'Lasses White: From Minstrel to Movies

Born in Texas about 1888. Lee Roy White aka, 'Lasses or Lee, had been in some of the better minstrel companies touring America in the early decades of the 20th century.  He was often in the same company with pals Al and Don Palmer.
His career was launched in 1912 with the questionably titled, "Negro Blues" (latter retitled with a less acceptable word reflective of the time).  This is thought to be the FIRST blues song published and by a performer familiar with the structure of blues music.  It set the standard for blues as it developed within the 1920's and 1930's vaudeville entertainment venues.
He was part of Neil O'Brien's "American Minstrel Organization" appearing at the Academy of Music in 1916 (Reading Eagle, March 26, 1916, pg. 12) and was listed as one of the popular vocalists with Don and Al Palmer in "O'Brien and His Minstrels (Plattsburg Daily Press (Aug. 14, 1916, pg. 6). Later, he was with the famous Al G. Fields Minstrel show ("Minstrel Show at the Overholser," Oklahoman (march 24, 1918)42). 
In the 1930's he did a stint with the Grand Ole Opry and performed on other circuits but finally, he  moved to Hollywood and remained there playing western side-kicks in a long series of minor western movies with leading men such as Tim Holt and Jimmy Wakely for RKO.    He died there in 1949.
Here is a song he wrote that was recorded by a six year old.  Here is a film clip from "Come on Danger" (1942)
 with Lasses (Lee) playing the jug.


Al J. Palmer

In March of 1918 a troupe pulled into Oklahoma City for a run in the local theater, The Overholser, for three days.  Top rated minstrel show, "Al G. Fields" included in their performers was listed an "A.R.Palmer".  There was also another Palmer with first name Don and a Lasses White.
The name listed is no doubt a typo and should read "Al J. Palmer."  He was a songwriter and had several popular tunes out on sheet music in the 1916 to 1918 time period.  They often carried the label indicating they had been made popular by an artisan such as Sophi Tucker or one of the performers from the Al G. Fields Minstrel Show.
Some of his sheet music can be found in archive collections, such as  at this link. He published some under his own label, "Al J. Palmer Music Publishing" out of Columbus, Ohio. Much of it reflects the demands of supplying music to a "minstrelsy" entertainment company.  Several were popular into the early 20th century, such as Fields. Palmer also worked for the 'Neil O'Brien Shows' and a number of "Eastern stock companies."

 Back to Alabama in the Spring
It Took the Sunshine from Old Dixieland
I'll Come Back Some Day
Dancing at the Old Plantation
You Only You, Broke My Heart
That Chocolate Colored Gal of Mine
Wake Up Sleepy Hollow

The Only Sweetheart I Ever Had
Let's Go
Will You Sometimes think of Me
March Eternal

In about 1919-1922 the pastor of Oklahoma City's Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church discovered he was in town and approached him about working with the youth program (Epworth League) to organize some boys bands.  He accepted the offer and organized a junior and senior boys band and later an orchestra.
He published under "Al J. Palmer Music Publishing" out of Columbus, Ohio but did publish some through other firms. He was mentioned in a 1920 issue of Billboard. The article noted his brother Don Palmer and friend Lasses White had been very helpful in the success Al J. Palmer's songs were receiving. (Billboard, January 17,1920, pg. 35)
A marriage record is found 18 May 1920 for "Al J. Palmer" and a "Bunny Dale." (Oklahoma County Marriage Records 1889-1951 Book 36, Pg. 137 (Microfilm)
In 1926  he had an ad in the local paper as "Prof. Al J. Palmer - Instructor of Band Instruments." He was , however, still composing because he also offered "words written to music" and "music written to words"; "special songs written to order" ; "expression in dramatic art"; and "entertaining material furnished for amateurs." (Oklahoman, 3 Oct 1926).
Wesley Boys Band, ca 1924, Palmer shown lower right.
In about 1933, he had a operation to treat a brain tumor and in the process he was blinded and his speak impacted.  He had to re-learn to speak as well as cope with his blindness.
 In 1935, a local Oklahoma City fire chief, George Goff, had heard of what had befallen this once "top-flight minstrel show performer" and writer of some 14 published songs.  He also learned the man had that while recovering Palmer had written a new song which he had never heard played.  With a copy arranged by one of Palmer's old music students, Walter Harris, the fire department band held a party.  At Palmer's home at 2237 NW 26th (NW of the OCU Campus) they performed the march for him. ("Surprise Party Is Given by Band fro Blind Composer, Onetime Minstrel Star", Oklahoman (16 Dec. 1935):4.)
--M.A.H., 2014


What Do Al Jolsen, A Local Boys Band and a Church Have in Common?

Professor Al J. Palmer.

According to a story uncovered, while Dr. Dean C. Dutton was pastor of Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church (1919-1924) he learned that Al J. Palmer was living in Oklahoma City and called on him to see if he could come into Wesley Methodist Church and help with the "Epworth League" (youth organization of the M.E. Church).
Mr. Palmer was a composer and, according to the story of this source, had written several of the songs that Al Jolsen sang during his career.  Records do indicate Jolsen worked for a time with two Palmer brothers (Al and Joe) but they parted company around 1905. 
The first available program of a Band concert found by researchers in 1975 (for the history book written then), was dated June 19, 1923 under the direction of Al J. Palmer.
The boys band created had 38 pieces  and costumes in deep red with black trim and Mr. Palmer wore an all white suit.  They had stunts and band rehearsals and gathered on Sunday evenings for concerts.  People who belonged to other churches came to hear the band on Sunday nights.  The band was composed of youth of the church and at that time it was one of the few bands ever organized by a church group.  Palmer also directed an orchestra at Wesley.
Some identified with the band includes: Ed Fuller, Bob Sherman, Ruhl Potts, Harold Klein, Harold Hamlin, Warren McCreight, Everett Bradshaw, ....
In 1927, as Wesley turned ground to build their new sanctuary, the band was there under the direction of Palmer.   An ad from the time period is for "Prof. Al J. Palmer, Instructor of Band Instruments".  He listed he was Director of Wesley Senior and Junior Bands and was available for "special songs written to order...expression in dramatic art...words written to music and music written to words...entertaining material furnished for amateurs."
Interestingly enough, several of the band members could be heard over a local radio station WKY every Sunday evening in 1931 as members of the Oklahoma City Concert Orchestra under the direction of Arthur Weitz ("On WKY Every Sunday Night", Oklahoman (Aug.30,1930):40.
Boys Band, Wesley M.E., OKC, cal 1923.
Is the man shown here one of the Palmer's who once worked with Jolsen in Vaudville?


A White Ribbon Around the World

"WCTU Window at Wesley UMC, Oklahoma City"

"The white  ribbon bow was selected to symbolize purity, and the WCTU's watchwords were "Agitate - Educate - Legislate." (WCTU History, WCTU webpage)
In Oklahoma City there is a window in a church that has been called "The Tie Around The World" and was donated in 1928 by the WCTU "for God, Home and Every land."   Several women of the Wesley Methodist Church were active members of this citywide organization.
In a book on the windows  it was noted the ribbon signified a pledge members made around the globe to pray at noon each day.  (These Stones Will Shout, pg. 41)

The white ribbon bow of the WCTU was seen early in this form:


It is clear stylistically that the globe or world and the white ribbon tied around its girth symbolizes the white bow and its reach around the globe for the purpose of bettering the lives of communities and women through missionary outreach and social reforms in the area of drink.

The history of the WCTU in Oklahoma dates back into the 1880's and the Indian Territory.  As Oklahoma City grew - and with it the notorious area known as  "Hell's Half Acre" - the WCTU established itself in the community. 

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