During the third decade of the twentieth century, a thriving music scene existed in West Virginia. Jazz and dance bands flourished both locally and as imports from other locales. According to Christopher Wilkinson in his book Big Band Jazz in Black West Virginia 1930-1942, economics, migration patterns, government policies, and employment circumstances contributed to an environment that was conducive to this type of entertainment in African-American communities in West Virginia.
The Brown Buddies from Clarksburg, West Virginia was one of the local bands providing jazz music during this era. I interviewed a member of the Brown Buddies: Eugene Clark. Eugene joined the band when he was 17 years old. He was recruited when the band needed a new trumpet player. The leader of the band went to Eugene’s high school and asked the staff to recommend a student. Due to his age, Eugene had to ask permission from his parents, who consented with the provision that he could not play anywhere that required him to stay overnight. Eugene reports that his band was one of three in Clarksburg. The other two bands were white. Only one was playing the same type of music as the Buddies and therefore was the band’s chief competition. The Buddies played to both white and black audiences. The Buddies also played the largest hotel in Clarksburg, the Stonewall Jackson.
When Eugene reached legal age he left the band to fight for his country during WWII. However, he did have the opportunity to play the trumpet while in the service. He served in the Pacific Theater including New Guinea, Philippines, and Okinawa. When he left the service he started a band called the “Jive Happy Five” which he discontinued after he was married. Eugene reports he hasn’t touched his horn in over 50 years. Now over ninety years old as an ordained deacon of his church he manages an outreach ministry.
I would like to thank my cousin Gene for graciously sharing his experiences with me.