The Troy Street Observer

Perley Breed’s Department Store Dance Band

In the 1920s, when radio was in its infancy, stations took to broadcasting from department stores, and in Boston, the store was the Shepard Stores on Tremont Street, and the station was WNAC. Both were owned by John Shepard, who may have made his money in retail, but beginning with WNAC’s first broadcast in 1922, he went all-in on radio.

label for Gennett 3059A
Honey I’m in Love With You, Gennett 3059A, 1925

Perley Breed was a 1920s saxophonist, probably born in Danvers, who led a hot dance band in Boston in the mid-twenties, joined a Massachusetts delegation of musicians working in London, returned to Boston, and dropped from sight after 1932. In 1923-25, he was active around Boston on the college circuit with the Shepard Colonial Orchestra. The orchestra played tea time and dinner dances in the store’s Tea Room, some of which Shepard obligingly broadcast. George Frazier recalled the Harvard men from New York could never get over dancing in a department store.

Good musicians passed through Breed’s band, with clarinetist Brad Gowans being the best-known today. There was also trumpeter Warren Hookway, who gave up music when he became a podiatrist, and a pair of songwriting piano men, Sid Reinherz and Curley Mahr. Reinherz recorded four sides for Gennett himself in 1923; he’s remembered in ragtime circles for writing “Boston Trot.” Boston-born Mahr worked mainly as a vocalists’ arranger and accompanist in radio and film into the 1950s.


The Shepard Colonial Orchestra first recorded for Gennett in November 1924, two Bix-flavored sides, “Tell Me Dreamy Eyes” and “Where’s My Sweetie Hiding?” (Gennett 5608). They recorded again on April 25, 1925 for Gennett, yielding, “Honey, I’m in Love with You,” which is not helped by Frank Cornwell’s vocal.

In the late 1920s, Breed was in London with a gang of Boston boys—the Starita brothers, the Cape Ann trumpeter Sylvester Ahola, and saxophonist Johnny Helfer. He was back home and known to be playing in Boston in the spring of 1932…but then I lose the trail. There’s an unverified story that Breed died in the early 1930s.

Music. I haven’t found an online version of “Honey,” but this page has “Where’s My Sweetie Hiding,” which I prefer anyway. It’s credited to the Pelham Bay Serenaders, but it is Breed’s band.

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