Notebook Cover

The Harlemaires

By Marv Goldberg

© 2021 by Marv Goldberg

The Harlemaires are mostly a mystery group. Fairly well-known for backing up Wynonie Harris on his 1947 recording of "Ghost Of A Chance", both their origins and demise are shrouded in mystery. It was rare for someone to be named as a member of the group while that person actually was a member; most accounts talked about them having been a member. Fortunately, we know the names of the members on the recordings, plus a couple of others.

Other than a single December 1944 ad (see below), the first time we hear of the Harlemaires is in the January 20, 1945 Chicago Defender. They were having a Talent Poll and the Harlemaires showed up in the Specialty Artists category. They were behind the Red Caps, the King Cole Trio, the Ink Spots, Louis Jordan, the Mills Brothers, and the 3 Bits Of Rhythm, but ahead of the 4 Vagabonds and the Delta Rhythm Boys.

Obviously, they were in good company. Not so obvious, however, is why they were on that list in the first place. I can only find a single appearance up to this point (in Buffalo, New York on December 31, 1944), nor had they made any recordings. Want to know something stranger? They actually won in that category (with over 16,000 votes). (This in spite of there not being a single advertisement for them ever having appeared anywhere in Chicago.) Second place went to the 5 Red Caps and, in third position, the King Cole Trio.

Harlemaires - early 1945 Putting aside that unanswerable question, the good news is that the March 3 Chicago Defender, in announcing the winners, ran a photo of the group, saying that they were currently at the Spotlight Club in New York. Even more fortunate is that the February 17 Defender had run the same photo and said "The Harlemaires, swingsational Broadway quartet currently at Spotlight Club in 52nd St., forged into second place behind the Red Caps in the popularity poll for specialty artists this week. The streamlined one seated whom you, like your contest editor, must be interested in knowing, is beauteous Betti Mays." The others, not being beauteous, weren't deemed worthy of being identified.

A big article about Betti Mays in the February 26, 1949 Ohio State News had this:

Ralph Cooper's interest in Betti proved the turning point in her career. He believed, and rightly so as it turned out, that Betti was more talented than would appear at first blush. He convinced her that she should try her hand with a small musical combo. So an act called the Harlemaires was formed with Betti on the bongo drums aided and abetted by guitar, bass and piano. The act remained intact for nine months and did quite well.

Some of that could use an explanation. Betti was a singer and dancer who'd appeared many times in shows with Ralph Cooper (actor, dancer, and MC). [Of course, since the article was slanted towards Betti, she was the one who formed the group. I don't know that she wasn't, but there was never anything else written about its formation. Ralph Cooper might have put them together or she might have been placed with an existing trio.] So who was Betti?

Betti Mays Betti Mays - Elizabeth Emma "Betti" Mays (sometimes misspelled "Betty") was born on December 3, 1922 in New York City. She died on August 12, 2014 in Kenner, Louisiana, which is where her son was living.

Ralph Cooper Since I mentioned Ralph Cooper (who'd starred in the 1938 film "The Duke Is Tops" and who's credited with starting the Apollo Amateur Night shows in 1935), I should tell you that he and Betti were married. However, when they got married is a bit difficult to determine. I've seen a date of 1945, but that's totally wrong. In 1940, Ralph and his then-wife Lillian were living in Los Angeles. An article in the July 26, 1947 Pittsburgh Courier said that they were looking for "Mrs. Lillian Powell Cooper, wife of Ralph Cooper...." because her mother was seriously ill and no one knew where Lillian was. She had supposedly gone on vacation to Atlantic City, but no one could find her ("Messages have been sent to California, Mexico and Honolulu"). I'm sure there's a great story in there somewhere, but I'm not going to go digging for it. An article about Betti in the May 31, 1947 Afro-American said she was single. In that February 26, 1949 Ohio State News article, Betti says that he's her manager and she refers to him as "Mr. Cooper".

The May 17, 1958 New York Age said that they were married and she had just given birth. This was reiterated by a May 29 blurb in Jet. (Their son, Ralph Cooper, Jr., was born on May 4 in Manhattan.) Nothing else before that even hinted at marriage. HOWEVER, the only marriage record for Ralph Cooper and Elizabeth Mays is from 1960, so let's go with that, stop asking embarrassing questions, and move on.

So who else was in the Harlemaires at the beginning? Not a single source mentions any names, but fortunately, there's that photo. From it, I can tell that two of the three men who were there a few years later were there from the beginning: Chester Slater (piano) and Percy Joell (bass). The original guitarist is unknown.

Chester Slater (piano) - Chester Emerson Slater was born April 18, 1912 in Philadelphia and died March 5, 1998 in Newark, New Jersey.

I don't know exactly what he'd done, but on December 10, 1930, when he was 18, he was sentenced to the Pennsylvania Industrial Reformatory. There was a check mark in the "Larceny" column (meaning theft of personal property). The intake sheet didn't say how long his sentence was.

Chester isn't heard of again until 1941, when he was part of a team called the Two Jacks. The November 21, 1941 Mauch Chunk [Pennsylvania] Times-News said: "Billed as the Two Jacks, Chester Slater and Truman Gilbert, negro entertainers currently at the Hotel American do a specialty called 'Chatanooga Choo-choo' that really is a tuneful earful. The Jacks sing and play the piano [Chester] and a bass viol [Truman]." They were never mentioned again after December 1941. [Did you know that in 1954 Mauch Chunk became Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania?]

In July 1944, Chester was playing the piano at DuMond's in Philadelphia. This means that the Harlemaires formed after that date.

Percy Joell (bass) - George Percival Joell was born January 15, 1918 in Philadelphia and died there on March 8, 1988. When he filled out his draft registration in October 1940, he was a member of the Morris Mosley Band.

at the Palace Theater The first ad for the "4 Harlemaires" was for a week's appearance at the Palace Theater in Buffalo, New York starting December 31, 1944. They were part of the Black & White Revue ("30 White Stars; 30 Sepia Stars"). Betti was performing as a single, at the Elks Rendezvous (Harlem), as late as December 30, 1944, so she had to hustle to join them for their first known performance on the following night.

In February 1945, the Harlemaires ("three guys and a gal" said the February 3 Pittsburgh Courier) were at the Spotlite Club on West 52nd Street in Manhattan.

on a radio show at the 21 Club The April 11, 1945 ad for the 21 Club in Baltimore said the 4 Harlemaires were "Sepia Recording Artists", although there's no evidence that they recorded prior to 1947. (Then again, why would they even have been in that 1945 Chicago Defender poll if no one had ever heard of them?) While they were in Baltimore, the "Harlem-Aires", along with June Richmond, appeared on a WITH radio show called "O. K. Pleasure Time" on May 6. The MC was Chuck Richards, who was one of the contenders to be hired as the lead of the Ink Spots when Jerry Daniels left in 1936 (you may have heard that Bill Kenny got the job).

And then she was gone. On May 12, 1945, "Betty Mays" was at the Apollo with Tab Smith's band. She had joined Smith within a few weeks of the April 15 death of his vocalist, Trevor Bacon, in a car crash. At the end of that year, she became the vocalist for Luis Russell's band when they went on tour with boxer Joe Louis. By April 1946, she was the leader of "Bettie Mays & Her Swing-tette", appearing at the Elks Rendezvous in Harlem. She later appeared in the movie "Boy! What A Girl!".

at the Cadillac Cocktail Lounge The Harlemaires soldiered on, replacing Betti with Evelyn Purvis. They started at the Cadillac Cocktail Lounge (Cumberland, Maryland) on June 18, 1945.

The September 8, 1945 New York Age said: "Evelyn Purvis, femme singing star with the Harlemaires, is anxiously awaiting the return of her soldier-hubby from the wars. The unit is currently playing The Band Box in Baltimore, Maryland." This was her only mention as being with the group.

Evelyn Purvis - Evelyn Tootsie Purvis (her name with Social Security) was born on August 17, 1916 in Georgetown, South Carolina and died on February 27, 1998 in the Bronx.

Evelyn Purvis at Club Zombie Evelyn had appeared as a single since at least 1936. The August 6, 1942 Detroit Free Press called her "The Brown Gal Of Songs" when she appeared at the Club Three 666 in that city.

Randolph & Purvis On June 24, 1943, twelve days after he was drafted, she married singer/dancer Raymond Leroy Randolph. They would appear as "Randolph & Purvis" from at least 1942 until 1957 (with a short timeout for the war). It looks like she joined the Harlemaires to have something to do while her husband was in the Army.

The March 20, 1943 Pittsburgh Courier said: "Charming Evelyn Purvis, the glamour half of the dancing team of Purvis and Purvis [sic], current at the Elks Rendezvous in Harlem. One of the most talented female dancers in the profession, Mrs. Purvis [sic] is being raved about by the men in khaki who spend much of their furlough at the Harlem hot spot."

In early June 1945, Evelyn was a soloist at Al Brown's Melody Club in Philadelphia. She would have joined the Harlemaires soon after. I don't know exactly when her husband got out of the army, but "Randolph & Purvis" were back together by late 1945, when they appeared at Philly's El Dorado. Therefore, she, like Betti Mays, was only with the group for a few months.

at Murrays at Wilsons On October 9, 1945, the Harlemaires appeared at Wilson's in Philadelphia, probably with Evelyn. After that, it was Murray's Rhythm Bar in the same city (November 2 through the middle of January 1946). Evelyn was gone by then, and Murray's advertised them as the "Four Kings Of Jazz", but the name of Evelyn's replacement never made the news. So now we have Chester Slater, Percy Joell, and two unidentified members.

at Bill Martin's at Bill Martin's January 23, 1946 found them at Bill Martin's in York, Pennsylvania "Singing and Playing your favorites in Swingtime". They were held over an extra week.

The July 1, 1946 Pittsburgh Press said: "The Harlemaires, a quartet of instrumentalists and vocalists, are appearing at Caramela's Oasis on Bower Hill Rd. They recently concluded a long run at the Cafe Zanzibar in New York, and this is their first stop on their way to the West Coast where they are booked to make movies." They followed the Cats & The Fiddle into the Oasis, opening on July 3. (Unfortunately, there are few ads for the Zanzibar, and none place them there. On top of that, with the exception of Detroit, they never seem to have played anywhere outside of Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and Washington, DC.)

The July 3 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had this interesting sentence: "The four boys organized their unit three years ago while in the army." We know they weren't organized in the army, but this tells us that they're still four males. They were held over at the Oasis for at least one additional week.

Harlemaires at Club Madre On November 2, 1946, the Harlemaires opened at Club Madre in Washington, DC. The ad called them "Sensational Quartet", but more important, the ad ran a new photo of the group. While they weren't named, the photo shows Percy Joell, Chester Slater, Billy Butler, and Dottie Smith.

Dottie Smith (drums) - Dorothy May "Dottie" Hawes was born on March 27, 1925, in Wilmington, North Carolina and died December 27, 2012 in Philadelphia. I see her name as "Dorothea" in a lot of places, but her name really was "Dorothy".

Sometime in 1941, Dorothy Hawes married John Smith, Jr. in Philadelphia. From then on, she'd be known as Dottie Smith, although he died in December 1949. (Note that she's not the Dotty Smith who was married to trumpet player Billy Butterfield.)

the Hollis Hoppers In early 1946, Dottie was with pianist Bill Hollis' Hollis Hoppers in Philadelphia. In July, the Hollis Hoppers Trio was at Philadelphia's King Cole Club, so she was gone by that time.

Dottie somehow became friends with Philadelphia pianist Beryl Booker. One night, Beryl coaxed Dottie onto the stage to sing. Percy Joell was in the audience and offered her a job with the Harlemaires. Within a couple of months (she later said), she opened with them at Harlem's Baby Grand. However, they don't seem to have played the Baby Grand until late June 1947, so that can't be right (at least, they were never advertised there prior to that date).

It looks like Dottie joined in the summer of 1946 (certainly in time to learn all the routines for when they opened at the Astoria Musical Bar in December). This, of course, begs the question of who was in the group with Slater and Joell before that, since Evelyn Purvis was only there for a few months in 1945.

Billy Butler (guitar) - William Butler, Jr. was born in Philadelphia on December 15, 1924 and died on March 20, 1991 in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Since Butler was in the army from August 1943 to November 1945, he couldn't have been with the group in 1945. Neither Joell nor Slater seems to have been in the service.

Not making my job any easier was the existence of another contemporary musician named Billy Butler (a violinist). That one led "Billy Butler's Symphonic Swing Orchestra (Conducted by Mae Diggs)" in Lew Leslie's 1941 production of "Rhapsody In Black". In New York, he became the Director Of Public Relations for the Negro Actors Guild in 1943.

[Note that you probably know Mae Diggs better as "Daisy Mae" of Hep-Cats fame. And, just to make my life a lot more fun, guitarist Billy Butler would appear with her in the early 1950s.]

When Billy filled out his draft registration in December 1942, he was working at Frank Palumbo's 20th Century Cafe in Philadelphia.

at the Astoria Musical Bar at the Astoria Musical Bar After the Club Madre, they were booked into the Astoria in Baltimore. It had been converted to a Musical Bar on December 20, 1946, and the Harlemaires were the first act booked. The January 4, 1947 ad for the Astoria Musical Bar told us that the Harlemaires were held over, due to popular demand. They were still there on January 31, when they were joined by the 4 Vagabonds and pianist Neva Johnson. The ad called them "The Club Astoria's Biggest Hit". (I guess they meant well, but since the club had only had live acts since December 20, there wasn't much to compare them to.)

at the Astoria Musical Bar They were back at the Astoria on April 4, 1947, along with the Billy Moore Trio. They replaced the outgoing 3 B's & A Honey, a group with which Dottie Smith would briefly sing in a couple of years. This time, they remained until June 6. Sometime in May, they were joined by the Ravens. (Remember, "It's Smart To Be Seen At The Astoria Musical Bar".)

at the Astoria Musical Bar However, there's a problem (isn't there always?). A couple of the Astoria ads told us that the Harlemaires were "Exclusive Sapphire Recording Artists" and that we should watch for their soon-to-be-released recordings: "Yes Ma'am", "New Orleans", "Get Out (While The Getting's Good)", "Pretty Eyes", "Groove To Remember", and one of my favorites: "etc.".

Harlemaires They couldn't have mixed up the Harlemaires with some other group because "Pretty Eyes", "Yes, Ma'am", and "Groove To Remember" would be recorded for Atlantic in December 1947 (but Atlantic didn't exist yet at this point). So, did they really record for Frankie Adams' Sapphire Records of Philadelphia? I'll bet they did, but for some reason the recordings were never released. There's really no doubt in my mind that these songs were actually recorded in early 1947. Note that Adams was one of the composers of "If I Could Steal You From Somebody Else (Then Someone Could Steal You From Me)".

at the Baby Grand at the Baby Grand At this point, things heat up for the Harlemaires, at least for a little while. On June 26, 1947, they opened at the Club Baby Grand in Harlem, remaining for 11 weeks (through September 10). Also on the bill was Wynonie Harris.

Now comes a spate of recordings; ones that were actually released.

Since they were appearing with Wynonie Harris at the Baby Grand, why not record with him?

Wynonie Harris This they did, in a July 1947 session for Aladdin Records. First, Harris recorded three songs with his full band ("You Got To Get Yourself A Job, Girl", "Hard Ridin' Mama" [with band vocals], and "Big City Blues"). After those had been waxed, the Harlemaires joined him in a rendition of "Ghost Of A Chance", on which they both play and sing behind him. This is the only tune on which they, instead of his band, back him.

Sam Price Albennie Jones On August 6, 1947, with pianist Sam Price in place of Chester Slater, Percy Joell, Billy Butler, and Dottie Smith (as the Sam Price Trio) backed up Albennie Jones on a Decca session: "Give It Up Daddy Blues", "The Rain Is Falling", and "Papa Tree Top Blues" (on which she says "play that thing, Billy'). They just provide the instrumentation to her singing. (Note: On November 28, 1947, Albennie had a second Decca session, this time accompanied by Sam Price & His Quartet: "Love Is Such A Mystery", "I Have A Way Of Lovin'", and "Hey Little Boy". However, Price used loads of musicians, so there's no telling which, if any, of the Harlemaires were on this.)

On August 11, 1947, the Harlemaires appeared on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts Show, singing "Rose Of The Rio Grande", but lost to Ronnie Deauville (who would record a couple of versions of "Gloria" the following year).

Aladdin 196 In September, Aladdin released "Ghost Of A Chance", credited to "Wynonie 'Mr. Blues' Harris and His All-Stars accompanied by the Harlemaires". The Harlemaires weren't on the flip, "Big City Blues", either as singers or musicians.

Decca 48048 Also in September, Decca issued "The Rain Is Falling" and "Papa Tree Top Blues", credited to "Albennie Jones and Sam Price and His Trio".

at Club Caverns When the Club Caverns (Washington, D.C.) re-opened on September 19, 1947 (after a summer hiatus), the Harlemaires were there for two weeks, along with Savannah Churchill.

After the Caverns, they returned to New York to open at Jock's Music Room (at 7th Avenue and 138th Street in Harlem) on October 3. The announcement, in the September 27 Pittsburgh Courier mentioned "Jock's Music Room will open the first Friday in October, with the Harlemites [sic] headlining."

The October 4, 1947 Pittsburgh Courier slipped up in talking about the Jock's show:

Jock's Music Room, which captured the imagination of nite-life adherents from coast to coast up until the beginning of the hot weather, will tee off again this Friday with a new talent line-up.

The fall festivities of the Music Room will be spiked by the Harlemaires, an instrumental and vocal group, that has been creating some big talk along marquee lane.

Led by pianist Chester Slater, the group just closed a successful fling in Washington. Its run here will be for four weeks with the usual option. However, come what may, the Harlemaires will not quit the big town for they have already inked for a turn at the Baby Grand. This is an unlimited engagement and may well take care of the outfit's booking problem until early next year.

Did you catch it? They actually mentioned the name of one of the members! Heresy! This is one of those rare times that a member of the Harlemaires would be named while still with the group. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any ads for Jock's, so I don't know how long they were there.

Cousin Joe But, as long as they were in New York, there was more recording to be done. Once again leaving Chester Slater behind, Percy, Billy, and Dottie teamed up with pianist Sam Price, this time backing up blues singer Cousin Joe on an October 19, 1947 Decca session: "Beggin' Woman", "Sadie Brown", "Evolution Blues", and "Box Car Shorty's Confession". All except "Sadie Brown" (on which they sing) are blues tunes.

The October 18 Billboard reported that the musicians' recording ban (the second Petrillo Ban) was more than a rumor; it would definitely begin on January 1, 1948. Record companies now scrambled to record everyone in sight or purchase as many masters as possible so that they'd have product to sell until the strike was over. (Union musicians were forbidden to record during the strike.)

Harlemaires This was probably a crummy time to start a new record label, but this is when Atlantic Records came into being (and signed the Harlemaires). On November 21, 1947, the Harlemaires recorded four songs for Atlantic (at the Beltone Studios): "Rose Of The Rio Grande" (the unreleased version), "If You Mean What You Say", "Oo Dot En Pow", and "Pretty Eyes". These were the first entries written into Atlantic's master book; there are a few lower master numbers, but they may have been purchased.

They were back at Atlantic on December 7, 1947, recording another version of "Pretty Eyes", "Rose Of The Rio Grande" [the released version], "Yes, Ma'am", and "Groove To Remember" (an instrumental), this time at Fisher Studios. Remember that "Pretty Eyes", "Yes Ma'am", and "Groove To Remember" were three of the songs named as having been recorded for Sapphire back in the spring of 1947.

Decca 48061 Also in December, Decca released Cousin Joe's "Sadie Brown" and "Evolution Blues".

Decca 48069 1948 began with the January release of Albennie Jones' Decca recordings of "Give It Up Daddy Blues" and "I Have A Way Of Lovin'". As I said before, I don't know if any of the Harlemaires were on the latter side (with Sam Price & His Quartet).

The January 17, 1948 Billboard had an article titled "Atlantic Diskery Makes Its Debut". It mentioned that the first releases would be by Eddie Safranski, Melrose Colbert, Bob Howard, and the Tiny Grimes Quintet. The Harlemaires were mentioned, in passing, as being part of the label's talent line-up.

The January 31 Detroit Tribune reported that the Harlemaires "remain at Raymond Sportree's Show Bar" in Detroit. Nothing said when they'd started, nor were they in any of Sportree's infrequent ads.

The February 14, 1948 Chicago Defender did the impossible: it ran a photo of the group and gave their names: Chester Slater, Billy Butler, Percy Joell, and Dottie Smith. This is the only time in the group's history that this happened.

at the Lincoln Republican Club at the Astoria Musical Bar On February 27 and 29, the Harlemaires joined Bill Johnson & the Musical Notes at Baltimore's Astoria Musical Bar. On May 22, they appeared at the Lincoln Republican club in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

Atlantic 856 Atlantic released "If You Mean What You Say" (vocal by Dottie Smith), backed with "Rose Of The Rio Grande" sometime in 1948. I've seen a date of March, but it didn't show up in Billboard's Advance Record Releases until June 19, so I'll go with June. "If You Mean What You Say" really isn't very good. The flip, with scatting, is much better.

At least Billboard agreed with me in their July 3 review:

If You Mean What You Say (58): Draggy pop performance. Dottie does okay, but doesn't jell in passages with vocal group backing.

Rose Of The Rio Grande (73): Jump cleffing of oldie smoothly and rhythmically done, with two vocal bebop breaks giving up-to-the-minute flavor.

Decca 48091 In November 1948, Decca released the other Cousin Joe recordings that had the members of the Harlemaires backing him musically (as part of the Sam Price Trio): "Beggin' Woman" and "Box Car Shorty's Confession".

Dottie at the Chester Arms But then, all becomes murky again. There was a November 1948 ad for the Chester Arms Hotel (Chester, Pennsylvania), featuring Dottie Smith at the piano nightly. The ad also said she was "Formerly of Maxine's Nightclub of Philadelphia". So when did she leave the Harlemaires? As with everything else about the group, nothing ever said. Was she replaced? Yes. By whom? Why are you even asking?

Phenix 1002 Billy Butler was off by himself too. Remember that song "Groove To Remember", supposedly recorded by the Harlemaires on Sapphire and actually recorded by them on Atlantic? Well, "Groove To Remember" (a jazz instrumental) was also waxed by Billy Butler's Four Stars on Phenix (a Philadelphia label owned by Gotham's Ivin Ballen) and released in February 1949. On the flip, "I Made A Big Mistake", he sounds a bit like Billy Eckstine. He also recorded "Pretty Eyes" (another song with the same history), released around April 1949 on Gotham.

at Dorsey's Cafe However, there was one further mention of the Harlemaires. On Saturday, April 23, 1949 they appeared at Dorsey's Cafe in Albany, New York. Since the ad said: "Famous Recording Stars Coming Direct to Dorsey's after a Record-Breaking Stay at the 'Baby Grand,' N.Y.C. Piano, Guitar, Bass and Cocktail Drums", this is definitely them (whatever "them" means). And, there's no mistake about the date; I've seen the paper's entire page. Beats me. Interestingly, both the first mention of the group (Buffalo) and the last (Albany) have them appearing in upstate New York.

ad for Billy Bevens In December 1950, there were some ads for Billy Bevens & His Harlem-Aires ("from N.Y.C.") appearing New Year's Eve at the Bradford House in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. His name was spelled both "Bevens" and "Bevins" in the papers, but neither he nor they were ever mentioned again. The 1930 census had a Willie Lee Bevens, a musician, in New York. He was "Bivins" in his WW2 registration, but "Bivens" in his 1942 marriage record. (President Andrew Jackson said "It is a damned poor mind indeed that can't think of at least two ways of spelling any word." I guess he was right.) Is this him? Is that them? You know the answer by now. (My only comment is that our Harlemaires were basically a Philadelphia group although they appeared in New York a lot.)

The January 26, 1954 Camden (New Jersey) Courier-Post talked about a gospel concert in Haddonfield, New Jersey on January 28. One of the acts was the Harlemaires ("male group from New York". This gospel group contained Benjamin Peay (that's Brook Benton to you), Jimmy Manning, and Howard Lymon, Sr. (father of Frankie).

So what happened to the members of the Harlemaires?

Betti Mays:

Betti Mays with Luis Russell After leaving the Harlemaires, she sang with Tab Smith's and Luis Russell's bands before becoming the leader of her own band, the Swing-tette (containing saxophonist Paul Bascomb and pianist Ernie Washington). In late 1946, she was in the film "Boy! What A Girl!" (filmed by November 1946 and released in April 1947). An October 19, 1948 article in the Staunton, Virginia News Leader talked about that picture and said "Betty [sic] Mays directs her own band and was a former member of the Harlemaires."

Betti Mays Betti was photographed for a Royal Crown Cola advertising campaign that started in 1949 and ran for a few years.

She had a couple of records (on Alert, Abbey, and Regal) in the 40s, but seems to have retired in the early 1950s. Other than being a bandleader in 1951, it was a quiet decade for her.

Evelyn Purvis:

This one is easy. After her husband, Ray Randolph, got out of the army, they reactivated the dance team of Randolph & Purvis, performing through at least 1957.

Billy Butler:

Daisy Mae & Her Hep-Cats Billy became part of Daisy Mae & Her Hep-Cats somewhere between mid-1950 and mid-1951.

Shep Shepard The October 20, 1951 Billboard reported that: "Billy Butler, former guitarist with The Tones and The Harlemaires, has formed a threesome of his own for the Philadelphia Zanzibar stand, taking on 88-er Freddy Thompson and bassist Percy Joell." By early December, they were at the Blue Note in Philadelphia, with drummer Berisford "Shep" Shepard having been added. Neither account gave a name for the group.

By May 1953, Billy was the singer/guitarist with Doc Bagby's orchestra. A bit later, he joined keyboardist Bill Doggett (as did Shep Shepard), and was one of the writers of Doggett's only hit, "Honky Tonk". In 1961, he was a guitarist on Joey Dee and the Starliters' hit recording of "Peppermint Twist".

ad for Billy Butler 4 Later in the 1960s, Billy made some albums for Prestige Records as a bandleader and also worked in Broadway pit bands. He had the Billy Butler "4" Orchestra in 1974.

Percy Joell:

Percy Joell - 1967 Eddie Carter Quartet Percy became a member of Billy Butler's unnamed group in late 1951 (see above). He'd go on to be a part of the Eddie Carter Quartet (aka Carter Rays), consisting of Carter on piano, Elvie Hill on guitar, Harold Cade on drums, and Joell on bass.

Chester Slater:

1953 was a big year for Chester Slater. By this time, he'd taken up the Hammond organ and, on January 23, he was part of the Zoot Sims Quintet on a Prestige session: "There I've Said It Again", "Jaguar", "Dream", and "Baby Please Come On Home".

The February 7, 1953 Cash Box said: "Gracita Faulkner, the erstwhile opera star with a very talented set of chords, has deserted the concert field for the cafe and lounge. She will be teamed with Chester Slater, the Hammond organist. Tommy Robinson, personal manager, was off to Boston in answer to wire for the sparkling new act." Personally, I can't imagine an opera singer belting out cafe songs backed by a Hammond organ, but that's just me.

Chester Slater at Bowman's Or is it just me? The March 28, 1953 New York Age said: "Lawson Bowman holding over Chester Slater, the dapper organist for another two months." So much for the opera singer. (The February 7 Chicago Defender nixed the pairing: "Chester Slater, formerly with the Harlemaires and now an organist, will definitely not be co-featured with Gracita Faulkner when the latter makes her nite club debut.") He was at Bowman's (in Harlem) until early December, after which he went to Small's Paradise.

By April 1956, Chester had a trio that appeared at the Shalimar in New York.

Dottie Smith:

Dottie with the Craft-Tones After the Harlemaires, Dottie made some appearances as a pianist. In April 1950, she was advertised as being with Harry "Fats" Crafton's Craft-Tones (he'd been with her in the Hollis Hoppers back in 1946). By June they'd be called 3 Cats & A Kitten, although Dottie wasn't the Kitten. By then she (and Beryl Booker) had joined the Cats & The Fiddle.

Dottie replaced Yvonne Lanauze in the 3 B's And A Honey in either late 1951 or early 1952. She couldn't have been in the 3 B's for very long; probably only for a few months in early 1952.

In 1954, she'd become a member of the Timmie Rogers Crazy Quilt Musical Revue.

Dottie with Louis Jordan - 1960 Dottie with Louis Jordan 1957 Dottie with the Tympany Five Later on, she joined Louis Jordan's Tympany Five. She wasn't mentioned with Jordan before July 1955 (when she appeared with him at the Golden Bank Casino in Reno, Nevada) and had left him by the end of 1960 when she was due to give birth. (She'd married Jesse Roger Gayle in 1959.) The January 26, 1961 Jet said: "The stork is headed for the Philly home of the Roger Gayles. She's the former Dottie Smith, who once sang with Louis Jordan's band." A lot of places say she was with Jordan for 10 years; she wasn't.

By 1971, Dottie was the hostess at the Sahara Supper Club in Philadelphia and became big in Philly's jazz scene. She ultimately opened her own club, La Gayla.

All the others:

There were others in the Harlemaires, but papers were silent as to who they were. If anyone has some names, I'll try to track them down.

So now, you know everything there is to know about the Harlemaires. Well, let's be honest: you now know the scant everything I've been able to uncover about them. While they got lots of work, they just don't seem to have been important enough for any columnist to care about the group's members.

Special thanks to Jay Bruder, Victor Pearlin, and George Percy Joell, Jr.

   UNRELEASED SAPPHIRE (mentioned in an Astoria Musical Bar ad from April 1947)
      Yes Ma'am
      New Orleans
      Get Out (While The Getting's Good)
      Pretty Eyes
      Groove To Remember

ALADDIN (Wynonie "Mr. Blues" Harris accompanied by the Harlemaires)
196 Ghost Of A Chance / [Big City Blues - Wynonie Harris] - 9/47

DECCA (Albennie Jones with Sam Price & His Trio)
48048 The Rain Is Falling / Papa Tree Top Blues - 9/47
      All but Chester Slater are on these.

DECCA (Cousin Joe, and Sam Price Trio)
48061 Sadie Brown / Evolution Blues - 12/47
      All but Chester Slater are on these.

DECCA (Albennie Jones with Sam Price & His Trio)
48069 Give It Up Daddy Blues / [I Have A Way Of Lovin' (With Sam Price & His Quartet)] - 1/48
      All but Chester Slater on this one.
      Unknown personnel in the Quartet - could be some or none of the Harlemaires

ATLANTIC (Harlemaires)
856 If You Mean What You Say (featuring Dottie Smith) / Rose Of The Rio Grande - 6/48

      Rose Of The Rio Grande (first version; November 1947)
      Oo Dot En Pow (November 1947)
      Pretty Eyes (first version; November 1947)
      Pretty Eyes (second version; December 1947)
      Yes, Ma'am (December 1947)
      Groove To Remember (December 1947)

DECCA (Cousin Joe, and Sam Price Trio)
48091 Beggin' Woman / Box Car Shorty's Confession - ca 11/48
      All but Chester Slater are on these.

Unca Marvy's Home Page

More Articles