When you look at a band photo from the past, it is impossible to not imagine what happened to everyone in the photo. A particular year that caught my attention is the Eastland band from 1937:
In this photo are people who would go on to live amazing lives. I know of a distinguished newspaper writer, a small business owner, military veterans, and a school secretary among others. Their stories are worth telling, but today I'm going to focus on a single person in this photo.
Collen Gray was born on October 17th of 1920 in Eastland, TX His childhood home was on 509 S. Seaman Street a few houses down from the First Baptist Church. Satterwhite's uncle and father owned a hardware store adjacent to the current Eastland County Museum and Lina Gray worked for the Earl Bender Company, the County Courthouse, and was, for a time, the president of the Eastland Music Study Club. They all attended the 1st United Methodist Church here in town and music minister Wilda Dragoo was his childhood piano teacher.
Satterwhite spent his entire education in the Eastland School District. Years later he would tell his daughter Lindsay of the academic rigor and quality he experienced. People like English teacher Verna Johnson and band director G.W. Collum left an impression that he would remember for the rest of his life.
The 30's was a spectacular time for the band program. Prof. Collum came into the district in 1935 and quickly recruited a sizable ensemble. They rehearsed in the basement under the auditorium and competed admirably at concert and marching contest across Texas. Satterwhite and a group of his friends formed a dance band while there were in High School. The group would host $2 Saturday dances at the rooftop Garden of the Connellee Hotel and draw crowds of people.
"Tommy was in Hollywood, and had just fired the majority of his band. He had just bought one of the first tape recorders, and was trying it out by taping off the air. He came across an NBC broadcast during which I did a solo on "I'll Get By". He called his New York Office with instructions to 'find out who that guy was.' He came to New York shortly thereafter, and called me to his office, where he picked up his horn and played my solo note-for-note, which he had memorized from the tape. This was traumatic, and I left with a year's contract for less than I would have otherwise asked." - Collen Gray "Tex" Satterwhite
For the next three years Satterwhite would perform with the Dorsey band week in and week out recording albums, radio broadcast, and appearing with the band in the MGM film "Thrill of Romance". Other personnel in the Dorsey Band at that time included Charlie Shavers, Ziggy Elman, Nelson Riddle, Buddy DeFranco and Buddy Rich,
During this time his song writing and arranging skills flourished. He wrote dozens of songs and arranged/composed for television and movies including about 40 arrangements for the Lawrence Welk show on which he also appeared several times as a performer. He arranged for Nelson Riddle and Tommy Dorsey among others.
Frank Scott, from the Lawrence Welk Show, was a frequent collaborator. One of their songs became a huge hit for Tony Bennett, "The Moment of Truth."
Another hit for Satterwhite was "Through the Eyes of a Child," recorded by Patsy Cline and frequently performed on the Welk Show.
In 1974, nostalgic of old times in the Eastland Band program and urged by a friend from high school, Satterwhite wrote Eastland it's very own fight song arrangement. After the announcement was made in the paper, some members of the community complained at the idea of adopting an original fight song and the administration would not allow its performance. The arrangement has never been performed and appears to have been lost to time.
In 1976 Collen Gray visited Eastland for the last time. A reception was held in his honor and many of his friends from the Eastland Community were present. In attendance was Ima Ruth Taylor - long time school secretary at Eastland ISD and classmate of Satterwhite's, Virginia Russell - Eastland resident and family friend, and Verna Johnson. James Galaway, EJ Pryor, and James Dabney all joined him for dinner and drinks, no doubt reminiscing about their time in that Eastland Dance band 30 years prior.
In 1978, at the far too young age of 57, Tex Satterwhite passed away from a heart attack. He left behind many friends, a daughter, and a ton of music.
The Eastland Band will be presenting a week of Satterwhite's music April 9th through 13th. Click here for more information.