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Clyde Beal: Reliving memories of big band music

Oct. 21, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

The big band style of music that witnessed the beginning and end of World War II has long been replaced with a new generation of music lovers. The music, and the old Westinghouse radios that delivered those popular classics into your living room, have also disappeared. But the world can never deny, that the unique sounds created by big band music generated as much impact on our culture as rock 'n' roll did during the 1950s. In fact, many of those old orchestrated songs from the 1940s, were transformed into rock 'n'roll favorites just a few years later. Songs of the 1950s may still have their spot on the radio dial, but the foundation for those old love ballads were born back when saddle oxfords and zoot suits were the rave of the dance floor.

Back in the late 1930s and 1940s, If you wanted to hear the big band sounds of Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Henry Busse, or any one of a hundred other popular names, you heard them on the radio. Many seniors remember hearing such songs as; "Pennsylvania 6-5000," "That Old Black Magic," "Riders In The Sky," "In The Mood," and other songs that made the music of the big band era the legend it is today.

If Stoner Beard were alive today, he could fill you with stories of the glory days when Benny Goodman and Jimmy Dorsey were common household names. His stories would be full of vivid detail, because he once traveled and played with some of the finest well-known orchestras and bands of that time.

Beard was born in Napa, Calif., on July 26, 1910. He was educated in California where he attended Sacramento Junior College and the University of California, where he was active as a member of the marching band.

His wife, Edna, who now lives in Huntington, says that her husband's talent and love of music came from his artistic mother who encouraged her son's ability.

"Stoner began studying music with the piano and flute at a very young age," said Edna. "He studied for 12 years under the direction of the late Anthony LInden, solo flutist with the San Francisco Symphony and Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 1927, at the age of 17, Stoner was a solo flutist in the California All State High School Symphony. He was also an accomplished player of the alto saxophone."

In 1937, Beard moved to Hollywood to perform soundtracks and musical accompaniment for movies, radio programs and dance bands. His musical soundtracks were so well received in Hollywood, that he was asked to perform in such films as "The Flame of New Orleans," starring silver screen star, Marlene Dietrich, "You'll Never Get Rich," starring Fred Astaire, and "Two Yanks in Trinidad," starring Pat O'Brien. There were also many other films of the day that profited from the musical enhancement of Beard's musical performance.

His musical career was interrupted by a notice from the U.S. Army in 1943. After the war, while playing at the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco, he was introduced to an attractive young lady from Kentucky. Introduced by a fellow musician, this lady from the Bluegrass state would soon become a major impact in his life. So great of an impact she was, that it took Beard little time to propose. In fact, just two months later they were married a few days after Christmas in 1945. A marriage blessed with two children that lasted until his death in April 1994.

During Beard's musical career, he played with such bands as Ted Weems, Jack Teagarden, Russ Morgan, Desi Arnaz and the Los Angeles County Band. As first flute or lead saxophone with these bands, Beard spent several years touring the country with these musical entertainers. He played at such hotels as the Statler Hotel chain (now Hilton), Rice Hotel in Houston, Mark Hopkins, St. Francis and Palace Hotel in San Francisco.

"Most of the orchestra traveled with the tour bus," said Edna. "Behind the bus followed the "band wagon" which contained all the musical instruments. All except Stoner's, he always kept them with him in the car during travel times. His instruments were very expensive, especially his sterling silver hand-made flute made for him as a gift from his parents. After Stoner's death, all his instruments were donated to Notre Dame High School in Los Angeles."

The musical world began changing during the 1950s for the beloved big band sounds. The way music was recorded and used for soundtracks of movies and radio programs began changing. Even radio was losing its popularity to television.

Many musicians had began spending time looking for other careers. Beard realized it was time to retire, so the couple decided on Kentucky. Beard had visited there with his wife many times, and they both agreed to try the slow paced society of the Bluegrass State.

Edna resumed her career with the Commonwealth of Kentucky in the administrative field. Stoner found time to relax and enjoy the community affairs of Kentucky. His days of following a bus load of musicians across America had came to an end. It was now time to trade life in the fast lane of music and let the world finally catch up on the back roads of Kentucky.

Upon Beard's passing, Edna moved to Huntington to be near her daughter and son-in-law. She found a group of friends at the Barboursville Senior Center that welcomed her into the fold.

She still loves that music that once defined her years of excitement and travel. On occasion, a passer-by might still be able to hear that familiar distinctive big band sound coming from her home in Huntington. Just like it sounded when played live through that old Westinghouse radio.

Clyde Beal is an area freelance writer looking for winter stories and family traditions. Write him at archie350@frontier.com