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Jack Wardlaw and Peggy Lee

Posted by sambr 
Jack Wardlaw and Peggy Lee
February 21, 2018 04:43AM
Many biographical articles on Peggy Lee include references to her singing with the regional band of Jack Wardlaw in the mid-30s. Lee herself did not mention an engagement with the band, but the references continue to appear. Several obituaries mentioned the Wardlaw connection.

Jack Wardlaw was an accomplished banjo player and tireless self-promoter. He was born in Chapel Hill, NC in 1907. The family moved to Yonkers, NY when Jack was a toddler and then to Plainfield, NJ, where he attended The Wardlaw School, a private academy run by his father. He entered the Class of 1930 at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and remained a Tar Heel for the rest of his life. In 1927 he formed the first of his Chapel Hill musical groups, Jack Wardlaw and his Banjo Ensemble. By 1930 it was Jack Wardlaw's Carolina Banjo Boys, a trio that included a guitarist, Francis Vincent Zappa, called Frank, also in the Class of 1930. In addition to the trio, Wardlaw started an orchestra, Jack Wardlaw and his Orchestra. The 1929 lineup had 2 trumpets, 3 saxophones, tuba, piano, drums and Wardlaw on banjo. The musicians were all men; the University had relatively few female students. The band played for dances on and off the campus and did some limited touring. Like many other school bands, they traveled to Europe during the summer break, playing on cruise ships and in night clubs in England and on the Continent.

In 1928, another banjoist formed a competing band. It was known as Alex Mendenhall and His Tar Heel Boys, and later as Alex Mendenhall and His Carolina Tar Heels.

Other contemporaries and near contemporaries at UNC were Hal Kemp, Kay Kyser, Skinnay Ennis and John Scott Trotter. In 1924, Hal Kemp started a band, the Carolina Club Orchestra, in which Trotter was pianist and arranger and Ennis was vocalist and played drums and trumpet. The Carolina Club Orchestra (managed by super-agent Paul Specht) headed for Europe during the summer break, playing on the cruise ship on the Transatlantic crossing and in night clubs in England. When he left Chapel Hill in 1926, Kemp handed the band over to Kay Kyser. Jack Wardlaw often told the story of auditioning for Kyser on the banjo, the most common rhythm instrument in bands at the time, but Kyser decided to take on a guitarist instead. The 1928 Kay Kyser's Orchestra roster did indeed include a guitarist who doubled on banjo.

Like many of his musician contemporaries, Wardlaw left the university without graduating and continued his musical career with the orchestra, which he augmented with several new instruments. In September the Jack Wardlaw and Alex Mendenhall organizations joined forces and the band was renamed Jack Wardlaw and His Carolina Tar Heels. By 1933, there were 16 musicians in the band when at full strength. Also in 1933, Wardlaw added a female vocalist and the orchestra got a regular daily gig at Carolina Pines, a resort and amusement center near Raleigh, NC. Part of the floor show was broadcast each evening on WPTF. The band was renamed again, to Jack Wardlaw and his Carolina Pines Orchestra and, when Carolina Pines went bust the following year, to Jack Wardlaw and his Carolinians.

Prior to 1934, the post-UNC Wardlaw band limited it's travels to the southern states; North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia. During the summer of 1934, they headed to the northeast; New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Pennsylvania. They played the Steel Pier in Altlantic City and broadcast nationally over CBS. Later advertisements often referred to Jack Wardlaw and his Columbia Broadcasting orchestra. In March, 1935 they invaded new territory, the mid-western states; Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, South Dakota; Wardlaw claimed to have played in 10 of them. It is not known if North Dakota was included. During the mid-west tour, the female vocalists with the band were Jere Kimbell and 7-year-old Mae Parish, 'the greatest child torch singer in the country.' By August Wardlaw and his crew were back in home territory.

In March, 1936, Jack Wardlaw and his Orchestra were booked to play at the first spring dance of the Star Fort Cotillion Club in Greenwood, SC. The featured vocalists were Kenny Wilder, the 'Romantic Baritone,' Elise Cooper and Peggy Lee. A local newspaper had this to say: 'Another entertainer and artist appearing with Jack Wardlaw's band is Peggy Lee, vivacious songstress. Peggy's voice has often been mistaken on the radio for her namesake, Loretta Lee, as she devotes most of her style to “swing singing.” Besides possessing a fine radio voice, she has her share of vim, vigor and vitality, and proves to be a favorite, particularly at college dances.' Photographs of the singers appeared in the paper. The Peggy Lee in the photograph is not Norma Egstrom, then still at school in Wimbledon, ND, and still using her birth name. Miss Lee did not remain long with the band.

In August, 1940 the orchestra was caught in a hurricane in Folly Beach, SC. Their instruments and music were destroyed. They re-equipped and started an engagement at Carolina Pines in October. Jack Wardlaw stayed in the band business until 1942, leaving to become a manager at the Shenandoah Life Insurance Company. He became a very successful insurance agent in Raleigh and continued to play the banjo in local venues until in his 90s. He died in 2002 at the age of 95.
Re: Jack Wardlaw and Peggy Lee
February 21, 2018 09:24AM
Nice to read some new and interesting information on the bulletin board again. Thanks.

Richard
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