My grandfather Ronald Riggs was born in 1901, during the rise of John Philip Sousa’s popularity, and he was a college student when the Great Migration and the proliferation of radios and record players helped popularize jazz throughout the country.
|Ronald, on left, and friends in Minneapolis.|
Although he did not major in music, it was an important part of his college life. During those years, he played clarinet and saxophone in several different bands (I imagine the gigs helped him pay for school), including the Art Emard dance band, the University of Minnesota band, and Arnold Frank’s university dance band.
|Ronald, second from left, as a member of Arnold Frank and His University Orchestra.|
Here’s the Roger’s Cafe Orchestra playing “Rain.” I'm not sure who made the video or why, but it includes cool photos of Paris (sans Owen Wilson).
The song on the flip side is “Black Maria.” I guess Black Maria was slang for a police vehicle used to transport prisoners to jail. But it also was the name of a racehorse that won several major races in 1926 and 1927.
I’m not sure who made this video, either; it includes a photo of the band and photos of black Americans from the 1920s.
When my grandfather wasn’t playing in a band or studying, he was active in his college fraternity, Zeta Psi. He played on the fraternity’s basketball, baseball and bowling teams, and he served as its treasurer his senior year.
After graduation, Ronald was hired as a salesman for the Fritz-Cross Company of St. Cloud, an office supply business. This was during the time that Ronald’s dad, G. Oliver Riggs, had moved to St. Cloud from Bemidji to direct a municipal band and form a boys’ band.
Interest in school bands was growing, and in 1926, Ronald took a job as a band organizer and salesman for Frank Holton & Co. (this was the same year that G. Oliver got a job organizing school bands for C.G. Conn). In my next post, I’ll time-travel to the 1930s to explain Ronald’s experience with Holton, and his successes as a school band director.