Made a visit to the Denver Public Library recently stopping by the fascinating 5th floor Western History department. There I accessed (under very strict control procedures) a copy of “Paul Whiteman – A Pioneer In American Music – 1890-1930”.
My initial intention was to peruse the Whiteman discography but I soon discovered that Whiteman’s output was so vast (over 2,500 recordings) that I would have to locate other sources from the comfort of my home. But I did glean some information related to Whiteman’s time in Denver, Colorado.
Paul was born on March 28th, 1890 in Denver. His father – Wilburforce Whiteman – immigrated from Europe settling in the Midwest before finding his way to the Mile High City where he would become the head of the Denver Public Schools music program.
The Whiteman’s first resided at 1073 South 11th Street according to the book. That address is somewhat in question – probably not a “south” designation but instead an address which would have been adjacent to today’s Auraria Campus complex and most likely long gone (no residential structures remain in that vicinity today.) The family moved often about the city – but with a purpose. Each move corresponded to an elevation in status by the Whiteman family. (As a noted musical figure in the Denver area Wilburforce would eventually have a Denver high school named for him.)
Paul took up his first instrument at age seven at the urging of his father. Wilburforce established a rigorous daily practice schedule and Paul promptly rebelled by smashing his violin. His punishment was being banned to his mother’s sewing room for one hour each day as “payback” for his father’s musical investment.
Paul led a somewhat ordinary boyhood life delivering papers for the Denver Post and after grade school attending Corona School – a learning establishment for 7th and 8th graders. Paul would go on to high school – most likely East High – where he apparently played football. He struggled a bit during his high school years and was “kicked out” of school numerous times and this included East, South and Manual High Schools. East High takes credit for listing Whiteman as an alumni although this is not confirmed in Rayno’s account which focuses primarily on Whiteman’s musical career outside of Denver. (The photo below is the East structure which Whiteman attended. It was constructed in 1889 and was demolished in 1925 when it was replaced by today’s East High).
After high school Paul briefly attended Denver University. This didn’t last for long. During this period of time he also performed with The Brown Palace Orchestra as well as performing occasionally with his father’s orchestra in Denver. In 1908 the Whiteman’s played at a campaign stop in Denver for presidential candidate William Taft.
At age 17, Whiteman was invited to sit with the Denver Symphony. He would secure himself “first chair” and maintained that position for four years.
Then in 1914 Paul would uproot from Denver and head for San Francisco on the West Coast where jazz music was thriving. He moved through several groups and gigs during his time in San Fran and then formed his first band in 1918. Whiteman would experiment with his ensemble’s sound and make-up by expanding over time from the usual 8 or 9 musicians to nearly 30 or more and thus has been cited by some as being the “Father of Big Bands”.
During his recording career Whiteman landed 209 songs on the U.S. popularity charts which only featured 20 listed positions for many years. One hundred and fifty seven of these would enter the Top Ten and he would land in the number one position 29 times!
(By comparison Elvis “The King” had 149 Hot 100 charting songs – 114 in the Top 40 – 40 in the Top Ten – and 18 number one records.)
Whiteman would feature Bing Crosby on his recordings in Bing’s early career and many outstanding musicians over time. He commissioned George Gershwin to compose “Rhapsody in Blue” which the Whiteman Orchestra would take to the number one spot.
When Paul’s band years wound down he would become involved in many musical endeavors including a stint on television fronting the forerunner to American Bandstand – “Paul Whiteman’s TV Teen Club from Philadelphia on ABC TV.”
Paul Whiteman passed away on December 29th, 1967 at the age of 77. He is buried in Trenton, New Jersey.