Discovering Vincent Lopez

We purchased a lot of ephemera from a dealer going out of business — and when I say “a lot,” I mean “a lot of boxes.” So many that we almost couldn’t fit boxes and the one slender child we had with us that day into the van. While we did manage to get all that belonged to us home, it took some time to be able to inspect each piece — and the investigation of each may never ever be completed because I love to research everything.

In fact, that’s part of my problem. I’m supposed to find something from these boxes to sell — to recoup some money, feed the kids, whatever. But I keep falling in love with things. Things I didn’t know existed. Things I don’t even know about enough to love them. But in the researching of them, I become utterly smitten.

Like this 8 x 6 3/4 inch piece of now quite tanned brittle paper. It charmed me with its illustration of a man playing piano — with a photo of a man’s head pasted in place (all printed in blue ink). The signature seemed authentic; the ink not mechanically reproduced but signed with a personalized “To Wayne.” But I wasn’t sure of the name, let alone if the guy was of any importance.

I quickly discovered this comical piece depicts and is signed by Vincent Lopez, one of America’s most popular bandleaders for decades.

In 1917, at the age of 19, Lopez was already leading his own dance band in New York City. In 1921 he began to leverage the power of the new medium, radio, into popularity — and he, in turn, helped create the popularity of radio.

He began his band’s weekly 90-minute radio show on Newark, NJ station WJZ by announcing, “Lopez speaking!” (The station and Lopez would become fixtures in the NBC family.) The show theme song was Felix Arndt’s novelty ragtime piece Nola, causing Lopez to became so identified with the song that he’d satirized it in his 1939 Vitaphone short, Vincent Lopez and his Orchestra, by having the entire band singing Down with Nola.

(Sadly, attempts to find a clip of this performance only resulted in “removed” notices at YouTube.)

In 1925, Lopez gave the first-ever Symphonic Jazz concert at the Metropolitan Opera House; later that same year, he took his orchestra to London and met with great success.

Comparable to Paul Whiteman, the “King of Jazz,” Lopez became one of the most popular musicians leading Big Band, dance bands, and/or jazz bands. Charles Hamm calls them “white ‘jazz’ bands,” saying they were of the Tin Pan Alley style of jazz as opposed to the “authentic” black jazz of the time. (In his book, Putting Popular Music in Its Place, Hamm notes that even performers like Josephine Baker had their music “mediated for consumption by white European audiences.”)

Many famous and still recognizable musicians passed through Vincent Lopez’s band, including Artie Shaw, Xavier Cugat, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller.

Lopez is also credited with giving Betty Hutton her first big break, resulting in both being showcased in two Warner Brothers’ Vitaphone shorts. Shot in New York in 1939, the following video clip of the afore mentioned Vitaphone performance features 18-year old Betty Hutton performing a fantastic (classic Betty Hutton!) jitterbug to Vincent Lopez & His Orchestra’s rendition of Old Man Mose.

In 1941, Lopez and his band took what was supposed to be a sort engagement at the Hotel Taft Grill Room — where they remained for 20 years. And in 1949, The Vincent Lopez Orchestra and the Martin Sisters recorded a song called Potato Chips, which played on air along such songs as Rum and Coca Cola and The Popcorn Polka. What’s not to love about that? Other than not being able to find a copy of Potato Chips, I mean.

Lopez’s popularity meant he was widely interviewed as an authority on jazz. To this day, he remains quoted in several works discussing both the origins of the word “jazz” (proffering a story that, in essence, “jazz” came from the name of a musician named Charles, shortened to “Chaz”) as well as, in 1924, it’s definition as “contrary to music.”

Sadly, these footnotes, his recordings (including a few CDs and Mp3s), appearances in advertisements, and a few other collectibles like my autographed bit of ephemera are about all that’s left to prove the former popularity of Vincent Lopez.

But it’s time to get back to the drawing board — back to my vintage drawing of Lopez.

There are no markings to identify the illustrator or to indicate the paper’s purpose, so I’m left to conclude this was a promotional piece printed by Lopez — possibly for the purpose of providing autographs. I believe it dates to the late 1920s or early 1930’s, based on the simple caricature style of the illustration (quite popular in the 20’s — in fact, Cugat and Enrico Caruso both drew caricatures) and the youthful photographic image of Lopez.

Will I be selling it? Mmm, probably not. I don’t think I’m done investigating Vincent Lopez yet. (Stay tuned!)

PS You can keep on eye on my eBay listings to see if and when hubby twists my arm enough to make me selling it.

Image Credits:

The scan of autographed Vincent Lopez promotional vintage ephemera piece, circa late 1920s or early 1930’s, is my own.

Vincent Lopez and His Orchestra Vitaphone clipping found on page 135 in the Octorber 14, 1939, issue of Boxoffice.

Color photo of Vincent Lopez at radio microphone via Wikipedia.

The 1929 Vintage Miller Tire ad with Vincent Lopez and his chauffeur — featuring Vincent Lopez’s famous “Lopez Speaking” — via Antique-Ad-Shop.

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Deanna

Deanna is the founder of Inherited Values, among other sites. She is also an antique dealer.

One thought on “Discovering Vincent Lopez”

  1. Deanna, I was cleaning out some old papers and found my Vincent Lopez autograph from 1948. I Googled his name and ‘signature’ and came up with this informative article you wrote. I have a small card from the Hotel Taft Grill – it advertises adding a glass of wine to your meal, at 25 cents a glass! I was there having dinner and celebrating my eighth birthday. Vincent Lopez and his brother, I believe, called me up on stage, sang Happy Birthday, and the band leader presented me with his autograph. It is exactly the same as the one you have included in your information. Thanks for calling up fond old memories! Jeanne

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