During the 1920s fans of jazz and dance music could find their favorite bands playing at fairs, lodges, and dance pavilions throughout Madison County. Some musicians found steady work at lake resorts, but it was limited to the summer months. Others worked in pit bands at the Orpheum, Grand, and Crystal theatres, where they played for vaudeville acts or provided background music for silent motion pictures. Pay for musicians averaged $1 per hour, but they still relied on income from their day jobs to help put food on the table.
After prohibition was repealed in 1933 more taverns and nightclubs opened in the Anderson area. With the sale of alcohol once again legal, tavern owners looked for ways to draw customers in. Music turned out to be the key to success. Piano players accompanied by a drummer and two horn players were featured acts on weekends, where patrons danced the Charleston and the Lindy Hop. The Dells, the Avalon, the Polish Club, and the Savoy were clubs with enough capacity to seat nine-piece orchestras, as did the Elks, the Eagles, the Moose, and the Knights of Columbus lodges. In later days, the Avalon became the Carlton Club and the Savoy was renamed Johnnie's Cocktail Lounge.
From the late 1930s through the early 1940s, jazz bands played up to six nights at The Cafe Royale and the Stables in downtown Anderson. Other popular spots in the downtown area included the Derby, the Esquire Lodge, the Maritime Room, the Boat Club, the Nugget, the Spa, and the White Spot. Sullivan's Golden Gardens was a popular nightclub in Elwood, as were the Blue Lawn and the Log Cabin in Lapel. The town of Alexandria had the Elks and Eagles lodges and a place called 42nd Street. At the corner of Indiana 32 and Markleville Road was a road house known as the Green Hill. The Anderson Country Club and Grandview Golf Club hosted proms, dances, and social events where local musicians also played.
When the United States became involved in World War II, many Madison County musicians enlisted into the military or were drafted by the Selective Service System. The number of musicians dwindled as did the size of the bands. However, pay for musicians increased as did job opportunites in the Madison County area. Workers at Anderson's manufacturing plants needed a place to have a drink and listen to music after pulling a second or third shift. Many taverns and lodges closed at 1 a.m. while other after hours clubs remained open through day break. After the war ended, musicians worked less hours but found steady gigs at the newly opened Club Shangri-La and the Calibria Post located on the second floor of the American Legion at 12th and Meridian streets.
In 1940 the Paramount Theatre hosted the Jitterbug Jamboree every Saturday night. Though there was no prize money, the ad for the weekly event in the Anderson Daily Bulletin guaranteed $100,000 worth of laughs and entertainment. Jitterbug dance teams from Indianapolis faced off against opponents from Anderson, who danced the night away to music played by the Chilli Childers Orchestra.
The Don Maines Orchestra played weekly gigs at various Madison County nightclubs and jazz clubs, as did the Art Chenoweth Orchestra, the Wilbur Crosley Orchestra, the Marlett Orchestra, Keith Sylvester's Big Band, the Newell Silver Orchestra, and the Claude Hawkins Hoosier Ramblers. Bennie Patterson, Harold Faulkner, Doug Boyle, and Max Hilbert were accomplished musicians that played in bands appeared throughout the county. Louis Priddy, who played drums for various bands during this period, is author of the book "The Jazz and Swing Era In and Around Madison County". The book features dozens of photographs and newspaper clippings from Priddy's private collection.
While drummers, trombonists, guitarists, and piano players provided music for Madison County's finest jazz and swing bands, talented and attractive singers added an extra touch to the performances. Vocalists Betty Rhodes, Jean Brothers, Betty Benson, and Jane Johnson were among them.
Many of these talented entertainers are gone and the clubs where they performed were victims of the wrecking ball, musicians of today keep the legacy alive by playing tunes from the jazz and swing era of yesteryear.