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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Louisiana Kings

In July of 1936, the largest swing band in the United States, the Louisiana Kings, played a one-night performance at Rock Springs Park. The band was made up of Louisiana University students who worked for one dollar an hour. It was originally started by Huey P. Long for his political campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1931. Following his election, the band sought Long’s sponsorship for a New York tour in 1935, but were denied. I'm sure that did not sit well with bandleader, Manley Culpepper, but then again, Long had a history of creating a number of enemies in his political and professional dealings. In fact, Long was eventually assassinated on September 8, 1935. The Louisiana Kings found other backers and began their cross country tour at New York’s Manhattan Beach club in 1936. By the time they came to Rock Springs, later that same year, they were touted as the largest dance orchestra of all time, having grown from an eight piece to a thirty piece band.

Huey P. Long (left) and LSU President James Monroe Smith 1935.

The Beaver County Daily Times - July 8, 1936

One of the greatest dance orchestras of all times, the Louisiana Kings are scheduled for a one night appearance at Rock Springs Park, Chester, W.Va. this Thursday July 9th. This orchestra is composed of 30 members and is one of the largest dance bands to ever tour the United States. The Louisiana Kings were financially backed by the famous Huey P. Long, late United States Senator from Louisiana, who used the orchestra in his political campaigns, and is the official musical unit of the Louisiana State University.

Manley Culpepper, the leader of the orchestra is credited with having one of the most dynamic personalities in the world of modern music. It was Culpepper, who organized the orchestra five years ago at the Louisiana University, and saw it grow from an eight piece unit to one of the largest dance orchestras ever organized in the history of the nation. New York newspaper critics who heard the orchestra during their recent engagement at the exclusive Manhattan Beach ranked the 30 men from Louisiana in the same class with Paul Whiteman, Fred Waring and Horace Heidt.

This is the first cross country tour the Louisiana Kings have ever made, and during the latter part of August they will make a Warner Brothers musical talking picture. The Louisiana Kings are also scheduled for a return appearance at Manhattan Beach. This is the same New York spot where Paul Whiteman played all last summer.

At a time when Democrats and Republicans are so ideologically split on cutting support programs vs. increasing revenue to pay off the national debt, it is not difficult to see on which side Huey P. Long would have fallen. In this video clip, Long speaks passionately about his "Share Our Wealth" program, which proposed new wealth redistribution measures. Note: The video incorrectly identifies Long's plan as "Share the Wealth" and the date is incorrect as it would have been after his death on Sept 10, 1935.

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