Musical memories from York County, PA: A fall miniseries, Part 1
Often in my columns, I try to jump around to a variety of topics – talking about restaurants one week, stores another, particular towns another, and so on.
But now we’re coming into fall, which will always be most notable in my mind as marching band season, and I wanted to talk some more about local music memories. So I tried to dig out ALL the submission I have on that topic, and realized I have enough for a short miniseries on musical memories from York County.
So, for the next few weeks (with a brief intermission next week to talk about something even more seasonally relevant than music), I’m going to be sharing readers’ memories and photos on a variety of local musical topics, from venues to teachers to bands and beyond.
I hope you’ll enjoy it!
To kick things off, here’s a musical mystery: Of the photo you see with today’s column, shared by reader MaryAnn Hoke, the only known information is that one of the mandolin players in this mandolin band was Hoke’s husband’s grandfather, George Clinton Hoke, who was born Aug. 22, 1892 and died April 5, 1930. Based on that, I’m sure this photo was taken in the early 1900s, probably between 1910 and 1920 or 1925. I’d love to know more for MaryAnn and her family, so if you have any ideas, please let us know!
Another topic of musical interest in the past has been the American Legion shows held in York during the 1940s and 1950s at Post No. 127. Originally, a reader named Anita in North Carolina asked about that in 2015, and I shared some memories of those shows back in June of last year.
I had a letter on the topic from George M. Trout Sr., a longtime local radio personality who is often a wealth of musical information. George noted:
“Regarding the question of the American Legion shows from Anita in North Carolina… York Post 127 was host for the shows from 1920 to 1956 or 1957, and I doubt there are many local participants left in York. I suspect I am one of the very few. Although there are probably a number of people who saw some of the shows.”
George continued, “At the suggestion of a local vocal teacher, Ralph Woolley, I auditioned for the male chorus of ‘Rio Rita’ in 1950 and was stunned to win the lead role of Captain Jim, of the Texas Rangers. The late Bettie Jones of East York was the romantic lead.”
He added, “In 1951, bagpipers and a large chorus were featured in the wonderful ‘Brigadoon,’ with beautiful songs like ‘The Heather on the Hill’ and the title song. As leading man my ‘love interest’ was Joyce Forman, but the talented Isabelle Tubb was the talent find of the year.”
“The 1952 show was ‘Bloomer Girl,'” George noted, which “starred a member of the famous theatrical family, Ethel Barrymore, who also used her married last name, Colt. Local regular actors who had roles in many shows included Harry Seyler, Alverta Keller, Don Hoke and Bill Flinchbaugh. All four have passed, I think. Emanuel Cassimatis and I were singing sons-in-law. Emanuel in later years served as a judge in the York County courts. He too has passed away. Isabelle Tubb was, again, a local star.”
George said, “My last participation was the wonderful and powerful Rodgers and Hammerstein ‘South Pacific.’ This show still plays on many stages even today. Songs like ‘Some Enchanted Evening,’ ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame,’ ‘Happy Talk,’ and ‘This Nearly was Mine’ are still popular. My role was that of Lt. Joseph Cable, who fell in love with the beautiful native girl Liat. My ‘feature’ song was ‘You’ve Got to be Taught,’ dealing musically with racial situations. The lyrics were strong and an affirmation of the strong feelings of Hammerstein.”
He continued, “The leading lady was Betty Jane Watson, who created the female lead in ‘Oklahoma’ for four years on Broadway. Yorker Dale Uffelman was the York male lead for South Pacific, with Anita Cassimatis as Bloody Mary. Strong male and female chorus members were wonderful.”
And, George concluded, “I think the Legion produced two or probably three more shows, but then I was deeply involved in York High and York Catholic play-by-play and show rehearsals were out of the question. I sometimes did four and five games a week. Basketball, that is, on WORK radio, 1350. In later years I was very much back in the theater with the ‘Kenley’ players, but that was summer stock, and no play-by-play. Thanks to you and Anita for bringing back some wonderful career memories.”
Of note here, I just put together that the Anita who asked about these shows originally was almost certainly Anita Cassimatis, as she mentioned in her original letter that her family originally owned the Ramona restaurant in York, which, thanks to a letter from another local notable, William Hoffmeyer, I realized had been owned by the Cassimatis family, specifically Judge Cassimatis’ parents.
I had another memory of the Legion shows from reader Ronald L. Walter, who wrote, “Concerning the Legion shows, my sister Carolyn Walter and my brother Gerald Walter played parts in those shows. She was a soprano and he was a tenor. Actually my sister became Miss York County in 1950. Also sang on local radio – WORK.”
Last up for today, I want to switch to a different musical venue – York’s Valencia Ballroom. These notes come from reader Mildred Shaffer of Shrewsbury, who wrote after seeing a previous column on the Valencia:
“My memories too go back a long time. When I graduated from the Thompson business school in 1938 my first job was in the office of the Valencia. My boss was Steve Tassia. This was the Big Band era. We had a long list of patrons on our mailing list to receive notice of any upcoming band. During the two years I worked there we published a 10th anniversary book with stories and pictures of each band leader plus many pictures of the ballroom, inside and outside; the Rainbow Grill, which was downstairs; plus all of the Tassia family and the Valencia’s history.”
She continued, “All attendance records were roken when Kay Kyser’s orchestra appeared at the Valencia on Friday, March 3, 1939. Kyser’s orchestra was one of the first to play in the Valencia, filling an engagement there on March 2, 1929. Attendance on that night numbered 134. What a comparison 10 years later!”
She added, “I still have my book and get it every now and then – brings back a lot of great memories. I sold tickets for the student hop on Friday evenings. Miss Sadie had rules and regulations and it was a well-behaved crowd.”
Mildred noted when she wrote her letter (which I believe was in 2015) she was turning 95, and she commented, “What a change in dancing I’ve seen!” I believe that, Mildred!
Have questions or memories to share? Email me at email@example.com or write to Ask Joan, York Daily Record/Sunday News, 1891 Loucks Road, York PA 17408. We cannot accept any phone calls with questions or information.