Feb. 2 to 7, 1931: Otto Gray and His Oklahoma Cowboys took over the airwaves of WQAN, Scranton Times Radio, when they stopped in the city for a week.
The band was booked as the headliner at the Ritz Theater’s February Fun Festival. Also performing were four vaudeville acts, Franklyn Ardell with Sonya Swan, Gifford & Gresham, dancer Dotson, and xylophonists Helen and Ralph Sternard.
The cowboy band included Gray; his wife, “Momie”; “Zeke” Lee Allen on the violin; “Chief” Sanders on cello; “Hy” Allen on banjo; Billy Knox; Owen Gray; May Blossom; and Rex, the band’s police dog.
According to an article from the Oklahoma Historical Society, the band got its start in Ripley, Oklahoma, in May 1925 when a group of fiddlers and Rough Rider Billy McGinty performed on a radio station in Bristow, Oklahoma. After some time, McGinty turned over the band to Otto Gray.
Once Gray took over the group, he added trick roping and Momie as a singer, and the band grew in popularity.
With a special arrangement with the Ritz Theater, the band played live for a half-hour at 1p.m. on Feb. 2, 3 and 5, performing old-time tunes and cowboy songs. On Feb. 6, it performed a three-hour live variety show on WQAN starting at 8p.m.
During the evening show, the band took song requests from listeners. Additionally, Bobby Minento and Cyrus Mineo performed on guitar and violin, playing songs from Spain, Ireland, Germany and Italy along with a few American numbers.
Mrs. John Burke of Carbondale, with her accompanist Michael Gorman, sang several songs, such as “Danny Boy,” “I Hear You Calling Me” and “Absent.” Gorman also played “New England Moon” and “Nola” on the piano.
Rounding out the show were performances by two local bands – the Scranton Orchestra Club and Morelli’s Bohemians. The orchestra performed pieces by Offenbach, Godard and Cervantes, and the Bohemians played popular dance music of the day.
Following the radio show, the cowboy band went on to do another performance at the Ritz.
Brian Fulton has been the librarian at The Times-Tribune for the past 14 years. On his blog, Historically Hip, he writes about the great concerts, plays/musicals and celebrity happenings that have taken place throughout NEPA. He is also the co-host of the local history podcast, Historically Hip. He competed and was crowned grand champion on an episode of NPR quiz show “Ask Me Another.” Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9140; or @TTPagesPast