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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  April, 2008

Did You Know?
By Al Owens

…A man known as “The King of American Jazz” once played the State Theatre in Uniontown?
On Friday, November 27th, 1925 Paul Whiteman brought his famous orchestra to town, and he and his talented charges made front page news.

It had only been a year since Whiteman had first suggested, and then collaborated with George Gershwin on the American masterwork “Rhapsody in Blue,” when he came to Fayette County. (Gershwin, with Whiteman’s orchestra, had premiered the historic piece on February 12th, 1924 in New York City)

The adjective filled account of the Uniontown performance in 1925, in the Uniontown Morning Herald matched the coverage of John Philip Sousa’s Penn Theatre performance five years earlier.

“The presentation marked another high light in the local effort to give the finer things of the musical art to the public through the medium of the spacious State playground,” it said of Whiteman’s work. It had been a performance that had obviously thrilled the local audience as the reporter noted, “To say which bit of the program was enjoyed the more is a foolhardy venture but judging from the ferocity of the applause the olio (miscellaneous) soloists drew both volume and the curtain calls.”

It was a night, too, when Fayette County concertgoers got an opportunity to be among the first to hear, in person, excerpts of the eventual American classic – Rhapsody in Blue.

Paul Whiteman, though, was one of a long list of nationally known musicians and recording artists who’ve entertained local audiences.

Did you know that the man known as “The Velvet Fog” performed in Uniontown?
In April of 1956, a young Mel Torme sang for two shows at the VFW Post 47 Home in Uniontown.

In fact Fayette County was a hotbed for nationally known recording artists, during the 1940’s, 50’s and ‘60’s.

Rock ‘N Roll legend Bo Diddley played the Ivory Ballroom in Uniontown in August of 1960.

The 4 Ink Spots (If I Didn’t Care) not only signed autographs at Ellis Music Store on Morgantown Street in Uniontown in August of 1941, they sang at the State Theatre that night.

The State Theatre presented something they called “The Shower of Stars” in December of 1966. It was an aptly titled program. Tommy James and the Shondells (Hanky Panky), The Vogues (5 O’clock World) and The Happenings (See You in September) were among the stars who appeared.
In the summer of 1961, The Ivory Ballroom presented musical legends Little Anthony and the Imperials (Tears on My Pillow, Goin’ Out of My Head and Hurt, Hurt So Bad).

There were a number of acts that appeared at the teenage nightclub known as the Teen Scene, two miles south of Uniontown, during the 1960’s.
The Marcels (Blue Moon), and Bobby Hebb (Sunny), Peaches and Herb (Reunited), The Crystals (He’s a Rebel, And Then He Kissed Me) and Lee Dorsey (Working in the Coal Mine) were among them.

I felt fortunate to have seen some personal performances myself in those days. I stood only a few feet away from The Five Stairsteps when they sang their hit “O-o-h Child” at the VFW post on East Main Street, in Uniontown.

I also witnessed performances by soul legends Junior Walker and the All Stars (Shotgun) and Booker T. and the MG’s (Green Onions) at the Teen Scene.

Did you know that sometimes local news stories become national curiosities?

In June of 1912, the Trenton, New Jersey Evening Times reported that a couple in Smithfield, had a rather odd dispute.
The woman claimed they had 14 children, while the man claimed they had 16. A fight ensued in which the father bit the mother in the head. According to the story, after hearing the nature of the supposed assault, Judge Van Swearingen exonerated the father of any charges.

Did you know that Hillary Clinton certainly isn’t the only presidential candidate to have visited Fayette County? There’s a rather long list of candidates and even presidents who’ve passed through the area, and I’ll fill you in on them next week.