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The Duke Where and When

A Chronicle of Duke Ellington's
Working Life and Travels

Fiestaval
Emporia, Kansas
May 9, 1940



Last updated
2014-10-27


On Thursday, May 9, 1940, Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra arrived in Emporia, Kansas to play for the Grand Ball celebrating the opening of the new Civic Auditorium during the city's first annual Fiestaval festival.

The ads for Emporia's First Annual Fiestaval May 5 to 10 included exhortations to plan to attend the grand opening of the new $600,000 Civic Auditorium.

Fiestaval began Sunday, May 5, with a community-wide religious service. On Monday a dedication program was attended by 2,500, and speeches were made by the governors of Kansas and Missouri. The civic parade on May 7, with about 170 parade units, was seen by an estimated 10,000 people. It was followed by an historic pageant and a square dance.

On Wednesday, a vaudeville show called "Three Cheers" was performed at 3:30, 7:30 and 10:00. It featured "name" Nick Lucas, Sid Page and Peggy, the Broadway Darlings dancers and Bobby Pope, His Blues Trumpet and Orchestra, and included the comedy teams of Hill and Hill and The Arkansas Hotshots, a novelty dance team Dennet and Dae, and dancer Donny Dee, acrobats the "Mad MacBrides," and the Ziemba Troupe.

The Fiestaval Grand Ball came Thursday evening, May 9, with Ellington providing the music. The Queen of the festival and her party entered to The Triumphal March from Aida, played by Ellington and his orchestra. Since the band did not have this in its repertoire, Ellington was given the sheet music and wrote a band arrangement shortly before the dance.

Since a dance for African-Americans (without Ellington) was held May 10, it would seem the May 9 dance was for whites only.


The Emporia Gazette provided an extraordinary level of coverage. Click here to see the ads, advance publicity and other reviews published in the Gazette during April and May.

I was particularly taken by this 1,800 word review cum essay, written by the owner of the newspaper, William A. White, published May 10 in his newspaper. Parts of his review were copied by other newspapers in the region.

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1940 05 09.Emporia, Kan.Civic Auditorium

Fiestaval Grand Ball

William A. White:

  'Last night, for three hours and a half, 2,000 Emporians on a gorgeous dance floor in the Civic auditorium - so thick you could stir them with a spoon - busted bustles to music furnished by Duke Ellington, the colored swinging, jittering, jiving dance band leader. Two thousand other citizens of Emporia and vicinity looked on from well-filled galleries at the amazing spectacle.

  And amazing it was - a cornucopia of flashing color. Its movement was up and down rather than sideways and while the crowd flowed gently around the great hall, from right to left, the vertical movement was jerky and gave the impression that the dancers were fighting a hive of Bolshevik bees! However it was a gaudy gala and beautiful crowd - and cold sober! Many of the men - perhaps one out of six - were in white evening coats with black ties, and most of the women had on something that was or looked like ball dresses. And now about the music:


****

  (But before we go into that, as the lawyers say, let us qualify as an expert. Fifty-five years ago and more, the writer hereof earned his first dollar playing for dances in Butler county, a young boy in his middle teens. We make no boasts but our outfit consisting of a blind fidler, a competent cornetist and deponent at the cabinet organ or piano, as the case happened to be - used to go out in the country to farm dances, where they took down the bed and the cookstove and emptied the houses and danced in three rooms. Mostly we played square dances, thought we had two or three waltzes - "The First Kiss Waltz," "The Cornflower Waltz," the "Skaters" and "Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?" There wasn't a note in the lot. We all played by ear. As for calling off the square dances - the blind fiddler couldn't see to do it, the cornetist was busy with something else, so it fell upon this affiant to play the cabinet organ and call off - by which task we had to let out a boy's changing voice so that, after a year of it, we could be heard on a clear, windless, moonlit night in three townships, and we made a hog-caller look like a Quaker meeting. We were, in a way, the Duke Ellington of the Walnut valley. So, looking back over nearly 60 years, we can persuade the gentle reader that we know something about dance music as the light fantastic - or more or less fantastic - Kansas toe was tripped in the middle or early 1880's.


****

  And how music and the dance have changed in these two passing generations! The change marks better than anything else the spirit of the times. A few years after our Butler county experience, we used to dance here in Emporia at the skating rink on the corner of Eighth and Commercial; in Bancroft's hall, a barny room on the third floor at the corner of Fifth and Commercial, and a few years later, in the Wigwam on Merchant Street. In those pre-historic days, dance music was tuneful, something you could whistle, and as we know full well by pleasant experience, something that could be harmonized in simple chords and when one knew the key the tune was cast in, an accompaniment could be faked in that key by six or seven simple major and minor chords. But the ancient music had consistent flowing cadence, definite harmony and distinct rhythm that was carried by the melody, by the flow of the tune. The rhythm was not syncopated and sometimes the tunes were so well known, being popular songs, that the dancers would break into song as the danced - as for instance, in a square dance to one of Stephen Foster's songs, the dancers would catch and carry the tune carrolling:

"Gwine to ride all night.
"Gwine to ride all day;
"Bet my money on a bob-tailed nag.
"Who's going to bet on de bay?"

  Or maybe a more ancient tune of the Fifties:

"Car'line, Car'llin
"Can't you dance a peavine?
"Ol' Ann Jemima,
"Ho, hi, ho!"

Or even in the slow waltzes the party would sing:

"Sweet dreamland faces
"Fussing to and fro:
"Bringing fond memories
"Of the long ago."

  and another favorite which the dancers sometimes sang as they waltzed with rather formal step and slow:

"Love comes like a summer sigh
"Softly o'er us stealing!
"Love comes and we wonder why
"At love's shrine we're kneeling."

  And with a buxom armful of gently protesting but finally surrendering, cornfed, Walnut valley gal in your arms, to the slow and formal threnody of the waltz, a fellow kind of felt he was of some importance and had a lot of authority in a busy and aspiring world. The tunes tangled in one's dreams for days; and the pressure of a warm hand - and even if it was a little sweaty and sticky it was young and ardent - might linger through life. Indeed that saccharine waltz tune might beat finally in a dusty heart that "had lain for a century dead!"


****

  Now these details of the dance romantic which your fathers ang grandfathers knew in the seventies and eighties - you young bloods of the fifth decade of this century - were as different from the dance we saw last night and the music was as different from that which squawked and shrieked and roared and bellowed in syncopated savagery as if the two - the music and the dance of th eold days - had been threaded and heard upon another planet. Moreover - and here we take a long deep breath before saying if that noise last night in the Civic auditorium for which the town paid $1,100 to Mr. Duke Ellington, is music, then the subscriber hereto is a trapeze performaer. The point is, if you wish to knwo, that dance music today is merely syncopated, blood raw emotion, without harmony, without consistent rhtythm, and with no more tune that the yearnful bellowing of a lonely yearning and romantic cow in the pastures or the raucous staccatto meditation of a bulldog barking in a barrel. "Shoot if you must this old bald head" but you might just as well know the God's truth about it.


****

  Looking from the second balcony for two hours at the dancing crowd last night, the first dancing crowd I have watched for many a long year, I was tremendously impressed with the fact that there were no new steps there; also amused to observe that the same music last night incited different couples to different kinds of dancing. But evrey step that any couple danced last night was almost the exact reproduction of some gay galloping that must have originated many thousand years ago. That same step was preserved in the old square dances in the little prairie shacks in the Walnut valley 60 years ago. The thing we used to call a "hoedown" which we indulged in when the caller-off said "Everybody dance," was nothing more than the jitterbug. And the scraping, sideways bustle flopping hip-hinging (sic) form used by many other dancers last night was very much like do-si-dos in the square dance. And the hop-skip-and-jump, tumble-in-the-hay that some dancers used last night was only the "grand sashay" that I used to bellow when I got the dancers a bit tangled up in the 'eighties and could not straighten them out. The "peavine" that was challenged in the old song to Ann Jemimah above mentioned was the jitterbug preserved in the amber of time. But it was the same old showoff that mating animals have used far down the zoological line through the beasts of the fields, the birds of the air and the lightning bugs on a summer evening. At bottom it is deep calling unto the deep unto the deep to keep the life stream flowing! How could it all be less than beautiful - this vast primeval panorama that flowed so slowly around the big hall with its kaleidosope of ever mingling colors and forms.


****

  Kipling asks the old question: "It is beautiful but is it art?" Probably all art is emotion. I believe that the finest art comes out of constructive rather than destructive emotion. And to keep the world moving, fecund, is the finest and loveliest art of all. In a time when destructive emotion, hate and jealousy and terror are bringing death and devastation to the earth, it is good to see youth carefree and intent upon the main business of youth - joyously building up its own art, conforming to its own day and generation. For how could the slow, moving, billowy, syrupy muisc of the 'eighties fit into this new world picture? Youth had to construct its rowdy modern music. Youth today had to revive the primal passions that moved the old dances if youth felt at all in terms of its own contemporary life. So let Duke Ellington and his black boys blare and bleat and bawl with their saxophones and bull fiddles and muted trumpets syncopating the call of the wild. And it is all right. But it's the same old inner urge, the more we change the less we change.


****

  One of the really interesting sights on last night's dance floor was the crowd of adorers who stood like acolytes, crowding in front of the stage, motionless, a hundred of them, watching with eager worshipping faces every movement of Duke Ellington and his band. There were country band leaders from all over Kansas: from as far west as Burrton, as far east as Lawrence, as far south as Sedan and north as Manhattan. They stood there all evening with their eyes glued on the band. Never a toe did they wiggle and never a foot did they jostle, all popeyed, listening, watching, trying to find out how to get in the big money. Their passionate curiosity was as real as the electric urges that were throbbing through the moving crowd. The oldsters who watched it, the dancers and the alter acolytes were something pretty real in it all. Life and youth, the modern world, dancing on the brink of the abysm that is tomorrow! It was a brave and cheering spectacle, and also most beautiful. And through it all across two genearations we heard the dying notes of a young voice bawling: "Swing your partners, same on the corner balance all and a grand right and left" and the wild echoes flying in "Shake your wooden leg Sal my gal, show them fellers your balmoral!"
-W.A.W.'

.04,2-22.djpAdded 2011
updated
2012-09-06



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Publicity

Emporia Gazette 1940 04 04<br> p.5
Emporia Gazette
April 4, 1940
page 1
Emporia Gazette 1940 04 10<br> p.5
Emporia Gazette
April 10, 1940
page 5
Emporia Gazette 1940-05-04 p.13
Emporia Gazette
May 4, 1940, page 13
Emporia Gazette 1940-05-04 p.17
Emporia Gazette
May 4, 1940, page 17
Emporia Gazette 1940-05-07 p.1
Emporia Gazette
May 7, 1940, page 1



Advertisements

Emporia Gazette<br>1940 04 30, p.5
Emporia Gazette
April 30, 1940
page 5
Emporia Gazette<br>1940 05 02, p.11
Emporia Gazette
May 2, 1940
page 11
Emporia Gazette<br>19400503 p.5
Emporia Gazette
May 3, 1940
page 5
Emporia Gazette<br>1940 05 03<br>p.13
Emporia Gazette
May 4, 1940
page 13

Full page ad for the new
auditorium and Fiestaval



Reviews and reports

Emporia Gazette, 1940-05-10,p.1
Emporia Gazette
May 10, 1940
page 1
Emporia Gazette May 10 1940, p.8
Emporia Gazette
May 10, 1940
page 8
The Emporia Gazette, May 10, 1940, p.4
Mr. White's review

The Emporia Gazette
May 10, 1940
page 4

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David Palmquist
Delta, BC, Canada