The Coon-Sanders Nighthawks
The Coon-Sanders Nighthawks
He gave the game up in the early 1920s to make dance music his career. The orchestra began broadcasting in 1922 on clear channel station WDAF, which could be received throughout the United States. They were broadcast in performance at the Muehlbach Hotel in Kansas City. They took the name Nighthawks because they broadcast late at night (11:30pm to 1:00am). By 1924 their fan club had 37,000 members.
Fans were encouraged to send in requests for songs by letter, telephone or telegram. That move became so popular that Western Union set up a ticker tape between Sanders' piano and Coon's drums so the telegrams could be acknowledged during the broadcasts. Their song "Nighthawk Blues" includes the lines: "Tune right in on the radio/Grab a telegram and say 'Hello'." The group left Kansas City for the first time in 1924 for a three-month engagement in a roadhouse in Chicago. The orchestra moved to Chicago the same year, where Jules Stein used the profits from a tour he booked for them to establish the Music Corporation of America, with the orchestra as its first client.
The orchestra moved into the Blackhawk Hotel in Chicago in 1926. The members of the Orchestra at that time were Joe Richolson and Bob Pope, trumpets; Rex Downing, trombone; Harold Thiell, Joe Thiell and Floyd Estep, saxophones; Joe Sanders, piano; Russ Stout, banjo and guitar; "Pop" Estep, tuba; Carleton Coon, drums. In the following years, the Nighthawks performed at the Blackhawk every winter, doing remote broadcasts over radio station WGN. Their reputation spread coast-to-coast through these broadcasts and the many records they made for Victor.
They undertook very successful road tours. The orchestra later moved to New York City for an 11-month broadcast engagement at the Hotel New Yorker arranged by William S. Paley, who needed a star attraction to induce radio stations to join the Columbia Broadcasting System. At their peak, each member of the Orchestra owned identical Cord Automobiles, each in a different color with the name of the Orchestra and the owner embossed on the rear. The Orchestra's popularity showed no signs of abating and their contract with MCA had another 15 years to run in the spring of 1932 when Carleton Coon came down with a jaw infection and died, on May 4. Joe Sanders attempted to keep the organization going; however, without Coon, the public did not support them. In 1935, he formed his own group and played until the early 1940s when he became a part time orchestra leader and studio musician.
In his later years he suffered from failing eyesight and other health problems. He died in 1965 after suffering a stroke. The Kansas City Public Library acquired the scrapbooks and other memorabilia collected and prepared by Joe Sanders and the information is available to researchers. The Coon Sanders Nighthawks Fans' Bash is held annually on the weekend following Mothers' Day in Huntington, West Virginia to remember the great contributions to music made by all the members of the Coon Sanders Nighthawks Orchestra and to play and enjoy the great music of the era. This event has been held annually for 39 years. Over the years, such musical notables as Curt Hitch, Bill Rank, Earl Roberts, Doc Ryker, Paul Oconnor, Mike Walbridge, Bob Neighbor, Frank Powers, Bob Lefever, Johnny Haynes, Jimmy and Carrie Mazzy, Moe Klippert, Clyde Austin, Nocky Parker, Fred Woodaman and Spiegle Willcox have attended the event.
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