Music by Meyer Davis, Page 4

 

Vaudeville Performances at the Lake, 1922 - 1925



Novelty Nights:  Vaudeville Performances, 1922 - 1923

 

During the 1922 season, in addition to the special prize nights, “novelty nights” became a regular feature.  On “novelty nights,” special vaudeville performances – solo vocalists, dancers, and musicians, would supplement the regular dance orchestra programs.  For example, these performances were announced in the Washington Post that summer:  June 25, p.48: Gilbert C. Tennant would sing twice every evening, at each of the pavilions.  July 16, p.52: Jerry Ripp, described in publicity as a “popular eccentric dancer,” would perform several times, as did Tom Murray and Spots Harvey, a song and dance team.  September 3, p. 33:  Joe Brown danced his “latest dance ‘the Sheik.’”  All of these acts were probably booked – and promoted -- by J.W. Wood, who began working for Meyer Davis in 1922, if not earlier.

 

In 1923, Tommy Thompson came back to Chevy Chase Lake again to lead the Meyer Davis orchestra, and some of the same special performers made return visits, too, including dancers Jerry Ripp and Joe Brown. Others who appeared on “novelty nights” included song and dance performer Lou Worth, dancer June Taylor, and Baby Margaret.  And Kate Smith made her debut in 1923. (See the exhibit section "Kate Smith Sings!" for more details.)  In addition to these special appearances, the managers of the amusement park promoted all the amenities in this publicity notice on p. 56 of The Washington Post on June 24:

 

“Dancing and bowling continue as the prime attractions at the Lake…. Scores of rustic benches are placed so as to overlook the delightful view across the illuminated lake. An excellent restaurant furnishes good food at prevailing city rates, while several soda fountains purveys cooling drinks. Not only dancers, but visitors as well, enjoy the modern syncopations indulged in by the two pepful Meyer Davis orchestras on both upper and lower pavilions.”

 


“Zippy blackface jazz…”

 

On one of these “novelty nights” in 1923, as described in a short publicity notice on p. 46 in The Washington Post, August 5, Ben Levin performed in blackface. 

 

“Zippy blackface jazz will be featured on Wednesday, novelty night, at Chevy Chase Lake, when Ben Levin will hold forth in his own special brand of mingled comedy and song.”

 

“The Meyer Davis brand of zippy jazz continues to prove irresistible to Capital folk who love the dance and gay music. Both upper and lower pavilions are thronged nightly with enthusiastic dancers. Hundreds also come out for the pleasant ride, a bit of supper and leisurely enjoyment of the Davis orchestras.”

 

Ben Levin would perform again on a “novelty night” in September, suggesting that blackface performances were a regular feature at Chevy Chase Lake that year, just as they were in vaudeville theater programs across the country.  Drawing from blackface minstrel shows, white performers appeared in blackface, portraying African Americans in exaggerated racist caricatures.  Some of the most well-known vaudeville performers, including Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, and Sophie Tucker, appeared in blackface.  David Roediger has argued that these performers were very “consciously white” underneath their blackened faces.  Their white audiences understood this, and thus both the performer and the audience were reaffirmed in their own “whiteness,” reinforcing their racial prejudice.  There were African American performers in vaudeville – and indeed, at Chevy Chase Lake, but this practice of blackface may have limited their own performances, requiring them to present the same exaggerated stereotypes in dress, song, and dance. 

 


Opening Night, 1924


According to the Washington Post, p. 10, on May 1, 1924, several thousand people attended the opening night of the summer season:

 

“Several thousand pleasure seekers visited Chevy Chase Lake last night for the opening of the old resort which was marked with a special concert by Meyer Davis’ Le Paradis Band. “

 

“Elwood McNally, jazz pianist, and A. Kaminsky, violinist, respectively headed the two Davis bands which made their debut last night…”

 

A full description of the improvements and features ran in a short publicity notice on May 18, p. A2, in The Washington Post.  Under Manager J.W. Wood, the dance floors of the two pavilions were waxed to “mirror-like smoothness every day.”  And a refreshment stand was constructed adjacent to each pavilion – for cool drinks as well as snacks.  In addition to the dancing pavilions, bowling was available for the “athletically inclined,” and a full restaurant was ready to prepare dinner or supper.  Improvements had also been made to the landcape and lighting:

 

“The delightful rustic atmosphere of the lake has been enhanced by judicious landscape gardening designed to preserve all of the natural scenic beauties of the famous old resort. Great festoons of electric lights overhang the crystal smooth lake in which they are reflected with charming effect. Naturally there is always a gentle night breeze from the water and hundreds find rest and true relaxation on the comfortable rustic benches placed on the sloping banks of the lake, but within easy hearing distance of the softened strains of gay dance music.”

 

They seem to be signaling to the public that dancing wasn’t the only reason to visit Chevy Chase Lake – sitting on one of the “rustic” benches in the cool evening breeze while listening to the music was relaxing and easy.

 

 

Carnival Night, Dixieland Night, and Opportunity Night, 1925:


In 1925, J.W. Wood and Meyer Davis expanded their special entertainment features, and in addition to “Novelty Night” or “Vaudeville Night,”  they presented new musicians and performers on “Carnival Night,” “Dixieland Night,” and “Opportunity Night.”  Dixieland Night featured Black performers, and Opportunity Night gave young musicians and vocalists a shot at success, as described in The Washington Post, p.A3, July 26:

 

“Tuesday evening is Dixieland Night and will be regularly featured by the appearances of a half dozen colored juvenile performers…”

 

“’Opportunity Night’ on Fridays will afford talented juvenile amateurs of the Capital an opportunity to the substantial prizes offered…”

 

Towards the end of the season, the management claimed that Dixieland Night was the most popular attraction, as reported in a short article in The Washington Post, p.F3, August 2, 1925:

 

“Dixieland Night has proven one of the most popular entertainments ever staged by the Chevy Chase Lake management. The bright little colored entertainers that regularly appear on this night are real magnets to the crowds."

 

Although Chevy Chase Lake was segregated -- open only to white patrons, these newspaper notices confirm that African American performers appeared at the pavilions, though perhaps only on these "special" nights.  According to the publicity notices, the “bright little colored entertainers,” as they were described, were popular with Chevy Chase Lake patrons.  In just a few years, the vaudeville entertainment seems to have shifted from white performers in blackface in 1923 to African American performers described as talented and able to draw in the crowds in 1925.

 

 

 

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