by Kate Evans
The big band music of the 1930s and 1940s had people dancing to a lively mix of jazz and swing, made famous by musicians and bandleaders Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Jimmy Dorsey and his brother Tommy Dorsey.
Morgan County had its own version of a big band with the Rhythmaires, a late 1940s swing band that included several Paw Paw High School students, a couple of girls from Berkeley Springs and others from Cumberland and Fort Ashby. The band performed at various clubs, dances and special events around the region.
It was around 1946 or 1947 when Paw Paw High School student Jeanie (Miller) Hott Lyons-Martin first started playing piano in the Rhythmaires.
She was around 13 or 14 years old then and was only in the band for a couple of years. Lyons-Martin graduated in 1950 when she was 17 and wasn’t in the Rhythmaires then.
She said the other Paw Paw students in the Rhythmaires were bandleader/ band organizer Forrest “Buddy” Patterson, Jr. on trombone; John Duval, who played trumpet; drummer Donald Malcolm and vocalist Ruby Ann (Hardy) Day Mehrmann. Vivian Braithwaite (saxophone) and Jean Edmiston (sax-clarinet) from Berkeley Springs were in the band for a little while.
Other band members included, over the years, “Fiddle” Robinette (bass) and “Flash” Gordon (accordion) from Cumberland and Sonny Twigg (sax), Richard May (sax) and Midge Puffinberger (piano) from Fort Ashby.
Patterson’s father Forrest Patterson Sr. ran the band and did promotions and travel arrangements, Lyons-Martin said. He also played trumpet. His wife Myrtle (Platt) Patterson always went along to their performances as a chaperone and looked after Lyons-Martin and Mehrmann since many of their performances were in night clubs and bars. The band practiced at the Patterson’s house and Mrs. Patterson always had refreshments afterwards.
The Rhythmaires played at numerous school dances and events at Paw Paw High School like the Sweetheart Dance and provided live dance music at area clubs like the Blue Beach Tavern outside of Romney, The Elda in LaVale, Maryland, Veterans of Foreign Wars Clubs in Frostburg and Mount Savage, the Old Mill near Winchester, the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Cumberland and the Kiwanis Club in Berkeley Springs.
The Rhythmaires also played at the Veterans Administration (VA) Center in Martinsburg and the 1947 Kiwanis Club New Year’s Eve Ball at Berkeley Springs High School. The band also performed at the Hotel Washington in Berkeley Springs, which later burned down.
The Rhythmaires’ playlist included “In the Mood”, “On the Sunny Side of the Street”, “Twilight Time”, “Peg of My Heart” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”
The band’s theme song was “Marie,” Lyons-Martin said.
A couple of the waltzes they played were “Blue Danube” and “How Soon.” She still has the music from when she played with the band.
Lyons-Martin’s daughter Mary Hott shared some notes about the Rhythmaires that Ruby Ann (Hardy) Day Mehrmann put into a journal for Lyons-Martin’s retirement celebration in 1988 from Paw Paw Schools as secretary.
In the journal, Mehrmann said that their theme song “Marie” was a great song-“Jeanie really belted it out on the piano!” Some tunes the Rhythmaires played that Mehrmann sang on were “Baby Face,” “Near You,” “Linda,” “Now Is The Hour,” “My Happiness,” “A Tree In The Meadow,” “Blue Moon,” and “Stormy Weather” to name a few. Her favorite song to sing was “That’s My Desire.”
Mehrmann noted that “sometimes Buddy would sing ‘Star Dust.’ We usually ended with ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ featuring Jeanie on piano, John’s beautiful trumpet and Buddy’s moody trombone keeping rhythm with Donald’s smooth snare drum, and people dancing so passionately, this being the last song of the evening.”
Mehrmann also said in her journal, “We loved to have ‘jam sessions’ at practice. Donald (Malcolm) showed his expertise in rhythm on his drums, Buddy played a sentimental trombone, and I sang romantic songs – at 15 years old!”
Mary Hott said that “some of Ruby Ann and Jeanie’s favorite memories were of entertaining wounded soldiers at Newton D. Baker VA Hospital in Martinsburg. The piano was on a platform with wheels, so Jeanie got to ride through the hospital while all the other band members walked alongside. They went from ward to ward, performing for all the soldiers who had been wounded in combat.”
Lyons-Martin remembered that the boys in the band had a skit they did which was pretty funny.
Mehrmann later moved to Berkeley Springs and worked as a courthouse clerk. Lyons-Martin and Mehrmann kept in touch. Mehrmann sang in her church choir in Berkeley Springs after the Rhythmaires, said Lyons-Martin. Mehrmann passed away some years ago.
Lyons-Martin said she never sang on any of the songs — she just played the piano. There were no recordings ever made of the Rhythmaires that she knows of.
Lyons-Martin started playing piano in the 1940s. Their church minister’s wife gave lessons for 50 cents and she went once a week for instruction. Lyons-Martin said a lot of kids in town took piano lessons. They had formal piano recitals and wore gowns.
Lyons-Martin has played piano at the United Methodist Church in Paw Paw for many years and still plays piano at their services. She said she enjoyed playing in the Rhythmaires.
“I enjoyed that kind of music and having something to do,” Lyons-Martin said.
Lyons-Martin noted that they only made $5 each a night performing. They’d leave early in the evening and get home at 2 a.m. Mr. Patterson absorbed the expenses from taking them to performances. Lyons-Martin said she doesn’t remember any fights breaking out or people drinking at their performances. It was all a good time.
“Nothing bad ever happened,” she said.
Lyons-Martin said she likes the old classics as her favorite big band songs. When she was young she always had music on and listened to Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo and the Andrew Sisters, among many others.
“There were a lot of swing bands. It was a really special time,” she said.