Roane’s Pennsylvanians and Hot Dance

Roane's Pennsylvanians

Frank Roane is at the far right of his band, Roane’s Pennsylvanians.

A recent link I stumbled upon at Archives.org brought to mind an exciting episode in Roane history that occurred when I had barely begun my journey.

I received a telephone call from an Al Giordano, who was a fan of early 20th century dance bands. He told me that BMG Music, when it acquired RCA Victor, inherited its properties. He had recording sheets from Studio 1, 24th Street, New York, dated January 28, 1932 and June 2, 1932, for sessions with Roane’s Pennsylvanians. In order to put together a new CD issue, he needed some authoritative information about Frank Roane. Wow.

I put out a cousin distress call and was able to get  my aunt to confirm that her Uncle Frank, AKA Francis J. Roane, AKA “Peach” Roane (1893-1942) was a master of ceremonies for weekly dances at the Commodore Ballroom in Lowell, Massachusetts. His signature schtick was delivering this announcement in an English accent,

The next daaance is the last daaance…

(Clearly, you had to be there to get the effect.) A direct line cousin added that some evenings Roane’s Pennsylvanians played the Commodore, Frank’s daughter, Mary Katherine, would sing with the band. Though band leader, there’s no evidence Frank was a musician (he did have the Roane family gift for song). He was rather, a manager and promoter.

In naming the group, I suspect he chose to trade on the popularity of another orchestra known as The Pennsylvanians. Modest soul that he was, he appended his name, created a brand and earned a modicum of lasting fame in music history. The University of Massachusetts Center for Lowell History has a Commodore Ballroom Collection that contains sheet music and photos of  bands that played at there and Roane’s Pennsylvanians is included among the “excellent local bands.” They played regional gigs to popular acclaim, and got that RCA contract.

The CD produced by The Old Masters and issued in 2000, is called, Alex Bartha’s Traymore Orchestra & Roane’s Pennsylvanians. The songs Frank Roane’s band recorded in 1932 are all fox trots in the Hot Dance category. Among the song titles you’ll detect a hint of Harlem / Black culture:

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Cast Your Sins Away, Charlie Two-Step
Chinatown, My Chinatown
Good-Bye Blues
Is I in Love? I Is
Sleep, Come On and Take Me
When You and I Were Young, Maggie
We’ve Got to Put That Sun Back In The Sky
Why Don’t You Get Lost?

There were great dance beats, novelty tunes that incorporated scat singing. The Victor label issued records by Alex Bartha and Roane’s Pennsylvanians under the pseudonym, Williams’ Cotton Club Orchestra to expand market appeal. In fact, jazz great, Cab Calloway and His Orchestra also recorded the then new Harold Arlen / Ted Koehler tune, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

Click on over to Archives.org and you can listen to Good-Bye Blues.

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Witch Tales for Children

With great delight, last year I told my grown children I’d discovered a 10th great-grandmother, Susanna Roots (1621-1692) was an accused witch. From a safe vantage point in the 21st Century, this bit of trivia just seemed a ‘cool’ addition to family lore. Then we gathered together to feast and celebrate the winter holidays and my 10-year-old grandson asked me for a more detailed story of Susanna, the almost witch. The more I’ve considered it, the less cool it seems. A month has passed and I’m still struggling with how and how much to tell an intelligent, good and kind youngster about what happened to the victims of the worst in human nature.

History knows Susanna only as the wife of husband, Josiah Rootes (1613-1683). He came from Kent in England and arrived in New England on the ship Hercules with his mother and brother in spring 1634/35. He acquired property and Susanna as wife around the year 1639. The couple had six children and lived on the Bass River, which was part of Salem, Massachusetts until 1668 when it was set off as the town of Beverly.

On June 25, 1678, Josiah made a sworn accusation of thievery against William and Elizabeth Hoar. He claimed the family had stolen (clothing, apples, wood and hay) from him for nearly twenty years, and he had only just discovered proof – in the form of Goody Hoar’s apron.

That same day, Susanna first appears on record: Susanah Roots, aged about fifty-three years, Mary, wife of Heugh Woodbery, aged about forty-eight years, and Sarah Roots, aged about twenty-four years, deposed that about two months ago they saw Mary, wife of Samuell Harres and Tabitha Slew carry a parcel of small linen into Samuell Harris’ house.

Accusing neighbors of stealing is an ugly thing in a small community and perhaps, friends of William and Mary Hoars, Mary Harres and Tabitha Slew nursed enmity toward the Rootes family.

Five years after that, in the spring of 1683, Josiah Rootes died. He named Susanna executrix of his will and stipulated, “…my loveing wife Susanna [have] the use & improvement of all my small estate, what ever untill such time, as my son Jonathan cometh to the age…” and if she did not remarry, “[Jonathan] shall pay unto her, his said mother eight pounds, [yearly] duerring the terme of her widdowhood, or her natural life, and let her have the use of the west end of my now dwellinghouse, of a bed, beding, her firewood brought to the doare [door].”

For the period, this is an appropriate provision for a wife who worked land, maintained a household, bore and nurtured six children. Josiah’s specification that Susanna have the sunny west-facing room with cozy bed and fire burning is lovely and fitting after 40 years of toil at his side.

But Susanna did not execute Josiah’s will and a year later, she lost control of the living Josiah bequeathed her. Other men governed the 60-year-old widow as her health and strength declined with age. Nine years later, as she approached her 70th year, she would find herself carted into Boston and thrown into jail on a charge of witchcraft, which carried a sentence of death.