Charley Straight

Charley Straight Charley Straight spent his whole life in Chicago. He was born on January 16, 1891 and died there on September 21, 1940. In between, he was responsible for lots of good music, as composer, arranger, performer, orchestra leader, accompanist, and musical director of the Imperial Player Roll Company.

After graduating from Wendell Philips High School, Charley entered the world of vaudeville in 1909 as the partner of singing-comedian Gene Greene. With Charley accompanying on piano, Gene sang their own original songs which made up their act. Their first hit, was also the first song recorded by Gene, "King of the Bungaloos". What put it over was Gene's funny growl-voice and the fact that it was the first ragtime song featuring nonsense syllables with those syllables vocally taking the place of the pianistic syncopations. They made a series of what are now very rare recordings for Pathe and then Gene went on to record for Victor, Emerson and Columbia.

After the team broke up, Charley joined the Imperial, supervised their entire popular song program as well as arranged and played his own rolls. In a most unusual move, at the same time he was musical director for Imperial, he also arranged and performed for rival QRS. And what he recorded for both of them at first were his own syncopated piano novelties as well as a few pop songs.

In 1919, he hired Roy Bargy to edit the song rolls for Imperial and to perform his own piano novelties. And while he names Bargy as co-composer for two compositions ("Rufenreddy" and "Knice and Knifty"), we now know that Charley composed both of them alone. The remaining mystery is why he later included Bargy as co-composer when Straight's own rolls predated their first meeting!

From 1920, Straight's own orchestra took up most of his time, and although he made rolls for QRS sporadically, his professional life consisted of arranging, performing at the piano and conducting his own orchestra. They recorded for Paramount and Brunswick. But, his was not a studio orchestra but a working one featured at the top hotels and nightclubs in Chicago. His career came to an abrupt end when he was killed in an automobile accident.

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Copyright © 1996 Oleg Mezjuev.
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