Century 21 Exposition (1962): Music at the Fair

  • By Peter Blecha
  • Posted 6/09/2010
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9367

Seattle's Century 21 Exposition (Seattle World's Fair) was initially conceived to be the major attraction of the decade -- and with over 10 million tickets sold to both locals and visiting tourists during the fair's six-month run of April 21, 1962, through October 21, 1962, it proved to be exactly that. In addition to the many other entertainments offered up to those attendees was music. It was all booked by a Performing Arts Division team directed by a big-time New York-based classical music talent agent, Harold Shaw. The vision was to have varying forms of music (and/or dance) presented at such fairground venues as the Opera House, the Playhouse, the Arena, the Stadium, Show Street, the International Bandstand, the International Fountain, the Rose Garden, the Plaza of the States, the United Nations Pavilion, the Horiuchi Mural area, and the Space Needle. Thus, there would be an incredibly wide range of music -- excellent music imported from nearly every corner of the globe including England, Germany, Norway, Romania, Serbia, Russia, Spain, India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Japan, China, Tahiti, Mexico, Jamaica, Canada. Not to mention top-notch music brought in from all across America: New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu. Just about everywhere, it seemed, except from the Pacific Northwest itself -- where mainly volunteer amateur musicians were welcomed, and so visitors were largely deprived of hearing the best professional groups from this region.

The Official World's Fair Band

The most prominently featured local ensemble to perform at the fair was the hastily organized Official World's Fair Band. Its director, John R. "Jackie" Souders (d. 1968) -- Seattle's aging 1920's dance-band star and president of the musicians union (AFM 76) -- wasn't even hired until November 15, 1961. Within six months he had to recruit members, select and rehearse tunes, practice marching, and get the ensemble attired in matching uniforms. 

But Souders took on the task happily. It was written that he "exemplified the fair's light tone. Decked out in an all-white uniform with gold braid, radiating happiness with every gesture, Souders led his 37-piece band around the fairgrounds with infectious enthusiasm. When he strutted like Robert Preston in the final scene of The Music Man [movie], everyone's step grew a little lighter. Often in a playful mood, Souders would hand his baton to some wide-eyed youngster standing nearby. The band would respond by intentionally speeding up, slowing down or playing off-key" (Duncan, p. 59). Souders doffed that uniform at the end of each day, and then donned a tuxedo to lead the pit-band for four gigs each evening at Gracie Hansen's (1922-1985) controversial Paradise International burlesque show over on Show Street.

Grand Opening Gala

The Grand Opening ceremony at the fairgrounds kicked off with a performance by the Official World's Fair Band, the singing of the national anthem, and the singing of a new fair-related song, “Meet Me at the Needle” by the Broadway star John Raitt (1917-2005) -- father of musician Bonnie Raitt (b. 1949). Later during that night's Gala event, the brand-new Opera House (225 Mercer Street) presented the Seattle Symphony Orchestra -- with piano great Van Cliburn (1934-2013) as a guest soloist -- along with guest conductor Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). 

The Seattle Daily Times noted that the famous Russian maestro mentioned that "the décor and acoustics of the Opera House are superb" -- and over the following six  months and years many other musicians were delighted to perform there (April 22, 1962, p. 56). The town's most prominent arts patrons were duly proud of their long efforts to gain an opera house. No doubt few if any of them ever knew that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's 36 horses were stabled in the basement during their long visit at the fair.

World's Fair Opening Twist Party

As the fair's season approached, numerous business persons unaffiliated with the official planning efforts dreamt up various schemes for siphoning off whatever publicity they could to profit from all of the visiting tourists and amped up locals. And that's how the World's Fair Opening Twist Party came to be. That teenage dance craze, The Twist, was still going strong in early 1962 and some opportunistic promoters booked the old Orpheum Theatre (506 Stewart) downtown and put on four concerts in the 2,700-seating-capacity hall on Friday April 20 and Saturday April 21, 1962.

Seattle's highest-profile AM radio DJ, KJR's Pat O'Day (b. 1934), served as MC for those sold-out shows, which featured all of the top purveyors of that dance brought in from the East Coast where the fad had originated. Among them were Philadelphia's Chubby Checker, the Dovells, Dee Dee Sharp and -- direct from New York City's Peppermint Lounge -- Joey Dee and the Starliters.

Important Imported Sounds

Upon his arrival from New York Shaw was -- as Time magazine reported in 1961 -- less than impressed by what he confronted here: "Although some local citizens attempted to impose their own ideas, the officials wisely brought in architects and entrepreneurs from all over the U.S. to plan the big show. 'When I came here a year ago,' says ... Shaw ... 'the first response was, "Well, he's from New York. Watch him."  They wanted local entertainment. The local Gilbert and Sullivan troupe. Dancers from the local studios. The local Little Theater groups. I told them, "Look, this is supposed to be a world's fair, not a county fair. Grow up."' The result of such determination has set a high standard."

Shaw assembled a Performing Arts team that would include Assisting Directors Harvey Shotz and Frederic B. Vogel along with a few additional assistants like John H. Wilson, Harry Lowell, and John S. Stephan -- in conjunction with the Special Events Division's  Louis V. Larson and C. David Hughbanks. The prime entertainers they booked certainly reflected Shaw's tastes and business background. Among them were chamber music and classical music (Igor Stravinsky, the Juilliard String Quartet, the American String Quartet, the revered pianist Eugene Istomin, unsurpassed cellists Leonard Rose and Isaac Stern, and Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Symphony); big-band jazz (Benny Goodman's, Count Basie's, Stan Kenton's, and Henry Mancini's orchestras); swing pianist Erroll Garner; pop icons (Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis); New York lounge lizard legends, the Adrini Brothers; folk singers (Josh White and Richard Dyer-Bennet); and the bubbly "Champagne music" of the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. 

The fair's Special Events Division was responsible for finding appropriate performance spaces for an even wider array of acts and entertainments that would range from the ridiculous to the sublime. They would include Dallas, Texas's Singing Grandmother's Club; Vancouver B.C.'s Salvation Army Temple Band; the International Five (a young vocal quintet of Peruvian, Scottish, Italian, Spanish, and Turkish extraction), Vancouver B.C.'s Electric Ladies Glee Club; Baldwin electric organ demonstrators Robert T. Reed, Herbie Koch, Paul Mooter, and Frank Stitt; carillon players Tom Roberts, Peggy Sheffield, and Robert Carwither; an International Gospel Quartets show; a Barbershop Quartet Song Fest; square dancing with Red Foley; the Idaho Old Time Fiddlers Association (with 65 players); folkies like the Seegers  and Joan Baez, and rock 'n' roll and R&B stars like Ray Charles, Fats Domino, James Brown, Ike & Tina Turner, and Ricky Nelson.

The Spirit of '76

One factor that had various impacts on the music performed that summer was the role of the local musicians union, AFM 76. Though undoubtedly pleased that Souders and another lucky 37 of their dues-paying members would be gainfully employed in the Official World's Fair Band, other union members were disappointed that more of them didn't get extra work during the town's busiest days ever. But the fact that many hundreds more non-member musicians were going to be imported onto their turf at least allowed union officials to gum up the permit process a bit and even use sharp elbows on occasion.

Thus, fair management soon discovered that the union could legally set up various procedural roadblocks and bottlenecks -- including requiring that all visiting musicians submit applications to perform here. Then on April 16th -- five days before the fair opened -- 76's secretary H. L. Folsom wrote the Performing Arts Division to inform that "clearance has not been granted for bands to perform in any other part of the fair grounds except the Plaza Of The States and the High School Stadium. Your request to allow the appearance of some 125 bands and chorale groups ... fails to specify any locations, type of programs, and/or other information deemed necessary by our Board of Directors." In addition, "no band other than the official World's Fair band can accompany Paula Bane when she sings the 'The Star Spangle Banner' at the start of each state honor day" at the Plaza of the States site (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 22, 1962, p. 11).

Furthermore, the union announced in late June that "only the official World's Fair band can play while marching. None of the visiting high school, college or armed forces bands can do it." The numerous bagpipe bands booked for the fair were exempted from the no-marching rule -- because the union didn't consider them to be "musicians." However, the Performing Arts Division apparently used such limitations as an excuse to decline at least one band's request to attend and perform: An internal document from Fred Vogel to a fellow staffer requests that "a no letter" be sent which should "state that musician's union must approve all bands and they are not kind towards service units." This claim is belied by the fact that myriad military ensembles -- including the U.S. Navy Band, the Commandant 13th Naval District Band, the Cruiser-Destroyer Force Pacific Band, the U.S. Marine Band, the Fleet Marine Force Pacific Drum and Bugle Corps, the U.S. Army Field Band, the 32nd Infantry Division Band, and the Strategic Air Command Band -- all performed at the fair.

Fair or Unfair?

By mid-1961 the issue of local-versus-imported talent was already simmering amongst the fair's planners. On July 14th, Fred Vogel noted in an internal memo to Harold Shaw that their promotions manager, Bob Lyte, "was trying to explain to me that narrow or regional thinking on the World's fair is definitely out and he is a little upset that so many people seem to think that way. He certainly approves of you 900 per cent because you do not" (Vogel, July 14, 1961). 

With Shaw's apparent disdain for what he considered to be the Northwest's provincial tastes -- and thus his apparent lack of knowledge, or interest in, Northwest pop culture -- he began thinking about sloughing off that realm to an underling. On July 21, 1961, Vogel wrote again to Shaw saying that "I noticed in one letter that you ... stated that your assistant 'would coordinate all activities from the Pacific Northwest.' If you want to make a differentiation between the groups from the Pacific Northwest as opposed to groups from other parts of the country, I'd be interested to hear"  (Vogel, July 21, 1961). Apparently Shaw firmed things up: In a December letter Vogel noted that "I am coordinating appearances of all bands and school groups for the Performing Arts program at the fair" (Vogel, December 4, 1961). And coordinate he did. But as the fair's entertainment schedule began to be publicized local musicians were among those dismayed by the obvious shortchanging they were getting out of the deal.

Even the media commented on the matter, failing however to fully grasp the situation. Argus magazine published an essay by Maxine Cushing Gray titled "Sh-h-h ... There Will Be Some Washington Talent at Fair," which stated: "Like gleaners in a wheat field we have been combing through World's Fair performing-arts announcements to see how Washington talent is doing. The answer is that familiar word, fair. Today's column may be anathema to the policy-makers at Century 21, who semantically stress the international aspect of a 'world fair' and hope to sell as many tickets to those who would expect the same" (Argus, January 26, 1962). 

Yet, after that promising start, Gray seems placated to discover that the following Northwest talents were, in fact, scheduled to perform: Jackie Souders and his Official World's Fair Band (six days a week), Milton Katims (1909-2006) and the Seattle Symphony (five shows in six months), and one show each for the Little Orchestra of the Seattle Symphony, the Youth Symphony Orchestra of the Pacific Northwest, the All-City High School Band, the All-City Senior Girl Scout Chorus, the Seattle Public School's annual Music Festival, and the Puget Sound 1,000-Voice Chorus. In time, other Northwest acts were also booked including the Boeing Employees Chorale, Seattle's All-City Accordion Band, the Fink Family Handbell Ringers, Seattle Rotary Boys Club Choir, the Campfire Girls Choir, the Garfield High School Choraliers, the Seattle Pipe band, the Washington Scottish Pipe band, the Puget Sound Choral Directors Guild Festival -- and high school bands from all 39 Washington counties. In short, groups perfectly suited for, well, a county fair.

As the fair unfolded a few Seattle jazz stalwarts did pick up some gigs – notably, 1940's bandleader, Norm Hoagy with trumpet ace, Floyd Standifer (1929-2007), and Ronnie Pierce (playing Dixieland music at the Roaring '20s room with Skinny Malone and the Hot Bananas). Then too, a five-piece called the Jazz Souls played the Food Circus building (as did pop organist, Grant Brown), and lounge lizard Gil Conte sang rat-pack classics at the wine bar, the Celler de Pigalle.

The Seattle Beat

The fact that relatively few local players got work on the fairgrounds was not the complete story though. For those who had gigs locked in at various off-site rooms during this time period when a huge influx of tourists swarmed the town, business was quite good. Downtown rooms that saw a serious spike in attendance included a Dixieland joint, the Blue Banjo (610 1st Avenue); a hillbilly haven, Golden Apple (906 1st Avenue); and restaurant/lounges like The Tradewinds (2505 1st Avenue); the Red Carpet (1628 5th Avenue); Rosellini's Four-10 (410 University Plaza); Victor's 610 (610 Pine Street); and the Norselander (300 3rd Avenue W). In addition jazz joints like the Penthouse (701 1st Avenue), Pete's Poopdeck (77 Main Street), the Pink Pussycat (110 3rd Avenue S), the Magic Inn (602 ½ Union), and the brand new House of Entertainment (1213 1st Ave) saw hordes of new visitors. Some of the combos that played these rooms saw recordings issued in 1962 on Seafair Records' Seattle Beat sampler LP.

The House of Entertainment had a great house-band that attracted locals, tourists -- and plenty of visiting musicians (including much of Stan Kenton's orchestra), who dropped by repeatedly during their stays in order to take part in late-night jam sessions. And their pianist, Overton Berry, was one who also managed get a taste of the action over at the fairgrounds. He managed to make a connection that led to his being hired as production manager for Peggy Lee's shows at the Opera House. Berry hired nine local musicians to augment Lee's core crew and the shows went splendidly. In addition, he was among a gaggle of union players who were brought in for one day's work in September where they dressed up and posed as additional members of the Official World's Fair Band while being filmed for Elvis Presley's (1936-1977) It Happened At The World's Fair movie.

For the over-21 set who sought music with a bigger beat, there were a couple rooms to find some action. Among those that benefited from their proximity to the fairgrounds were the Townhouse (101 Eastlake Avenue E), where Seattle's pioneering '50s R&B band the Dave Lewis Combo played nightly. Another nightclub, Dave’s Fifth Avenue (112 5th Avenue) -- which was fortuitously located just across Denny Way from the new fairgrounds -- experienced many nights of SRO crowds dancing to Seattle's Frantics. A block north was the short-lived Peppermint Lounge (222 5th Avenue) which featured a teen-R&B group, Merrilee and the Statics.

Teenage Dances

It was in early July -- fully half-way into the fair season -- when fair management finally began reacting to criticisms that it hadn't programmed much entertainment or activities for teenagers -- or rock 'n' roll fans. The Seattle Times reported that the struggling Diamond Horseshoe venue on Show Street was going to be renamed and reworked as a non-alcoholic teen club and mentioned that local bands like the Frantics and the Wailers might play there. Instead, on July 28 the fair began hosting "Teenage Rock 'N Roll" dances (11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily) at the Galaxy venue on Show Street. The talents booked there were Yakima teen singer Josephine Sunday and various unnamed local bands. Appearing too were the Continentals, a six-piece band from Los Angeles (who were pushing a dance called "The Needle") that somehow got the gig rather than West Seattle's popular Continentals who'd been active since 1959 -- and whose new Bolo 45 featured "The Turnaround" -- another dance fad, like "The Needle," that failed to materialize.

On that same date began a series of outdoor dances at the bandstand on the International Mall -- a venue whose belated opening event (on the Fourth of July) had featured the Official World's Fair band and a Los Angeles-based vocal group, the Seisho Four. The first Saturday night "Dancing Under the Stars" event featured KVI DJ, Buddy Webber, who served as MC. After the teens yawned through a performance by the Guadalajara Mariachi Band, they eventually got to dance until midnight to the Northwest sounds of Merrilee and the Statics whose Bolo Records 45 "Hey Mrs. Jones" had broken out as a hit on KZAM radio in July.

Television and Radio

Television was another opportunity for some local acts: KING-TV's Seattle Bandstand teen-dance show aired daily throughout the fair, and KOMO-TV produced a program at the Space Needle -- World's Fair Holiday -- that featured various talents including Seattle's venerable Frank Sugia and his combo, who also drew crowds nightly at the Italian Village Restaurant (1413 5th Avenue). In addition, Seattle teen rockers, the Viceroys, scored a Twist Party gig in July performing daily from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. on KTNT-TV's Deck Dance show hosted by radio DJ "Big Daddy" Dave Clark and broadcast live for two whole months from the world's largest luxury liner, Canada's MS Dominion Monarch, which was anchored as a hotel ship out on Elliott Bay.

Seattle radio also got into the spirit: "Number One-Derful" KOL began pitching their weekly hit chart as the "Century 21 Survey." That season also saw the debut of a memorable new jingle for Seattle's dominant AM station -- the brain-branding ditty: "KJR Seattle Channel 95." O’Day claims to have written the melody himself and "put the jingles on the air to introduce the World's Fair to Seattle." In addition he worked behind the scenes all that year to promote his lucrative teen-dance empire -- and one of his best draws were dances the produced at the old Spanish Castle Ballroom (south of Seattle on Highway 99) featuring Tacoma's premiere rock band, the Wailers. Planning ahead for the fair, O’Day had arranged in autumn of 1961 to help record their classic At The Castle LP there and his invitational liner notes -- “If you visit Seattle for the Fair, I hope you will find it possible to stop by the Spanish Castle ... the Friday Night entertainment mecca of the Seattle-Tacoma area” -- proved to be a perfect piece of advertising. Dances that summer were packed.

The Fair's Musical Legacy

In a parting interview with The Seattle Times before leaving town when his job was done, Shaw took a moment to slap back at those who had -- as writer Louis R. Guzzo (1919-2013) put it -- scorned his "$27,000 salary and expenses incurred in trips to Europe and Asia to find talent." Guzzo -- who never throughout his multi-decades news career had displayed the slightest sympathy for young local musicians -- also wrote that "Shaw has been criticized for bringing in too much 'highbrow' talent, for playing down popular entertainment and for not booking more companies from the East and abroad." Apparently the locals who would have preferred more Northwest music at the fair didn't register on his mental radar.

Nevertheless, a lot of great musical memories were created for the fair's attendees. But the greater impact on the Northwest was its providing long-lasting new venues for performances. In addition to the new Opera House, Seattle also got a refurbished Civic Arena (the Fine Arts Pavilion) which later became the Seattle Center Arena, and is today's Mercer Arena. The Century 21 fairgrounds -- which would be recast at the Seattle Center -- also gave the community the Washington State Pavilion (which was quickly revamped into the Coliseum) and the Plaza of the States (later renamed the Flag Pavilion and Plaza, and currently the Fisher Pavilion and Plaza). Each of those venues -- along with the (Horiuchi) Mural Amphitheater and other sites -- would host innumerable musical events over the ensuing decades.

Sources: "Washington: Come to the Fair," Time Magazine, December 21, 1961 website accessed January 17, 2010 (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,827192,00.html#ixzz0ct7Q8hE2); H. L. Folsom AFM 76 letter to John Wilson, April 16, 1962, Box 264, Century 21 Exposition Performing Arts Division Visiting Musical Groups, Puget Sound Regional Branch, Washington State Archives; Frederic Vogel memo to Harold Shaw, July 21, 1961, Box 264, Century 21 Exposition Performing Arts Division Visiting Musical Groups, Puget Sound Regional Branch, Washington State Archives; Stanton H. Patty, "State Adds $100,000 For Fair Promotion," The Seattle Times, November 16, 1961, p. 5; Frederic Vogel, letter to Col. Garnett Wilson, December 4, 1961, Box 264, Century 21 Exposition Performing Arts Division Visiting Musical Groups, Puget Sound Regional Branch, Washington State Archives; Maxine Cushing Gray, "The Arts: Sh-h-h ... There Will Be Some Washington Talent at Fair," Argus, January 26, 1962, p. 6; "Souders' Fair Band Looks Forward to C-21 'Season,'" The Seattle Times, March 14, 1962, p. 26; "Symphony Played: Stravinsky Lauds Opera House," Seattle Daily Times, April 22, 1962, p. 56; Dug (Doug Davis), "Night Owl" column, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, undated clipping in author's possession;  Jack Jarvis, "Our Man At The Fair," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 22, 1962, p. 11; Frederic Vogel, letter to assistant about military groups, March 1, 1962, Box 264, Century 21 Exposition Performing Arts Division Visiting Musical Groups, Puget Sound Regional Branch, Washington State Archives; L. H. Newman (AFM 76 Business Representative), letter to Louis V. Larsen, July 27, 1962,  Box 264, Century 21 Exposition Performing Arts Division Visiting Musical Groups, Puget Sound Regional Branch, Washington State Archives; Frederic Vogel internal C-21 memo, March 1, 1962, Box 264, Century 21 Exposition Performing Arts Division Visiting Musical Groups, Puget Sound Regional Branch, Washington State Archives; "Club 21 is Smash Hit," The Seattle Times, March 11, 1962 p. 12; Jack Jarvis, "Spacearium' LP Record Has Narration, Music Of Science Exhibit Film," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 12, 1962, p. 10; John Voorhees, "Forecast Is 'Fair' For Katims," Seattle Post-Intelligencer Pictorial Review, April 15, 1962, p. 6; Louis R. Guzzo, "Shaw Would Put Center Theaters In Private Hands," The Seattle Times, September 2, 1962, p. 7; "From Near And Far: Bands, Musical Groups Keep Fair Humming to End," The Seattle Times, September 7, 1962, p. C-16; Paul de Barros, Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots Of Jazz In Seattle (Seattle: Sasquatch, 1993) p. 119; Don Duncan, Meet Me At The Center: The Story of Seattle Center From the Beginnings To the 1962 World's Fair to the 21st Century (Seattle: Seattle Center Foundation, 1992), pp. 59, 63; author interviews or email correspondence with Pat O'Day, Jim Valley (the Viceroys), Merrilee Rush, Maia Santell (re: Frank Sugia).

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