Friday, April 4, 2014

Edna Winchell Wylie's Music

A descendant of  early European settlers of New England and New York, as well as of the indigenous Mohican and Wappinger people, my great-aunt Edna Winchell Wylie was already a professional musician at age 14 when her work was documented as playing the piano for the silent movies at the Mahaiwe Theater in Great Barrington, Mass.  Her sister Janette Winchell Schwab also played the piano for the movies. 

Edna C. Winchell

Janette Winchell with her husband Albert Schwab

Edna C. Winchell with new husband George S. Wylie

In 1921 Edna married George S. Wylie who was born of Scottish parents in Dalton, Mass., in 1898.  For a while the young couple lived with George’s father in Great Barrington.  Alexander Wylie’s tailor shop stood where the post office is now at 222 Main Street.  George and Edna were members of the First Congregational Church there.  George also belonged to Cincinnatus Lodge AF & AM and the Telephone Pioneers Club.  Against social convention, Edna continued her career as a musician after marriage.  In the photo below taken in the 1920s you can just make out the wedding ring on her finger. 

The band above has been referred to by three different names:  the Modolo Brothers, the Johnny Modolo Orchestra and the Musical Aviators.  The musicians in the photo are, left to right, Alex Feldblum, Jerome Couse, Henry Baldwin, my great-aunt Edna Winchell Wylie sitting at the piano, John Modolo and Louis Modolo.

Although I was told by my family Edna had her own band, family facts have been misremembered before.  I was very pleased when my second cousin independently confirmed Edna’s band and shared two photos in support.  

Edna Wylie's Music

The Winchell family seemed to be musically inclined. Edna's nephew Roy Winchell also had his own band in Dutchess County, playing a different genre of music.  Her brother Ellis H. Winchell was a band member in another part of the country as well.  I was told my grandfather Earl Winchell liked to sing.

It may have been unusual for a woman to have her own band in the 1930s, an era when women were expected to stay at home to take care of the household while the men worked.  It has made me wonder if there has been research on women in music in the 20th century.

I recently found the newspaper excerpts below, providing an idea of the type of engagements Edna played.

Springfield Daily Republican, 27 April 1933, p. 4

Great Barrington
Mrs. George Wylie has succeeded Miss Marguerite Cook as organist at the Congregational Church.

Springfield Republican, Springfield, MA, 21 June 1936, p. 31.

Betsey Dunn Married in Season’s First Important Berkshire Bridal

Granddaughter of Berkshire Playhouse Founder Becomes Bride of Henry Osgood Phippen, Jr., Governor Dummer Academy Instructor in Stockbridge Ceremony Performed by Trinity College President

Special Dispatch to The Sunday Union and Republican

 Stockbridge, June 20—The first of the important Berkshire society weddings of the season took place at St. Paul’s Episcopal church this afternoon at 3:30 when Miss Betsey Louise Dunn was married to Henry Osgood Phippen, Jr., of South Hamilton.  The bridge is the daughter of Mrs. Bertha V. Dunn of the Roost on Goodrich street and of Douglas Wood Dunn of St. George, Staten Island.  Her maternal grandfather was the late Walter L. Clark, president of the Central Art galleries, New York, and founder of the Berkshire Playhouse at Stockbridge.  Mr. Phippen is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Osgood Phippen of the Bandbox at South Hamilton.

Rev. Dr. Remsen Brinckerhoff Ogilby, president of Trinity college at Hartford, Ct., officiated, with Rev. Edmund Randolph Laine, rector of St. Paul’s, assisting.  The church decorations were of white gladioli and palma.  Miss Edna Wylie of Great Barrington played the “Lohengrin” and Mendelssohn marches.  She also gave a recital before the ceremony.
Springfield Republican, Springfield, MA, 17 Sep 1936, p. 4.

Mrs. Edna Wylie has been appointed musical director of the symphony orchestra, which will give a concert and provide incidental music for the pageant, “Superba,” which will be given in connection with the town’s 175th anniversary the last week of this month.  Mrs. Wylie will enlist the services of a large number of musicians.  The regular dance band, directed by Mrs. Wylie will continue to provide music for the Thursday and Saturday dancing at The Barn on the Sheffield road.
Springfield Republican, Springfield, MA, 17 Mar 1937, p. 3.

One of the largest late-winter social affairs for this area will be held tomorrow night at the Berkshire Inn, when the St. Patrick’s ball and card party, sponsored by the American Legion auxiliary, will be in progress.  It is expected that over 400 will attend.  Mrs. Charles E. Birdsey, chairman of the dance committee has been assisted in arrangements by William J. Connelly, a former commander of South Berkshire post, American Legion.  Music will be provided by Edna Wylie’s orchestra.  In addition to the ball, the several lounges of the inn will be utilized for bridge-playing.

Springfield Republican, Springfield, MA, 27 April 1938, p. 3. 

 High School Sophomore Hop

The high school sophomore hop will be held Friday night in the Community house.  Dancing will be from 9 to 1 with music by Edna Wylie’s orchestra.  The committee on class colors will arrange to display the colors white and rose.  The decorating committee will attend to beautifying the dance hall.  Refreshments will be served.

Edna's husband George Wylie was hired by New England Telephone and Telegraph on 29 Jan 1923 and was assigned to the local wire chief office plant, where it seemed he remained.  He retired 30 April 1963.   He and his wife eventually bought a large half-timber Tudor house at the corner of West Sheffield Road and Route 41.  My parents and I used to pass the house on trips to Berkshire County in Massachusetts and sometimes the long way 'round on trips to Litchfield County, Connecticut.  The house was a favorite of my mother’s, yet we had no idea a family member had owned it at one time. 

On a quick tour of the grounds several years ago, I remember  a chicken house pointed out.  It was George Wylie's for his passion was poultry.  He was a member of the Great Barrington Poultry Club, winning prizes for black breasted red game and light Brahma bantams in national poultry shows.  

Edna died at the relatively young age of 51 at Albany Medical Center.  She was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Great Barrington.  I finally found an obituary for her:

Springfield Union, Springfield, MA, 23 May 1951.

Great Barrington, May 22—Mrs. Edna C. Wylie, 51, wife of George S. Wylie, of Egremont Rd., died today in the Albany, N.Y., City Hospital. She was born in Housatonic, Jan. 17, 1900, daughter of Henry F. and Alice (Snyder) Winchell.  She had been a resident of this town all her life.  She was a well-known pianist and for many years played at the Mahaiwe Theater prior to the advent of the talkie motion pictures.  She has also organized and led a large dance orchestra in Southern Berkshires.Besides her husband she leaves a sister, Mrs. Janette Schwab of Lee; three brothers, Elmer J. Winchell of Lee; Daniel of Pittsfield, and Ellis of San Francisco, Cal.  The body has been removed to the Stevens funeral home.  Funeral arrangements are incomplete.
Four years after Edna died, her husband married Hester Snelgrove, the sister of his brother Alexander’s wife.  George died in 1969.

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