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Remember when: Music was everything here

A song of the late 1940s was made popular in the early 1950s on the radio and the “Hit Parade” on television by Teresa Brewer“Put another nickel in, In the nickelodeon, All I want is loving you and music, music, music…”

sue_bass_wilsonMUSIC – that is an understatement when it comes to Andalusia and Covington County and its citizens’ appreciation and love of that entertainment genre.

The Old Opera House downtown on the corner of Pear Street and South Three Notch Street was the site of many musical and entertainment events of the early 1900s in Andalusia. Even high school graduation was held there prior to the construction of the 1914 East Three Notch School, called the Grammar School in newspaper accounts and on old postcard pictures. The school auditorium became the center for piano recitals, magician shows, dance recitals, school assemblies, and choral concerts.

Moving ahead some 50 years, The Star-News reports in November 1963, “ ‘Seats for the new auditorium of the Andalusia High School have been shipped and are to be installed starting Monday,’ Superintendent J. H. Johnson said. The stage is to be put into place early in December. Andalusia Development Company is the contractor in this building project.”

Already The Star-News announced in October of 1963 “The Covington Concert Association will present a series of five concerts ranging from February 1964 into May. The officers of the association are Rev. Robert Malsbury, president; Mrs. Ashford Broughton, vice-president; Miss Lynda Latimer, secretary; and Col. Edwin M. Pollard, treasurer. Each of the five concerts will be held in the new Andalusia High School auditorium. The series includes a play, “Androcles and the Lion;” “The Merry Widow,” a modernized operetta; a folk singing group, “The Ramblers Three;” the Karlsrud Chorale; and the Baltimore Symphony.”

On Dec. 12, 1963, this event was front page news – “‘These are buildings and facilities for all the people, all the children.’ This was the note sounded by city school superintendent J. H. Johnson in exercises dedicating the new auditorium and gymnasium at the Andalusia High School on Sunday afternoon. A crowd of some 300 persons including students, parents, school officials, city councilmen, and patrons attending the simple but impressive ceremonies held in the 1,036 seat auditorium. L. E. Brown, Sr. chairman of the city school board, reminded the crowd that ‘big, beautiful buildings do not guarantee a good education for children.’ Brown lauded Mayor Bill Baldwin and members of the city council for their strong support of schools.”

A Memolusia of the 1960s hailed Supt. J. H. Johnson as one who had spent his entire adult life in the education field. He was elected superintendent of the school system in 1942.

“Johnson is an educator of the first rank. Under his leadership, the Andalusia schools have grown and developed along all lines. A junior high school, a band and music room, three large modern cafeterias, a new gymnasium, and a large auditorium have been built….Johnson’s wonderful influence for good will live on in the hearts and lives of the boys and girls of Andalusia. “

Students of the early 1940s remember Mr. Johnson driving a jeep, probably an army surplus jeep, around the campus. Once some of the students called out “Hey, Jeep” as he rode by. He just waved! “Jeep Johnson” became his nickname to the students who loved and admired him.

  1. H. Johnson Park is named after him. When I ride by the home that Mr. Johnson and his wife lived in on Third Avenue leading up to the high school, I think of him when I see the beautiful camellia bushes in that yard. He was a great camellia enthusiast!

Prior to the end of construction of the new auditorium, the Band Parents Club announced that their “first meeting of the 1963-64 year would be held. Dent Williams, the club president, would present the plans for the new year. Three buses have been contracted to transport the 72-member band to Ozark for the opening football game of the year on Friday night.”

“The annual winter concert by the AHS bands will be heard in a program scheduled for Monday night, December 16 at 7:30 p.m., Jim Nettles band master, announced, in the new school auditorium,” Star-News headlines.

However, the choral department beat the band to the punch when “their ‘Music of Christmas’ concert was held in the new “$425,000. school auditorium” on Thursday, December 12.” This was a day or two after the special dedication exercises.

A newspaper ad of that time reads, “Buy your long, low, lovely stereo for ‘64 at special discount prices – Barrow Motor Service, Red Level, Alabama.” Who didn’t have a stereo in their home to listen to those new 45 records, a big improvement from the 78s of the 1940s!

During this same time frame of December 1963, “Songs and pageantry of yuletide will spotlight programs to be presented in Andalusia’s churches, First Methodist, First Baptist, Calvary Baptist, First Presbyteriam, and St. Mary’s Episcopal.”

“The holiday season was ushered in by the Cotillion Club members Saturday night, December 7, at their annual Christmas dance at the Andalusia Country Club. The magic of music, mirth, and sweet fellowship reigned for the night. Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Hipp greeted guests at the entrance, Sallie Hipp being the president. Other officers are Mrs. H. L. (Jet) Campbell, treasurer, and Mrs. J. F. Colquett (Lucille), secretary. The three committees responsible for the success of the dance were music, refreshments, and decorations.”

“The Study Club’s October 2, program, ‘Alabama’s Songbird, Nell Rankin,” was directed by Mrs. Paul Mathison. She presented an interesting sketch of Miss Rankin’s life and played several of her recordings. Rankin, the leading messo soprano for the Metropolitan Opera, is a recognized artist and star throughout the world.”

The South Alabama Coon Hunters are to launch a new series of Saturday night dances beginning in October 1963 to be held at the National Guard Armory.” This was reported in the Star but taken from the Andy Hi-Lite.

“The Happi-Time Kindergarten, taught by Sara Waits Hair, staged a musical program with a Halloween theme on October 29, 1963. Mrs. William Turner accompanied the young students on piano.” Mrs. Hair believed in starting the boys and girls at an early age so that they would have a lifelong love of music!

“The annual joint meeting of the Andalusia BPW, Altrusa, and Pilot Club was held in the Scherf Memorial Building on Monday, September 23, 1963. Miss Marilyn McInnish sang spiritual numbers, ‘How Great Thou Art’ and ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ Miss Peggy Long, flutist, also offered a selection.”

The Inter Se Club held its first meeting of the new year on October 2, 1963. Mrs. James Prestwood gave a very informative program on ‘Introduction to American Operetta and Musical Comedy.’ She stated that operetta is a lighter, easier to understand type of musical theatre in comparison to opera. She played recordings from ‘Show Boat,’ ‘West Side Story,’ ‘The King and I,’ and ‘Of Thee I Sing.’”

“The AHS Choral Department presented its last concert in the high school gym on stage on November 15. Approximately 225 singers participated including the Jr. High Chorus, the Girls Chorus, the Male Chorus, and the Mixed Chorus. Choral ensembles featured included the Rhythmettes, the Debonaires, the Top Twelve, the Andaires, and the folk music group, the Singing Sisters which will be the first of its kind to appear in concert with the other choral groups. All are under the direction of Miss Merilyn Jones. Patron passes are available through the Choral Parents’ Association and may be obtained from the president, H. M. McInnish.”

Going back to the beginning, when I think of a nickelodeon and a jukebox, the Idle Hour on Sanford Road always comes to mind. In August 1963, The StarNews reported that an explosion, probably of gas origin, causes the popular teen hangout of the day to burn. A lot of music was heard at those booths where the teens ordered milk shakes and burgers. It was a few long years before another Idle Hour came on the scene, but Charlie Bradley’s Big R on River Fall Street soon filled the gap and came on the scene with their root beer floats, broasted chicken, and French fries that he served to many a teenager on Friday and Saturday nights in those days of folk song hootenannies and sing-a-longs in the parking lot.

As we continue to REMEMBER WHEN, I will tell more in upcoming articles about music in Andalusia and Covington County. It can be remembered when someone in the future researches The Andalusia StarNews for news of the past and discover that our young people put a lot more than a nickel into their cell phones in order to pull up the popular music of the day! I’m “H-A-P-P-Y!!!!!!!”