Sunday, July 22, 2018

52 Ancestors: Music

This week’s blog prompt, Music, puzzled me a bit as I’d written a bit about those with a talent for music several times before.  One which was fun for me was I’ve Got the Music in Me where I shared some photos of pianos, my dad’s organ, and my great grandmother’s book of music.

At one point during this journey I ran across a song that my grandmother’s brother, Wilt Gunzendorfer, wrote many years ago.  How did I never know that he had any sort of musical talent?  I only remembered him as an “old man” and never thought about what he did as a younger man.  And then I wrote more about him HERE.  I had photos of him playing a sax and a clarinet and even learned a bit about the difference in the two instruments.

Wilton Sax by Myers SF
Wilt Gunzendorfer, date unknown

But thanks to this blog prompt, I decided to take a closer look at Uncle Wilt to see if I could learn more about his musical career.  And when I searched for Wilt instead of Wilton in, I was successsful in learning a lot more!

Wilt had a band for many, many years and I found so many notifications about the dates/times that the band would be playing on the radio.  The band was listed in many faraway places like Montana, Oregon, Hawaii, Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, North Carolina and, of course, many cities in California.  I found a few references to the name of the band – Wilt Gunzendorfer’s Hotel Whitcomb Dance Band and Wilt Gunzendorfer and the “Cleveland Six” orchestra.  I can figure out the Hotel Whitcomb reference since he lived and played at the Hotel Whitcomb but I wonder where the Cleveland Six came from?

It was fun to find some of the ads highlighting their upcoming shows.

First from the Oakland Tribune on May 25, 1930, page 14.  Look at that – here they are known as the Clever Band.  Wilt lived for many years in Santa Rose so this makes sense that the band played in nearby Guernewood.

Vacation Service - Oakland Tribune 5_25_1930 page 14

And later that year, the Democrat Press, Santa Rosa, reported on June 18, 1930 (page 4) that Wilt and his Guernewood Bowl band would be giving a 40 minute concert at the weekly Rotary club luncheon.  My dad, a lifetime member of Rotary with perfect attendance for over 50 years, would sure have loved this – I wonder if he knew?

Rotarians to hear band Press Democrat Santa Rosa 6_18_1930 page 4

And then just two days later, on June 20, 1930, the Democrat Press encouraged people to attend a dance in their pajamas!  What?  And not only was it a riot of color, but Pajama Music would be provided by Wilt.  Boy would I like to see a photo of that dance!

Pajama Music Wilt Press Democrat Santa Rosa 6_20_1930 Page 13

The following year found Wilt still performing – it looks like comedy might have entered into it.  I remember Wilt pretty clearly and I can’t remember him ever telling a joke.  But here he is, with his musical jesters, performing stunts???

Music and Stunts by Wilt Press Democrat Santa Rosa 6_5_1931 page 7
The Press Democrat, 05 June, 1931, page 7

And a few months later he’s known as the King of Fun!  Who knew?

Wilt King of Fun Sonoma West Times and News 9_4_1931 Page 8
Sonoma West Times and News, 04 September, 1931, page 8

It was about this time that I found a few photos of Wilt with my dad and his family.  I’m not sure what the event was here but glad that they were able to capture the day. 

Wilt_Loraine_Sig_Abe_Bertha_Robert_Gordon c1931
Back row:  Wilt, Loraine, Abe, Bertha Gunzendorfer
Middle:  Robert and Sig Levy
Front:  Gordon Levy (my dad)
ca:  1931-1932

HOW did I not know any of this about Wilt?  Oh the questions I would have asked!


  1. So very cool (in many ways!). I do love those newspaper databases---they add so much color to the stories of our ancestors.

    1. Looking through newspapers is addicting! I start with one thing and POOF, an hour has gone by.