Newspaper ads, announcements and reports in 1928 from various locations outside New York named the Cotton Club Orchestra, the Original Cotton Club Orchestra, and the New York Cotton Club Orchestra.
These clearly weren't Ellington's orchestra at the Cotton Club, so who were they?
In replying to my September 2018 question in Duke-LYM, Remco Plas suggested the group might have been the orchestra Ellington's band replaced when it started at the Cotton Club.
Further research confirms this to be so:
The house band at the Cotton Club in New York from 1924 until 1927 was Andy Preer's Cotton Club Orchestra, also known as The Missourians.
After Preer died in March 1927, his band stayed on until it was replaced on December 4, when the Cotton Club, first having offered the job to King Oliver, hired Ellington and his orchestra.
The remnants of Preer's band toured in an Earl Dancer revue starring Ethel Waters, and then teamed up with a song and dance team on the vaudeville circuit.
Billed and referred to as the Original Cotton Club Orchestra, Cotton Club Orchestra and New York Cotton Club Orchestra, this band eventually returned to New York, taking up residency at the Savoy Ballroom and subbing for the Ellington orchestra at the Cotton Club during the summer of 1930. Cab Calloway was made its leader, and it once more became the house band at the Cotton Club when Ellington took his band on the road February 1931.
'The Cotton Club Orchestra which has been furnishing dance music at Tampa for the past few weeks has been engaged for the Whippet Club, on Gandy boulevard, at Rio Vista, starting Sunday night at one minute after twelve...This new novelty orchestra of colored musicians together with other added entertainment will be featured at the nightly parties.'
'The Metro Club will give their matinee soiree, Washington's Birthday, Wednesday, February 22, at the Manhattan Casino, 155th street and Eighth avenue.
Dance music will be furnished by two orchestras, Duke Ellington and his Little Ellingtons and the Original Cotton Club Orchestra.'
'Walter Richardson, baritone, the Africana Cotton club orchestra, and the Africana quartet will broadcast from WAIU Thursday at 6:30 p.m. They are part of the colored revue "Africana," playing at the Hartman theater. The orchestra stars a girl trumpeter... 'The presence of a female trumpeter suggests Preer's orchestra was not yet part of the show.
'"Africana" with Miss Ethel Waters, in the Adelphi: a Negro show....Fourth and final week.'
'Eight members of the Cotton Club orchestra, the "hot" jazz band in the pit and on the stage in "Africana," the Negro revue at the Shubert the-[sic] after this week, are from Kansas City and the Cotton Clubbers gained fame in New York as a Kansas City organization. Larmar Wright, formerly with Benny Moten's Victor recording orchestra here, plays the "hot" trumpet with the "Africana" orchestra. Other Kansas City men include Archie Dickerson, DePriest Wheeler, Leroy Maxey, Charles Stamp, George Scott, Walter Thomas and E. J. Brown. The other six musicians in the orchestra are from St. Louis.'/p>
'The Cotton Club Boys" band in the all-negro revue, "Africana," showing this week in the Shubert-Rialto, tonight will resume the picking of instruments... and the show - dark last night when the bandsmen struck - will be resumed, it was said today. The orchestra struck yesterday after demanding pay for the rest of this week in advance and being refused by Earl Dancer, manager of the show. It was not disclosed how the differences were settled.'
'"Oh boy," when that curtain rang down last night it was just like I had shot an ace-deuce for $56,000. That's what this band is going to cost me. We've had one tough break after another on the road since Easter.
We had such a touch time in Milwaukee last week that when we got here I decided this would be our last week. Ethel Waters and I were going on the Orpheum Circuit after this week. We planned to take about 40 members of the :Africana" company with us. But I was indiscreet. I let the news get out and the orchestra boys wanted to know if I was going to take them, too. I couldn't afford to take more than eight, so the other five raised a rowl. They all belong to the union and they insisted I must take all 13. Thirteen is an unlucky number, anyway, so I decided we couldn't afford any more hard luck. I refused to carry more than eight and they demanded their money before it was due. When I wouldn't pay, they wouldn't play.
"Africana," which has had fairly good reviews during its 46 weeks tour of the country, charged a top price of $3.30 and reserved the first floor for white patrons. Negro playgoers resented the discrimination, it is said, and white patrons found the show a little rough, so between the two the "Box Office Blues" developed.
James Smith, manager of the orchestra, said he was advised by a member of the local Musicians' Union not to play after Dancer refused to advance his men $250 of the $1300 Smith claims would have been due them at the end of the week. The management of the Shubert-Rialto announced it had tried unsuccessfully to effect a compromise.
Producer Dancer, after a talk to the boys today, was confident the show would reopen tonight, barring unforeseen developments. The orchestra's most popular piece in the show is "Smiles." '
'Almost the entire cast of 56, including the negro orchestra, helps Ethel Waters to present the cutdown version of her black musical show. If anything, it is better at the Palace than it was at length because there is less of it. An hour of the good dancing and fair singing is about right. Three hours were too much, at least it was too much for this writer... '
'I hadn't joined the original orchestra when the Cotton Club opened. That band came from the west-Robinson's Syncopators. I don't know the date that they started at the Cotton Club...I had played with the leader of Robinson's Syncopators while I was on the road. His name was Andrew Preer.
When he came to New York and found me playing in the Lafayette pit orchestra, it was like old home week. He asked me to join his group. This was in September of 1925. As far as I know, that was the first band at the Cotton Club. Of course, they changed their name to "The Original Cotton Club Orchestra.
Duke Ellington replaced us either the fourth or fifth of December, 1927...We went out on the road. But naturally, leaving the Cotton Club, we had to drop that name because Duke inherited it. Our road band went out with Ethel Waters, who had a big show-fify, sixty people-called "Africana," and we traveled all over the old Loew's Poli Circuit.
After the show broke up in St. Louis, Jimmie Smith, the band's bass player, hooked us up with a song-and-dance act named Brown and McGraw. They were a real hot team, too!...
In 1929, Calloway was an entertainer, not a bandleader. The manager of the Savoy saw in The Missourians (our band's name at [the] time) and in Cab a combination that put together, would make something great.
I left the band in 1929, when I heard that we were going to be under Cab Calloway, that we would lose our identity. The nucleus of "The Missourians: stayed on, however, and became the band that the world knows as Cab Calloway's band... '
'The Cotton club orchestra...is the headliner of the current bill. The act is illuminated with the dance steps of Brown and McGraw. Picture a scheduled 22-minute act of this type, skilled musicians offering smouldering tunes and a pair of clever dancers. The audiences Sunday and yesterday went wild with joy and the troupe offered numerous encores. This one act alone is worth the price of admission.'Page 18 shows this was the troupe's last night in Rockford.
'Cotton Club Group Headline New Bill at Palace Theater
Syncopation as only the negro race can play it warms up the new show at the Palace theater. The players, whose antics and hot melodies are a popular feature, are the Cotton Club orchestra. They have little specialties which catch hold solidly, one a camp meeting travesty that is very smartly done. There is no time when the band is not in action and no time when it is not going at a dizzy pace after the opening number...'
'...11 musicians whose performance is said to be graced with speed, artistry and charm.
'...Something different in the way of orchestration and dance steps is featured in the headline Keith act which comes Sunday. Herbert Brown and Naomi Brown, originator of many dance steps are at the head of this revue which includes the Cotton Club orchestra...'
'...The 'Camp Meeting' musical satire and the 'New Rhythm' number of the Cotton Club Orchestra's repertoire. And if you have a penchant for African stepping you should like the work of Herbert Brown and Naomi McGraw, featured with the jazzologists... '
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