BACK IN THE VAUDEVILLE ERA – when there were countless stage performers barnstorming around the country trying to catch a break in any venue that would have them, many theaters across the Pacific Northwest mounted multi-act shows every week. There would be singers, dancers, comedians, jugglers, elocutionists, whistlers, thespians, trained dancing animals, wrestlers, and musicians of every stripe. Two of America’s largest theater chains got their start and/or were based out of Seattle: the grand Orpheum and Pantages enterprises. But plenty of other nice, if smaller, theaters also booked such shows. Among them was the fabulous and still extant Neptune Theatre (1303 NE 45th Street), which opened in Seattle’s University District on November 16, 1921. 

One vaudeville act that hung around town for at least a while – they had numerous promotional photographs taken here, and also played music downtown on the pioneering KFOA radio station – were SADIE & YAM - “Banjoists Supreme.” A married couple, Yam and Sadie Stephens, played the Neptune as early as 1925, but it is also known that they popped up at the Hippodrome down in Portland, Oregon, and as far away as Ypsilanti, Michigan. One Portland newspaper review stated that there were “A versatile pair…who play their banjos so well that they hold their audiences charmed. They introduce new harmonic ideas and novelty methods of playing. They are experts on the banjo.” Among the tunes they performed were: “Grand Opera Strains,” Theobald Boehm’s “March Militaire,” Frank Meacham’s “American Patrol,” Abraham Holzmann’s “Blaze Away,” Henry S. Cuqua’s “Medley of Old Songs,” and Thomas S. Allen’s “Lot o’ Pep.” While not much more is currently known about Sadie and Yam, those of us in Seattle are lucky that the Seattle Theater Group (SGI) acquired a lease for the Neptune in 2011, and they have been mounting regular live music shows there ever since.


THE BLACK HAWKS are among the very earliest Seattle-based African-American jazz bands – and members of the "Negro Musicians' Union" (American Federation of Musicians' Local-493) –  whose photograph has survived all these decades. Recently unearthed from the institutional archives of AFM Local 76-493, it represents a whole lotta significant history. Seen standing here in 1928 are (left-to-right): Joe Bailey (bass & tuba), Crawford Brown, Ray Williams, Floyd Turnham Sr. (drums), Floyd Turnham, Jr. (alto sax & fish horn), Robert Taylor, Floyd Wilson, Creon Thomas (drums, violin, banjo, & piano) – & bandleader/pianist/vocalist, Edythe Turnham, seated at center.
The eventual musical matriarch of her family, Edythe Payne originally hailed from Topeka, Kansas, where she'd begun learning piano at age three. Arriving in Spokane in 1900 at around age ten, she married Floyd Turnham, a waiter, in 1907. Together with her sister Maggie, & about four other family members, they created a minstrel show that scuffled for work around the Eastern Washington & Idaho area. In time, new members were added & the ensemble morphed into the Edythe Turnham Orchestra, and then, the Edythe Turnham and Her Knights of Syncopation, which featured her husband & his namesake son, and Maggie (as a dancer). As the band gelled they began to get bookings in rooms including Spokane’s fine Silver Grill – where young Spokane/Tekoa, Washington native, Mildred Bailey, also began her eventual big-time jazz career. In 1920 the family moved to Tacoma, scorings gigs in rooms including the Tacoma Hotel.  Then in 1922, they moved to Seattle where they joined AFM-493, & played gigs in venues including the Alhambra, the Bungalow Cabaret, the Coon Chicken Inn, & the Copper Kettle. The Knights did quite nicely, apparently, with the Turnhams purchasing a home (707 22nd Avenue) in 1926. Then, in 1928, the expanded and renamed Black Hawks nine-piece band scored what would be a successful audition with John Considine’s giant Seattle-based Orpheum Theater circuit. That led to a week-long feature gig in Seattle, & they also set out on the road playing those huge rooms in cities ranging from Winnipeg, Canada, all down through the states, winding up in Los Angeles where they floundered a bit before recasting themselves with a few new players & reemerged as the Dixie Aces. For his part, Floyd Turnham Jr. went on to enjoy quite a solid jazz career in California – but that’s a whole ‘nother story….