The legendary Southern Syncopated Orchestra, founded by Strivers Row resident Will Marion Cook, 1919-1921
Southern Syncopated Orchestra (SSO), 1919-1921, established first in the United States as the Harlem-based New York Syncopated Orchestra, was an early jazz band known to bring black musicians to the UK.
The group was founded by Will Marion Cook of Harlem. Band members included New Orleans clarinetist Sidney Bechet, British singer Evelyn Dove (using the name Norma Winchester), and soprano Hattie King Reavis. The SSO toured the UK and Ireland between 1919 and 1921.
The orchestra made successful annual tours across Britain and the Continent performing classical music, rag tunes, blues, slave songs and jazz.
Hugely popular, they attracted 328,000 paid admissions to hear them at Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall in 1920. During their 1921 farewell tour of Europe, they performed three weeks at Glasgow’s Lyric Theater in October 1921, which would be their last performance.
The public was shocked to learn of the sinking of the SS ship mountain ash taking them to their next location, Dublin writes our The source. Of the 120 on board, 36 people died, including nine players, in heavy fog late overnight off Corsewall Point, Wigtownshire, the mountain ash was hit by the American freighter Camak West then cut in half by the Clan Malcolmleaving Glasgow for South Africa, coming to the rescue at full speed.
The survivors returned to Glasgow, where the theaters held Relief Fund concerts to benefit the surviving members and to help replace their musical instruments, which had all been lost.
On 17 October 1921 the orchestra opened at the La Scala Theater in Dublin for a two-week delayed engagement, before playing venues in Derry and Belfast. The orchestra disbanded in November 1921.
In 2013, two of the SSO musicians who died in the sinking of the SS mountain ash were commemorated by blue plaques erected by the Nubian Jak Community Trust on the properties where they had resided in London: singer Frank Bates and drummer Pete Robinson.
Photo credit: 1) Source. 2) Youtube.
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