Oct 29, 1945: Cole Stops Traffic in Dudley Square!
The Nat “King” Cole Trio rolled into Boston on October 25, 1945, as headliners for the show opening that night at the RKO-Boston Theatre. The Andy Kirk Orchestra was also on the bill, and the comic opening the show (there was always a comic opening the show) was Timmie Rogers.
The RKO-Boston was a popular place in town, offering as it did a three- or four-act stage show together with a first-run film, typically one of RKO’s B pictures. During this week, the film was the suspenser Johnny Angel, starring George Raft, Claire Trevor, and Hoagy Carmichael, who as a character named Celestial, sang “Memphis in June” for no apparent reason.
In order to promote its records on the Capitol label, the King Cole Trio (then including the underrated Oscar Moore on guitar and Johnny Miller on bass) was to make an appearance and sign autographs at the O’Byrne DeWitt and Sons Record Shop, located at 51 Warren Street in the heart of Dudley Square, at 5:00 on October 29. It was to be just another promotional appearance on a Monday afternoon before the evening’s first show.
The shop of Justus O’Byrne DeWitt, Jr. sold plenty of Irish music in ethnic Roxbury, and it also sold plenty of what were then called race records. DeWitt advertised every week in the Boston Chronicle, but other than that, I don’t know how word of Cole’s store appearance circulated. But at the appointed hour, Warren Street was jammed with cars and people (“throngs,” said the Chronicle’s reporter), with traffic backed up on Dudley Street as well. Given that it was rush hour anyway, things were at a complete standstill and the trio couldn’t get near the store. With the help of the police, the band managed to elude the crowd long enough to enter DeWitt’s through the back door. They gave away all 2,000 of the autographed pictures they brought with them. And following this ordeal, they played their three shows at the RKO.
Customers at DeWitt’s shop were buying two Cole records in October 1945, “I’m a Shy Guy” (Capitol 208) and “Sweet Georgia Brown” (Capitol 239). They were popular, but neither matched Cole’s big 1944 hit, “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” in terms of success. A bigger hit that October, based on the number of jukebox plays, was “The Honeydripper” by Joe Liggins. It was the number one record on the jukebox chart for 18 weeks and probably outsold the Coles and everything else in the store.
Here’s a video of the King Cole trio with “I’m a Shy Guy,” a 1945 Capitol release.