Ted Lewis, known as “The High-Hatted Tragedian of Song,” was born Theodore Leopold Friedman in Circleville, Ohio on June 6, 1890. Starting in Vaudeville in 1910 as a comic clarinetist, Lewis later moved to New York, formed his own jazz band in 1916, and was one of the first musicians to bring jazz music to the masses. He captured the hearts of audiences for five decades with his trademark battered, old top hat, his clarinet and his immortal catchphrase “Is Everybody Happy?” Unrivaled in popularity from the 1920s to the 1940s, Lewis played to standing room only houses across the country, breaking attendance records and drawing larger audiences than Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw.
Over the years, his band included such musical greats as Benny Goodman and Jimmy Dorsey. Ted Lewis also had the first racially integrated cast, with African-American performer Charles “Snowball” Whittier portraying Lewis’s live “shadow” in the popular “Me and My Shadow” routine. Lewis made hundreds of records between 1919 and 1954, appeared in eight motion pictures, on television and in nightclubs until his passing in 1971.
In 1977, the Ted Lewis Museum was founded by Lewis’ widow, Adah Becker Lewis, to pay tribute to one of Ohio’s greatest citizens and one of the most influential jazz musicians. The museum holds and exhibits Ted Lewis’ archives, memorabilia and music library in the only remaining edifice that stood within the original circle of Circleville. Upon his passing, the Smithsonian Institute, Yale and Harvard University all asked for Ted’s collection, but his widow Adah made sure that everything was donated back to his hometown, which Ted fondly referred to as “The Capital of the World.” Admission to the museum is free and it is open every Friday and Saturday, hosting thousands of visitors from throughout Ohio, the U.S., and around the world.
In the last three years, the museum has diligently worked to preserve Lewis’ collection of musical arrangements, a project led by curator Joseph Rubin. In 2012, when Joseph first came to the Ted Lewis Museum as a visitor and inquired upon the collection, he was guided to the basement, full of trunks and boxes of manuscript and printed music. This was the very music used by Ted Lewis and his orchestra from the 1930s to the 1960s, including one trunk used to transport music to England in 1929 when Ted and his band performed a command performance for the King.
After taking in the treasure trove of historic music, Joseph volunteered to sort, catalog, and re-house the collection to be preserved for many years to come. He researched many suppliers of archival materials and selected University Products’ Perma/Dry Document Boxes and Manuscript Folders to house the collection. Then, he began sorting thousands of band parts and full scores for over 500 songs. The collection now resides in a climate controlled location of the museum, as Joseph continues his work in cataloging, digitizing, and re-housing the archival scrapbook, photographs, and ephemera collections exclusively using University Products folders and boxes.
Through Joseph’s work, these arrangements have been brought back to the stage so that audiences could experience them live as they did back in the 1930-40s. The new Ted Lewis Orchestra and the Ted Lewis Museum presented Rhythm Rhapsody Revue for two performances in June 2014 in Columbus, Ohio. The performances attracted standing room only audiences and garnered critical acclaim. This coming June 14th, the Ted Lewis Museum will celebrate Ted Lewis’ 125th Birthday by presenting Ted Lewis & Sophie Tucker: Jazz Jubilee, further exploring gems from this historic collection of musical arrangements.
Many of the collections of big band leaders have been lost to time, thrown away by people who did not appreciate the historical value, or lost in natural disasters. The Ted Lewis Museum is one of the few to hold such a wonderful historic collection that can be enjoyed for years to come.
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