Monday, October 26, 2009

Carnival of Genealogy, 82nd Edition—Musical Instruments

The topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy will be: Musical Instruments! Do you play a musical instrument or did one of your family members? What instrument did you or they play? If no one in the family played an instrument, tell what is your favorite instrument or band and what is your least favorite one. Thanks to Janet Iles, over at Janet the Researcher, for sponsoring this fascinating blog topic.

Hands down, my Uncle Johnnie, is the featured family member for this COG blog. John Aiden Hughes, son of George Henry Hughes and Sarah Margaret VanGilder, was my paternal uncle. Born on February 7, 1929 in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, he was the middle child in the Hughes family.

I have been told that John was always a musician. I found a photo of him in what looks to be a high school or perhaps college band in an old photo album.

And here’s one in another unknown band. Perhaps one was a local or town band.

And then there is this one taken of the 321 Army Band during his service following high school with the United States Army Special Services at Fort Meade and Fort Leavenworth between 1947 to 1948.

He graduated from The University of Michigan with a degree in Music in 1952. Possibly taken during his college years or maybe practicing at home.

Uncle John was eighteen when I was born, so my memories of him begin around 1952—my early elementary school years. I will admit that as a youngster, I had one big crush on my handsome uncle! During this time, it was not unusual for this author to spend weekend overnights with my Hughes grandparents in their apartment at 168 Lincoln Avenue in Bellevue, Pennsylvania. Most family gatherings were also held there—always a warm and fun filled time.

During these years, from 1952-1954, John was in and out. As a kid, I didn’t always know what he was “out there” doing, I was just happy to see him come in the door….I could count on that big smile, a hardy laugh and usually some uproariously funny antic.

The apocryphal family story regarding Uncle John and his music was that when he was young, he played sax with a “big band” and went on tour. Music was his passion. The end to his “playing days” came when his father told him that he had to get a “real” job. I’m sure my uncle was not in his usual good-humored frame of mind when that dictum was handed down!

I have never been able to get a decent handle on the actual years all of this took place in my uncle’s life. My guess is that he:

-Graduated from high school in 1947
-Did the stint in the U.S. Army Band to have money for college between 1947-1948
-Graduated from the University of Michigan in 1952
-Married my Aunt Barb in 1954

I believe that his “Big Band” era was after college and before the marriage, which is why I remember him coming and going from my grandparents apartment at various times of the year. I imagine that his marriage was the stimulus for his father’s comment about “getting a real job.” My uncle was accepted into the medical program at Wayne State University, Michigan and practiced neurology in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

Once I was hooked by the genealogy bug, it was of the utmost importance to nail down my Hughes family story. When talking to my Mom, Dad and Aunt Faith, the “big band” story would keep popping up. No one seemed to know any of the details, the name of the band, when he toured, etc.—only that it took place and Pop Pop put a stop to it. Unfortunately, I was not able to just ask my uncle as he was no longer alive having died in 1990 and, his first wife, my Aunt Barb in 1980.

For many years the answer was hiding behind one of those illusive genealogy brick walls. I think it was back around 2002 or 03 that I received a package in the mail one Saturday from my California cousin, Beth. In the large envelope were old photo albums. I immediately recognized one of them as being one of three that my Grandmother Hughes made for each of her children back in the mid 1960’s. What a treasure my cousin had just sent and shared with me. Not only were there some photos of ancestors, but there on one page was this photo……

Hallelujah! A photo of my Uncle John with the big band. A genealogy happy dance moment to be certain!

A google search of the band’s name,
Don Glasser Orchestra, brought me good research information along with the names of the band leader and the singer, Lois Costello, who happened to be married to Don Glasser. After some noodling around the net I was able to find an address and sent them an inquiry about the band and my uncle. A very gracious Lois Costello sent me an almost immediate response which has become another valued piece of our family story.

Was my uncles musical dream deferred or more accurately, destroyed…..probably. Unfortunately since my Dad and his brother were not close, the two families lost contact for decades (a situation, I am happy to report, that this generation has corrected). I have no idea if Uncle John continued to play music while his children were growing or grown. [Cousins if you are reading me out here..... :-) ] Sadly, I have no childhood remembrance of ever hearing him play or even pratice.

Both Uncle John and his wife, Aunt Barb, were gifted musicians and their musical talent was passed on to all their children and has continued with their grandchildren. If my uncle and aunt were still alive, I know they would be gratified to see the love of music and the arts continuing through their blood line.

Was my Uncle Johnnie a member of a big betcha! He was a saxophone player in an orchestra that was billed as "Music smooth as glass" ......"featuring the band's sweet and smooth sax section."

Whatever would I do without
Today this was quite a find!
Don Glasser performs at West View Park, West View, Pennsylvania in 1945. I wonder if a teenage John Hughes might have gone to this concert? Or better yet, did his parents, my Grams and Pop Pop, enjoy dancing to the music of Don Glasser at the West View Danceland?

More on Don Glasser and His Orchestra:
Don Glasser on Findagrave.
Don Glasser and His Orchestra


  1. How neat - sounds like your uncle was a multitalented man. Musical talent seems to hit and miss in my family, but it seems that every last relative absolutely loves music.

  2. Amazing. I always say genealogy people are the most generous ones around. That package from your cousin changed everything didn't it?
    And to get the letter from Lois Glasser is the icing on the cake.

  3. Wow Linda! Great story, great photos, great post!

  4. How exciting for you! You did such a good job writing this and I loved all the photographs you included.

  5. Great story Linda! Very well researched and written and wonderful photos to go with it!

    Your uncle sounds like a great guy. Of course, he went to Michigan! ;-) Go Blue!

    I really got caught up in your story. Isn't it amazing when you get one of those relatives who is generous enough to share memorabilia with you? I've had one or two of those too but I sure would appreciate a few more! LOL

  6. What a fantastic story. I think it is wonderful that you have some photos and a letter from the Glassers. You have written a great tribute to your uncle.

  7. Hey Lin, What a wonderful read this is and what fabulous supporting material. I can tell you that when I was a child (the sixth born to John and Barb) my dad didn't play at all. My mom got involved in local and regional symphonies and bands and so continued playing. Dad moved on to photography, cooking and concentrating on work. Thanks as always for doing all of this detective work.

    BTW, the first picture above of my dad as a child looks quite a bit like our second, Catherine.

    David Hughes

  8. Really john look like a person filled with lot of talented.Hope I had just 1/4th of his talent.

  9. Hi Lin - Dad did actually play some in the Farmington Community Concert Band. Not for a prolonged period of time, but I do remember being in rehearsal with him. I also agree with David, the baby picture in this montage reminds me of Catherine. I just had a picture of her pulled up next to dad's, and it was uncanny. Thank-you again!

  10. Hello Linda,

    This was a joy to see the photos of Don and Lois. I know Lois well and I see where you linked to one of my old web sites (no longer in existence) in your blog article. Don passed away in April of 2004, not too long after Lois wrote you that letter. Lois is still doing well and leading the band in Birmingham, Alabama.
    I see where the baritone sax player in the "Peabody" picture is doubling on alto (the bari is in the stand). I bet they were playing a Latin tune either before or after that photo was taken. Don never played alto sax on the Latin tunes (for a reason I don't know). So the bari sax player had to double on alto for those tunes. That is such a neat picture. But, it's not from the Peabody Hotel. I have a few pictures of Don from the Peabody. I think that is the Claridge Hotel in Memphis, but I cannot be sure. I can only tell you it is not the Peabody. E-mail me from my web site and I will send you a couple photos from the Peabody.
    I'm glad to see that Lois remembered your Uncle. I will check my broadcasts from the Peabody Hotel and see if I have any from the years your uncle was on Don's band. Do you know if he played at Roseland with them?
    Don and Lois started this band in the picture above in 1954 after they both left Ray Pearl's Orchestra.
    I enjoyed reading this article very much. Thanks again for writing it.
    -Joe Enroughty