ABOUT THE ROCK STARS OF THE 1920s
The Coon Sanders Nighthawks Band
Carleton Coon was born in Rochester, Minnesota in 1893 and his family moved to Lexington, Missouri shortly after his birth. Joe Sanders was born in Kansas in 1896. Sanders was known as "the Old Left Hander" because of his skills at baseball. The Coon Sanders Nighthawks Orchestra was formed in 1919. Sanders gave up baseball in the early 1920s to concentrate on dance music as a career.
The orchestra began broadcasting in 1922 on clear channel station WDAF, which could be received throughout the United States. They were broadcast in performance at the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City. They took the name Nighthawks because they broadcast late at night (11:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.). By 1924, their fan club had 37,000 members. Fans were encouraged to send in requests for songs by letter, telephone or telegram. That move became so popular that Western Union set up a ticker tape between Sander's piano and Coon's drums, so telegrams could be acknowledged during the broadcasts. Their song "Nighthawk Blues" includes the lines: "Tune right in on the radio/Grab a telegram and say "Hello" . In 1925, they recorded the Paul Whitman and Fred Rose composition "Flamin' Mamie".
The group left Kansas City for the first time in 1924 for a three-month engagement in a roadhouse in Chicago. The orchestra moved to Chicago the same year, where Jules Stein used the profits from a tour he booked, for them to establish the Music Corporation of American (MCA), with the orchestra as its first client. The orchestra moved into the Blackhawk in Chicago in 1926. The members of the orchestra at that time were Joe Richolson and Bob Pope, trumpets; Rex Downing, trombone; Harold Thiell, Joe Thiell and Floyd Estep, saxophones; Joe Sanders, piano; Russ Stout, banjo and guitar;
"Pop" Estep, tuba; Carleton Coon, drums. In the following years, the Nighthawks performed at the Blackhawk every winter, doing remote broadcasts over radio station WGN. Their reputation spread coast to coast through these broadcasts and the many records they made for Victor. They undertook very successful road tours.
The orchestra moved to New York City for an 11 month broadcast engagement at the Hotel New Yorker, arranged by William S. Paley, who needed a star attraction to induce radio stations to join the Columbia Broadcasting System.
At the peak of the band's success, the musicians owned identical Cord automobiles, each in a different color with the name of the Orchestra and the owner embossed on the rear. The Orchestra's popularity showed no signs of abating and their contract with MCA had another 15 years to run in the spring of 1932, when Carleton Coon came down with a jaw infection and died on May 4.
Sanders attempted to keep the organization going; however, without Coon, the public did not support them. In 1935, he formed his own group and played until the early 1940s when he became a part-time orchestra leader and studio musician. In his later year he suffered from failing eyesight and other health problems. He died in 1965 after suffering a stroke.