News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 13, 2013

HISTORICAL TREASURE: The ‘Snappiest band in the Middle West’

Judy Francis
Special to the Tribune-Star

---- — When people looked for good dance music in the late 1920s, they may have gone to Terre Haute’s popular Trianon ballroom, where the cost of admission was 10 cents for ladies and 25 cents for gentleman. They may have danced to the jazz and swing rhythms of Paul Stuart’s Wee Hours Serenaders. Billed as the “Snappiest band in the Middle West,” the Serenaders also played at the Apollo in Twelve Points, the Tokio Dance Palace, the K of D Building and many other venues in Indiana and Kentucky.

The group of 11 young African-American musicians, most of them high school chums, also established themselves as local recording artists and radio performers.

An online photo from the Stuart family collection identifies the members: Paul Stuart, director and tenor sax; a young male mascot (unidentified); Mosley Smith, trumpet; Karl Bradshaw, drums; Demetrius Ewing, tenor sax; William Miller, trumpet; Leo Montgomery and Harold Pollard, tenor sax; Belford Hendricks, piano; Leonard Manual, banjo; and Frank Henderson, bass fiddle and tuba.  

Despite the excellent musicianship, each performer received only $7 per show, and each had a family to support. Stuart was a member of the Terre Haute Fire Department, and he had to choose between a stable job and a musical career. Ewing passed that thought on to his son. When Dee Jr. was offered a chance to play in jazz great Duke Ellington’s band, Demetrius urged him to finish college instead. For the Serenaders, family took priority, so the group disbanded in 1930. Only one member, Hendricks, had a successful career as a musician. He went to New York, where he established himself as an arranger.

Be sure to visit the Vigo County Historical Museum’s special exhibit, “And the Band Played On … Vigo County’s Musical Scene through the 1960s,” on the first floor. There you’ll find a picture and more information about the Wee Hours Serenaders.