Music by Meyer Davis:  Dance Bands & Vaudeville, 1916 - 1930

 

New Music … and New Management

Perhaps it was the continued popularity of the new dance forms that led the management of Chevy Chase Lake to focus almost entirely on dancing.  We do not know what lay behind the business decisions, but Herbert Claude must have made the decision to replace the U.S. Marine Band with a popular dance band led by Meyer Davis for the summer of 1916.  Mr. Claude's management contract was scheduled to end in 1917, and as it turned out, Meyer Davis himself would become the new manager at Chevy Chase Lake, from 1917 to about 1930.

During the 1916 season, a series of advertisements for Chevy Chase Lake were placed in local newspapers.  The display ads below appeard in the Washington Times, and you'll notice that the May ad mentions the picnic grounds and the children's playgrounds, but by the end of the summer, the advertising copy is very simple:  "Meyer Davis Music for Dancing."

 

   
The Washington Times, May 21, 1916, p13.
 
The Washington Times, June 18, 1916, p16.
 
The Washington Times, September 10, 1916, p. 8.



“Real Dance Music”


In the first publicity notice for the 1916 season, an announcement for the opening day was placed in The Washington Post on May 21, p. MT6:

 

“As before, the feature of the park will be the dancing.  Especially interesting is the news that this season the music will be under the direction of Meyer Davis, whose orchestra at the Willard has been the drawing card for the dancing there. For real dance music, Davis’ orchestra has no equal, either here or elsewhere, and the announcement that his music will be furnished should bring crowds that will fill the remodeled dancing pavilion.” [Emphasis added.]

 

“Real dance music” was exactly what Davis and his orchestra provided, and it was also music NON-STOP!  Davis was famous for his large orchestras which made it possible for half of the musicians to rest while the other half performed.  There were no intermissions.


Meyer Davis, Bandleader and Impresario
 

 
 
A black and white photograph of orchestra leader Meyer Davis taken by Underwood and Underwood Studios in Washington around 1915.  Writing on the front of the photograph reads, "To My Only Sweetheart."  From the Meyer Davis Collection, Raymond H. Fogler Library's Special Collections Department, University of Maine.
 

Meyer Davis was a local Washingtonian.  Born in 1893 in nearby Ellicott City, Maryland, his family moved to the District when he was a child.  He began taking violin lessons, and later, when he was in high school, he led a five member band which played for $25 an evening.  In 1914, while a law student, his band was hired by the New Willard Hotel – and his career as a full-time musician and impresario began.  He managed several orchestras in the Washington area, booking them at night clubs like Le Paradis in a downtown hotel, as well as at Chevy Chase Lake.  He went on to manage as many as 80 bands that played at society events, Broadway shows, and the inauguration balls for several Presidents.  He died in 1976.


After his bands played at the amusement park in 1916 season, Davis became the manager of Chevy Chase Lake from 1917 through 1930, providing the dance orchestras that appeared nightly during the season.  In addition, Davis or his on-site manager at Chevy Chase Lake, J.W. Wood, brought in vaudeville acts – vocalists and dancers, primarily -- to the nightly musical program, drawing from performers who played at local Washington theaters.  One of the vocalists featured in 1923 and later in 1926 was Kate Smith.  (Read more about her performances at the amusement park in the "Kate Smith Sings!" section of this exhibit.)


Although we do not have direct evidence about Meyer Davis’ management contract with the Chevy Chase Land Company, several news articles found in an archive of his press clippings suggest that he took over the management of the entertainment at the lake in 1917.  These clippings are now in the Meyer Davis Collection at the Fogler Library's Special Collections, at the University of Maine.  In 1922, one of these news article titled “Davis at Chevy Chase,” states that Chevy Chase Park was largely owned by Mr. Davis.  In 1923, from another article in his press clippings, his personal investment in Chevy Chase Lake was described:
 

“Meyer Davis’ money has been behind the park for the last five years, at which time he purchased a controlling interest in the corporation operating it.  The park has been a consistent money-maker and Davis acquired control to assure himself an additional outlet for several of his Washington orchestras that are available during the summer.”


Even though we do not know the newspaper that published this brief article, it offers a clue about the management agreement between Meyer Davis and the Chevy Chase Lake Company and the likely date of its inception around 1917.  Like Herbert Claude before him, it is unlikely that Davis actually “owned” the land, but as the article states, he had a controlling interested in the management corporation.  And that meant that he was able to shape the musical program of the dance orchestra, as well as other aspects of entertainment at Chevy Chase Lake.


Under Davis, many of the older “amusements” were eliminated.  The only ones that continued were the bowling alley, the shooting gallery, and the café. There is no mention in local Washington newspapers of the outdoor movie theater, the pony rides, the boat swings, or the merry-go-round in the 1920s.  Dance music and vaudeville acts were the prime draw for patrons of the park.


Click to the next page to read about the introduction of jazz at Chevy Chase Lake.


Next