been with them for a few months in 1950 (and I believe that he's in the 1950 photos). While overlooking his appearance on a show with a stripper, his time with the Beales was a complete departure from his operatic and symphonic roots (but, strangely, the only biographical snippet that someone saw fit to mention when writing that 1965 one-liner for Billboard). William Henry Bodkin was born in New York on July 1, 1913 and died there on June 27, 2002.
This new batch of Beale Street Boys appeared on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts show on November 13, 1950. When the original group appeared in 1948, they didn't win; this time they did.
The first appearance I can find for the new Beale Street Boys is the Cadillac Lounge (Cumberland, Maryland), beginning Christmas Day in 1950. The ad shows the 5-man group and states that they're "direct from winning Arthur Godfrey's radio & television talent scout show!" (which they had done on November 13). Although I believe he's in the photo, Bill Bodkin was certainly gone by this time, since he's on his own on New Year's Eve and would be in Europe by the end of January. His replacement remains unknown. (Since publicity photo sessions were expensive, no matter the turnover in the group, they continued using the same two pics.)
In February 1951 they were at the Little Rathskeller in Philadelphia. Billboard said that they ushered in a "new floor policy", but didn't explain that. On June 4, they ("5 Pleasing Voices") opened at the Oakhurst Tea Room in Somerset, Pennsylvania for two weeks. Every Oakhurst ad said that they were "M. G. M. & Decca Recording Artists". This is the first (and only) time that Decca was ever mentioned. If there were any unreleased masters, Decca has certainly kept them hidden from researchers all these years.
A single paragraph from the Somerset Daily American (Somerset, Pennsylvania) on June 9, 1951 said: "Ernest Baker reports that Bob Davis, the leader of the 'Beale St. Boys' currently playing at his Oakhurst Tea room, wrote a song, during the last year, entitled 'There Is Nothing Greater Than A Prayer' taken from the Lord's Prayer. The musicians have made a recording of this song [italics mine], and it also is available in sheet music. It is said to be one of the favorite numbers of hearers." Bob Davis and Spencer Williams had copyrighted "There's Nothing Greater Than A Prayer" on December 23, 1950. The cover of the 1950 sheet music shows the 5-man group and says: "Featured, Recorded and Broadcast By The Beale Street Boys". (And, for you legal types, the font applied for in the Service Mark application wasn't used on the sheet music.) So who did they record it for? Decca? A private pressing to be sold at shows? I haven't a clue. (Note that copies of the sheet music were owned by both Duke Ellington and Harry S Truman.)
They were part of the bill (along with Thelma Carpenter and Manhattan Paul Bascomb) at a benefit for the Westside YMCA (Mount Vernon, New York), on either June 8 or June 15 (it's unclear from the blurb). This was another gig set up by Bob Davis' manager, Freddie Fulton. (They must have done some grueling traveling that day. They had to get from Somerset (site of the Oakhurst Tea Room), in western Pennsylvania, to Mount Vernon, just north of New York City, in time for the afternoon show, and then back to Somerset in time for their evening performance. It's around 300 miles and, with today's roads, would take about 5 hours, not counting traffic.) At the beginning of July they spent a week entertaining the members of the Lyric Band Club in Hanover, Pennsylvania.
In April 1952, a white group called the Matys Brothers opened at the Cadillac Lounge. The blurb said that "The five-man outfit ... [is] in the same class as the Beale Street Boys which played here during the past few years."
On July 12, 1952, the Beales were on an NBC-TV show called "Saturday Night Dance Party", a 13-week summer replacement for Sid Caesar's "Your Show Of Shows". Jerry Lester was the host and each week featured a different name band (Louis Prima's that week) and a number of variety acts.
They appeared on a radio show called Million Dollar Bandstand on November 11, 1952. Other guests were Buddy Morrow, Henry Busse, Gray Gordon, and Roberta Quinlan. It was broadcast over WTSP from St. Petersburg, Florida, which was probably just a local station.
That's it! There are no further mentions of Beale Street Boys appearances and I assume they had just faded away by the end of 1952.
A columnist in the September 1, 1956 Pittsburgh Courier asked "Whatever happened to?" He missed Larry Darnell, Tiny Bradshaw, Cleanhead Vinson, Luis Russell, the Sweethearts Of Rhythm, Jay McShann, Don Redman, Andy Kirk, and the Beale Street Boys.
And then, in December 1960, a rebirth. There's a Beale Street Boys record on the OBA label. Both songs ("Next Christmas" and "There's Nothing Greater Than A Prayer") had been written by Bob A. Davis (in 1949 and 1950, respectively). There's speculation that the recordings were much older than 1960, and that's certainly possible. (They could have been masters recorded in late 1950 or early 1951, but there's no way to tell. Remember that the 1950 sheet music to "There's Nothing Greater Than A Prayer" said the song had been recorded by the Beale Street Boys and showed the 5-man group. However, the piano playing on "Next Christmas" shows no evidence of Bill Bodkin's classical training, so if the recording is really that old, it was made after he'd left.)
The OBA label was located at 1650 Broadway in Manhattan and, since the dead wax has "BD" in it, it's reasonable to assume that Bob Davis owned it. Note that there's no company address printed on the label of "Next Christmas"; if it appeared at all, it was added with a rubber stamp. (All other OBA records have the address as part of the label copy.)
The second OBA record, from early 1961, was a departure. "My Last Rainy Day" and "As High As My Heart" were credited to "Bob Davis, vocalist, and his Beale St. Boys". "My Last Rainy Day" had been written by Bob back in 1948 and, in spite of the label credit, has no group. "As High As My Heart" had been written by Sammy Aaronson, Louis Trophy, and Lorenzo Pack, and copyrighted August 1, 1958. It was based on a 1957 book called "As High As My Heart: The Sammy Aaronson Story". ("Just as high as my heart" is a line from Shakespeare's "As You Like It".) What this tells us is, even if the record wasn't made in the 60s, it couldn't have been made before mid-1958 (at least not that side). Davis must really have liked this song; of the 12 titles I'm aware of on OBA, it's the only one he didn't write. Needless to say, I don't know the personnel on either OBA record (although it sounds like a studio group on "As High As My Heart"). Note that this is the only OBA record that I can positively date: it appears in the first quarter 1961 One Spot Record Finder publication.
By 1963, Bob Davis had moved to Buffalo, New York. An article about him appeared in the Buffalo Courier-Express on April 25, 1963. It mentions that radio station WWOL (Lackawanna, New York, just south of Buffalo) had saturated the airwaves with "A Mile Around The Bend" and "Brother (Treat Your Other Brother Right)" by the Goldenaires Choir (another OBA record). Both songs had been written, said the article, by Bob A. Davis of 237 Myrtle Avenue (in Buffalo), who had once been a member of the Beale Street Boys. Why Davis had relocated is a mystery (a prolific songwriter, he'd had an office at 325 West 52nd Street in Manhattan from at least 1948 and, even after he'd moved, the OBA address printed on the Goldenaires records remained 1650 Broadway).
There was a second Goldenaires Choir record on OBA, featuring two more Bob A. Davis songs: "No One"/"Could It Be Love". "Could It Be Love" is the same tune that Davis had recorded with Snub Mosley back in 1949. Note that, in spite of the radio saturation in Lackawanna, there's only a single online mention of either Goldenaires OBA discs: there are copies in Tulane University's Hogan Jazz Archive. They weren't kidding about the "Choir" part of their name; all four songs are done as choir arrangements and it sounds like there are around eight to ten of them, both male and female voices.
The only other OBA records I'm aware of are by Audrey Lauren, "Have You A Moment To Spare"/"I Could Kick Myself" and "I Wish I'd Never Known About Love"/"Yes My Love", all written by Bob A. Davis and recorded with the musical accompaniment of the Al Williams Quartet. Audrey remains a mystery singer; other than that she came from Chicago and appeared at Harlem's Baby Grand in November 1955, I can't find out anything about her. (I suppose that "Lauren" was actually her middle name.) Her discs were released between those of the Beale St. Boys, so early 1961 seems reasonable. "I Could Kick Myself", the only one of her tunes I've heard, shows her to be a "song stylist" at this point. At the end of this article, you'll find the OBA discography that I've managed to piece together.
More important, however, the Buffalo Courier-Express article sadly went on to say that Davis "can sing no longer because of a throat condition which doctors suspect may be cancer. All proceeds from the sale of his record will be given to the American Cancer Society."
In spite of this, in July of 1963, he incorporated "B.A. Davis Associates, Inc.", in Buffalo, for a new group he was trying to form. By this time (Dimitri Tzetzo, the lawyer who handled the incorporation, told me), he was somewhat disillusioned, but hoped that a corporation would make it easier to control a group and restart his career (even if he, himself could no longer sing). However, nothing seems to have come of it. Bob A. Davis died on July 8, 1967 and is buried in Buffalo.
As early as 1943, Bob Davis had started composing songs. He wrote under the names "Bob A. Davis", "Bob Anderson Davis", "Robert Anderson Davis", "Robbie Anderson Davis", "Robbie A. Davis", and "R.A. Davis". I found copyrights for over 80 of his songs; there are probably lots more. However, he didn't write any of the Beale Street Boys' released MGM tunes, and only three of the unreleased ones ("Whoa! Gee! Haw! Gid-Dup!", "Delivery 'Mon' (What Is In That Bag You Got)", and "My Sugar-Coated Sugar"). I've included a list of his songs after the discography (but don't ask me who, if anyone, recorded them). Bob also had his own publishing company: Boda Music (as in BOb DAvis).
David Pugh continued in the music business, but as a bass player and arranger. (For example, the sheet music for "Christmas Time Is Here", from 1965's "A Charlie Brown Christmas", shows the arranger to be David Pugh.) He died in New York on April 18, 2000.
Charles Pugh, brother of David and James, told me that when one of his other siblings went to New York in the 1970s, he found James playing guitar as a "street vagabond". James Pugh died on September 8, 2005 (aged 92) and is buried in Potters Field in the Bronx. (A "Potters Field" is a place where indigent people are buried.) Interestingly, Charles said that David occasionally came home to Memphis to visit, but James never did. In fact, Charles (who was born less than a year before the Beale Street Boys first went off to New York) never met his brother James!
Willie Cornelius Barnes, the fourth original member, died on November 18, 1989 in Memphis. Other than his 1949 stints with the De Paur Infantry Chorus and the Magnetones, I don't know what his subsequent career was.
So how do we sum up the career of the Beale Street Boys? As I stated at the beginning, they were a Really Big Deal at the start of their career. However, within a year, they'd cooled considerably. They started disintegrating in early 1942, both from members leaving and from the draft (with replacement members not being documented anywhere). The original four got back together after the war and made the MGM recordings in December 1947, but those did nothing in particular. By mid-1949, the group had once again fallen apart. In 1950, Bob Davis put together a new, 5-man group, but no blurbs identify them, although I managed to come up with a couple of names. I can't definitively date when the OBA recordings were made and, again, don't know who's on them, other than Bob Davis. I hope I've provided more information than was available before; all we can do now is enjoy their recordings.
Special thanks to Charles Pugh, Libya Pugh (granddaughter of James Pugh), Carla Pratt (granddaughter of David Pugh), Bob Belniak (of Echoes Of The Past), David Evans, Doug Seroff, Billy Vera, Bob Halverson, Dimitri Tzetzo, Philip Beauchamp, Frank Gengaro, and Gordon Skadberg. Discography courtesy of Ferdie Gonzalez and Disco-File. Also thanks to Justine Thomas of the Smithsonian's National Museum Of American History Archive Center and Lynn Abbott of Tulane University.
COLUMBIA (test recordings; with recording dates)
Be Still, My Heart (10/23/34)
Campin' In Caroline (8/08/37)
The Ghost Of The Violin(8/08/37)
The Cab Man's Serenade (8/08/37)
Swing, Brother, Swing (8/08/37)
10141 Teach Me, Teach Me, Baby/Why Does It Have To Rain On Sunday - 4/48
10197 Wedding Bells/Baby Don't Be Mad At Me - 6/48
10273 Wait'll I Get You In My Dreams Tonight/Home - 9/48
10505 I've Kept Everything The Same For You/I Wish I Had A Dime - 9/49
MGM UNRELEASED (with recording dates)
I'd Like To Know You Better Than I Do (12/08/47)
Whoa! Gee! Haw! Gid-Dup! (12/08/47)
The Kind Of Girl I've Dreamed Of (12/08/47)
Johnny's Got A Yo-Yo (12/18/47)
I'll Buy The Ring And Change Your Name To Mine (12/22/47)
Just A Girl That Men Forget (12/30/47)
Delivery "Mon" (What Is In That Bag You Got) (12/30/47)
Because They All Love You (12/30/47)
My Sugar-Coated Sugar (12/30/47)
OBA (may have been recorded much earlier)
101/102 Next Christmas/There's Nothing Greater Than A Prayer - 12/60
109/110 As High As My Heart/My Last Rainy Day - 61
The second record is credited to "Bob Davis, Vocalist, and his Beale St. Boys";
however, "My Last Rainy Day" has no group.
Audrey Lauren -
"Have You A
Moment To Spare"
Audrey Lauren -
"I Wish I'd Never
Known About Love"
Goldenaires Choir -
"A Mile Around The Bend"
Goldenaires Choir -
"No One" and
"Could It Be Love"
101 Next Christmas - Beale Street Boys - 12/60
102 There's Nothing Greater Than A Prayer
104 Have You A Moment To Spare - Audrey Lauren - early 61
105 I Could Kick Myself
106 I Wish I'd Never Known About Love - Audrey Lauren - early 61
107** Yes My Love
109 As High As My Heart - Bob Davis, vocalist, and his Beale St. Boys - early 61
110 My Last Rainy Day (same credit, but no group)
111 Brother (Treat Your Other Brother Right) - Goldenaires Choir - late 62 or early 63
112 A Mile Around The Bend
113 No One - Goldenaires Choir - 63
114 Could It Be Love
** NOTE: The first Audrey Lauren record seems to have been mis-numbered and the mis-numbering carried forward to her second one. Then, Bob Davis realized the mistake and didn't issue anything with 108 on it. So 103 and 108 many not exist at all (or both might exist, having the same record number on both sides). Then again, until I see the flip of Audrey's second record, there's always a chance that both sides were numbered 106 and there's a 107/108 out there. However, considering the way all the other records were numbered, I believe that the above is correct.
As You Are - Robbie Anderson Davis - 7/7/43
How Do You Do, Miss - Robbie Anderson Davis - 7/7/43
It Must Be Me - Robbie Anderson Davis - 7/7/43
Best Wishes - Robbie Anderson Davis - 8/12/43
I Think I'm Lucky - Robbie Anderson Davis - 8/12/43
If So, When - Robbie Anderson Davis - 8/12/43
Our Moon - R. A. Davis - 1/23/46
I Guess I'll Have To Get Along Without You - R. A. Davis - 2/3/1946
Why Wish? - R. A. Davis - 3/13/46
I Wanna Do What I Wanna Do - R. A. Davis - 3/15/46
I Blame It All On You - R. A. Davis - 4/24/46
Ain't Gonna Worry 'Bout A Soul - R.A. Davis - 6/14/46
That Sweet Dream - R. A. Davis - 7/16/46
Please Louise - R. A. Davis - 7/26/46
Beautiful Eyes - R.A. Davis - 8/11/46
Sun-tan Women - R. A. Davis - 8/11/46
Brother, Treat Your Other Brother Right - R.A. Davis - 9/9/46
Could It Be Love - R.A. Davis - 9/9/46
That's Music - R. A. Davis (with Dottie Heller) - 9/28/46
My Broken Heart's On Strike - R. A. Davis - 10/23/46
My Sugar-Coated Sugar - R.A. Davis - 10/23/46
I Ain't Gonna Worry ('Bout A Soul) - 11/13/46
Have You A Moment To Spare - Robbie Anderson Davis - 2/10/48
My Last Rainy Day - Robbie Anderson Davis - 2/10/48
Charlene - Robbie Anderson Davis - 2/25/48
Delivery "Mon" (What Is In That Bag You Got) - (with Lew Brown) - 4/19/48
Darling, It Is Just Love - Robbie Davis (with Louis Tobin) - 10/11/48
It's Dawn, Need I Ask For More - 10/28/48
Little Stationery Store - Robbie Anderson Davis - 10/28/48
Ain't Gonna Worry 'Bout A Soul - 4/8/49
You Can Quote Me - Robbie Anderson Davis - 6/13/49
Each Time - (with Joseph Elly) - 7/8/49
Next Christmas - Robbie Anderson Davis - 10/3/49
The Sun Is Up, It's A Beautiful Day - Robbie Anderson Davis - 6/9/49
Keep Looking Over The Shoulder Of Your Troubles - Robbie Anderson Davis - 10/5/49
Whoa! Gee! Haw! Gid-Dup - Robbie Anderson Davis - 6/10/50
There's Nothing Greater Than A Prayer - (with Spencer Williams) - 12/23/50
Ain't It A Shame We Couldn't Make It - Robbie Anderson Davis - 3/6/53
Don't Wait Too Long - Robbie Anderson Davis - 3/6/53
I Wanna Be Lazy - Robbie Anderson Davis - 3/6/53
All My Love - 1/20/1956
Blame No One But Yourself - 1/20/56
I Wanna Be Lazy - 1/20/56
I Wish I'd Never Known About Love - 1/20/56
No One - 1/20/56
Why Wish - 1/20/56
Yes, My Love - 1/20/56
All Night Long - Bob Anderson Davis (with Billy Oliver Harris) - 12/11/56
Let This Day Be Good - (with Eddie Lowth) - 1/10/57
Fish Man - (with Joe S. Lewis) - 1/30/57
What Makes Johnny Rock - (with Joe S. Lewis) - 1/30/57
Beautiful Eyes - 2/21/57
Charlene - 2/21/57
Helplessly In Love - 2/21/57
I'd Like To Make A Picture With You - 2/21/57
Little Stationery Store - Robbie Anderson Davis - 2/21/57
Keep Looking Over The Shoulder Of Your Troubles - 2/21/57
Oh It's A Beautiful Day Today - 2/21/57
So Long - (with Eddie Lowth) - 2/21/57
How High Is Up - (with Bob Underwood) - 3/7/57
For Your Love - 3/25/1957
How Can I Tell You - Robbie Anderson Davis - 5/28/58
Introduce Me To Love - 1/28/1959
Too Much - 1/28/1959
Ain't It A Shame We Couldn't Make It - 5/1/1959
All Is Love - 5/1/1959
As You Are - 5/1/1959
Don't Wait Too Long - 5/1/1959
Have You A Moment To Spare - 5/1/1959
How Do You Do, Miss - 5/1/1959
I Blame It All On You - 5/1/1959
I Could Kick Myself - 5/1/1959
I Know I Shouldn't Love You But I Do - 5/1/1959
I Must Have Been Out Of My Mind - 5/1/1959
I'm Glad I Found You Out In Time - 5/1/1959
I'm Gonna Make You Sorry - 5/1/1959
Love Is Ours - 5/1/1959
My Broken Heart's On Strike - 5/1/1959
That Sweet Dream - 5/1/1959
Victim Of Love - 5/1/1959
A Mile Around The Bend - 8/4/60
I Won't Do Wrong To You - 10/23/61
Don't Forget (To Remember Me) - 10/30/62
Brother, Treat Your Other Brother Right - 9/13/63