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Savoy Orpheans

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In 1923, the immense popularity of the house band at London’s Savoy Hotel, Bert Ralton’s Havana Band, prompted the hotel’s management to hire a second band. This took place while Ralton was leading a version of the band on a tour of Australia leaving the London band under the leadership of Reginald Batten. The new unit was named the Savoy Orpheans and was led by Debroy Somers. Now, both the Savoy Havana Band and the Savoy Orpheans were feature attractions at the hotel. Early sidemen included Rudy Vallee, who had moved over from Ralton’s band, Billy Thorburn and Carroll Gibbons. In 1926 Somers left the Orpheans and by 1927 Gibbons had became leader. That same year, the Orpheans’ association with the Savoy ended (as did that of the Havana Band). In 1929 Ben Evers led a band named the Savoy Orpheans and in 1930 Benny Loban took over briefly. Under Loban a couple of sides were cut before Jack Hart succeeded him. The Savoy Hotel’s management now decided that the name should be applied only to bands under their control and which played at the hotel. In the early 30s, Howard Jacobs and Gibbons formed a new band to play at the hotel, naming it the Savoy Hotel Orpheans. Later, Gibbons became sole leader at which time his name was appended to the band’s title. Many musicians passed through the Savoy Orpheans, mainly British but also from other countries, notably the USA. Sometimes they were in the house band, others brought in for broadcasts and record dates. Among those who played in the band from 1923 onwards were Sylvester Ahola, Eddie Bare, Billy Barton, Sid Bright (who was Geraldo’s twin brother), Max Goldberg, Frank Guarente, George Hartley, Cyril Hellier, Frank Herbin, Laurie Payne, Norman Payne, Teddy Sinclair, George Smith, Al Starita, who left in 1925 to lead the house band at the Kit-Kat Club, Tiny Stock, Bert Thomas and Jean Zamblin. Singers with the band included Robert Ashley. Frances Day also sang with the band although this might have been only for a special engagement. The band recorded some 300 titles, among which are ‘When Erasmus Plays His Old Yazoo’, ‘What’ll I Do’, ‘Play, Orchestra, Play’, ‘You Were There’, ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’ and ‘Blue Room’. Gibbons held the post of director of entertainment at the Savoy until his death in 1954.

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