The hotsy totsy Keystone Serenaders

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I have written about my Vosler relatives of Western Pennsylvania, including the physician David Clair Vosler who died during the influenza pandemic at the end of World War 1. David Clair’s only child was son Robert Gere Vosler (1904-1968). Robert Gere lost his father at age 14, and was sent off to school in the early 1920s, to the Staunton Military Academy in Virginia, where he played the trumpet in the marching band as well as the dance orchestra. This musical training served him well, through his early adult years and his service in World War 2. In the post, I’ll look at his years before joining the navy, and a follow up will examine his fascinating experiences during the World War.

A short item in the New Castle Herald newspaper of 1923 mentions that Robert Vosler of Elwood City (who was all of 18 years old at the time) was traveling and playing with a dance band called the Keystone Serenaders. The band was managed by William Foley, and directed by Donald “Monk” Watson (1984-1981), a multi-talented performer who appeared in Vaudeville theaters as a musician, comedian, and magician. Born in Michigan, Watson’s earliest days in show business went back to his time as a child when he traveled with the Buffalo Bill Cody circus. Watson worked in the 1920s and 30s with relative unknowns like Bob Hope, Ginger Rogers, Jack Benny, and Bing Crosby.

In addition to playing in Pennsylvania, the Keystone Serenaders toured in states like Ohio, Michigan, New York, and Nebraska. They performed in theaters, at charity dances, and college events, and were based for several years at the Grand Riviera Theatre in Detroit, racking up 5000 performances there. The Detroit theater presented jam-packed line ups of entertainment, such as an evening in 1928 that included the silent film “The Valley of the Giants”, and

“… the Keystone Serenaders in new music, the Grand Riviera girls in smart steps and a vaudeville bill of clever acts. Merle Clarke at the organ, shorter film subjects and other musical and screen features will complete the bill”.

The style of music the Serenaders played was a dance band variation of jazz, with snappy song titles like “The co-ed”, “I’m knee deep in daisies” and “Ev’rything is hotsy totsy now”. Vintage recordings of their music are still available on websites like Pandora and Youtube.

Sources

  1. Staunton Military Academy Yearbook 1925
  2. Battle Creek Informer, March 23, 1981, “Magician ‘Monk” Watson dies”
  3. Facebook, Transcription of Colon Express newspaper article of March 25, 1981, “Monk Watson Dies”
  4. Discography of American Historical Recordings”, Bill Foley’s Keystone Serenaders
  5. Pandora, The Keystone Serenaders
  6. Youtube, “Ev’rything is hotsy totsy now” by the Keystone Serenaders 1925
  7. Apple Music, “Where Can I Find You?”
  8. Internet Archive, “I’m Knee deep in Daisies” 1925

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