From the Land of Band Box Records

Colorado Girls and All That Jazz….

I knew there were all girl bands back in the day in Colorado – in the 1920’s it was the “Sweethearts of Rhythm” out of the Five Points neighborhood in Denver. Later on it was Ada Leonard’s Girl Band.

Denver’s Sweethearts of Rhythm

But there was one in particular that I had never heard of – until I luckily stumbled upon a fine little booklet titled “Jumpin’ With Joy – Memoirs of a Female Band Leader” an autobiography by jazz trumpet player extraordinaire Joy Cayler as told to N. Lynn Jones.

Joy Cayler was born on August 6th, 1923 and was raised in Denver, Colorado but never knew her birth parents – Ralph and Margaret, Cayler. She didn’t know that she was adopted until her adoptive mother decided to tell when she was a third grader. On the same day she learned that her brother Ralph was also adopted but was not her biological brother.

The Cayler’s lived on University Blvd., and Joyce attended University Park Elementary (still located at 2300 South St. Paul). It was while at University Park that Joy had her first inspiration to pick up a horn. During fifth grade, each day she would watch the color guard raise the flag outside the school in the morning and was taken in by the sound of the bugle.

Joy was determined to become part of the school color guard and so her father purchased her first instrument, and she was soon bugling. Before long she talked dad into horn with valves – taking up the coronet. That was it – she was hooked on music forever. By sixth grade she was taking trumpet lessons and the next year was firmly planted in her junior high school orchestra.

Some time during junior high she got to watch a local group called “Mom McCreedy’s Jazz Band perform. Joy was able to land a role with the band as a dancer but begged McCreedy to let her join the band. Joy wanted to play jazz. After much pestering she finally received the nod to join the band – as a jug player! She accepted the role and would bide her time waiting for the right opportunity.

Joy Cayler

That opportunity came at South High School under the tutelage of band director John Roberts who would proved to be a strong influence on her musical path. Next Joy would begin training under Mabel Leick who along with her husband Dan, had once been in the famous John Phillip Sousa Band.

Joy’s next step in her evolution came when she joined up with brother Ralph in his jazz combo “Ralph Cayler & His Lads and Co-Eds where she would play coronet. Towards the end of her high school years at South her father encourage her to form an all-girls band – when Ralph departed for the armed forces. She followed his advice and formed a nine-piece band in 1938. By 1940 she was leading her group now called “Joy Cayler & Her Swinging Co-Eds”.

Joy was determined to kick her career into high gear wanting to quit her final year at high school but her dad insisted she continue schooling and talked her into enrolling in Denver University which was within walking distance of her home and where she played bass with the D.U. Orchestra.

One of Joy’s first gigs with her newly formed group was at a Denver venue called “The Cootie Club”. Unbeknownst to Joy this was to be a polka dance – Her band only knew a single polka tune and so they repeated it many times.

The Denver Post presented a nice obituary when Joy passed away – hitting the highlights of Joy’s career which was indeed remarkable – her touring of the U.S. during the war years and post war years – entertaining the troops here at home before their deployment and later at military bases in the Pacific immediately after the war ended – Continuing on into the 1950’s – and along the way meeting and befriending Tommy Dorsey, Lawrence Welk, Betty Hutton, June Christy and many, many more (Tommy Dorsey sat in with Joy’s girl band for a practice session – borrowing a trombone – and playing his theme number “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”).

Dorsey – Hutton – Welk and Christy

What you don’t find in Joy’s tribute obituary are the many recollections from Joy about the obstacles and challenges facing female musicians back in the 1940’s – in particular an all-girl big band.

Joy’s band for a time was going under the name “The Band Without a Boy”. They signed on with a booking agent – Frederick Brothers and soon changed their name to “Joy Cayler’s All-Girl Orchestra”. With Frederick doing the bookings it was time to finally hit the road. For many of Joy’s musicians who were still in high school, parents made decisions to withdraw them from the group – Others stayed on and so the first line-up which hit the road included Coloradans:

  • Joy Cayler – trumpet
  • Lorrain Christian – sax
  • Marge Kaywood – sax
  • Jackie Olstead – sax
  • Elizabeth Salmon – sax
  • Maggie Salmon – bass
  • Peggy Crow – trombone
  • Frances Olson – trumpet
  • Bonnie Sloan – trumpet
  • Betty Eudaley – piano

Of this original line-up – Omstead and the Salmon sisters would remain with Joy for most of their touring years.

1940’s Promotional Poster

They were treading on sacred male ground and were often promoted on posters and in advertising with the focus on their feminine charm – Adjectives commonly attributed to the band included “cute, sweet, darling” and don’t forget “sexy”. The “All-Girl Orchestra” had to work very hard displaying their musical talents to counter these images.

Joy Cayler was relentless in her battle to counter union resistance across the land due to their non-male status (her band did obtain membership in the union). She steadfastly rejected promoter’s sexual advances and was always quick to defend her musicians – at times threatening to not perform unless fair contract terms and conditions were met. At one point Joy and her entire band sat down on the ground when they were being confronted with reduced performing fees – remaining down until the promoter acquiesced.

It was very difficult to keep a constant lineup together especially on the road. The girls were often very young – some still in high school – and parent’s concerns often terminated their participation in a traveling band – especially when they would depart for overseas venues.

At one point post WWII Joy’s band was Tokyo bound and found themselves on-board a transport plane which lost instruments over the Pacific flying on less than 1/2 hour’s worth of fuel. The pilot prepared the women for their certain crash landing – They miraculously found a landing spot at Iwo Jima when marines stationed at the post war base where terrific and horrendous fighting had taken place – lit fires on the ground in an attempt to steer the lost plane to a safe landing.

Joy employed a strict set of rules for all of her band members: No drinking, no cavorting with men on the road, maintaining a professional image – She had to take more than one of her musicians aside to address a breach in the rules, and then send them back to their hometown.

After World War II ended, the girl bands faced another challenge – the male musicians returned from the war zones resuming their places in the bands. The demand for a women’s orchestra was greatly diminished. Joy, however, increased her efforts to keep the band afloat and working. More traveling – a trip to Korean DMZ to entertain more troops – picking up bookings whenever and wherever they could.

“Jumpin’ With Joy” is a very entertaining read – It is compact – only 131 pages – but compelling reading with Joy’s very remarkable ability to call up minute details of times and experiences from the past.

Joy Cayler – Resting at the Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens

The final part of the book focuses on her settling down in her post-girl-band days – First in California then returning to Denver to work with young musicians still in school forming a non-profit – performing around Colorado – and yes – again taking on a resentful and obstructing union. Joy kept extremely active within the Denver music community devoting many years to the young musicians of Denver and to doing what she was born to do – Make Music!

Joy Cayler passed away in Denver in September 19th, 2014.

“Jumpin’ With Joy” is a very difficult book to locate as it turns out – I have checked all the usual places and have not had any luck. As I stated – my copy was located in a pile of unorganized books in a remote corner of a Denver antique mall. If anyone locates an outlet for this book – let us know!

Lisa Wheeler – Blogger at “Elk Bugles” (her new combined music blog) kindly sent in these images from Joy Cayler (spelled Caylor on discs) – Lisa reports that these tracks were recorded ” live, at the Indiana Room, in Indianapolis” in December of 1943.


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