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June 22, 2017

Sid Hawkins – Big Apple Entertainer

Sid Hawkins – Big Apple Entertainer

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

People from Noblesville have achieved different levels of fame.  There was one who never became a household name, but he survived as a performer in the intensely competitive world of New York City show business in the middle of the twentieth century.  That was an accomplishment that Sidney Roscoe Hawkins (1896-1986) could be proud of.

It’s fortunate that there is some personal information about him.  His stepbrother John Carey was interviewed by John Foland for the book “Remembrances” (1976), and by Georgianna Neal for her local history column “Coon Catchers and Corn Planters” (March 10, 1979) that ran for many years in the Ledger.  Both are available in the Indiana Room.  Other information is drawn from newspaper accounts.

His mother was Jeanette Grey Hawkins Carey, who was mentioned in an earlier post about her romance with Richard Bennett.  John Carey referred to his brother as a “musician’s musician”.  Sidney studied at Metropolitan School of Music in Indianapolis, where his voice teacher was Edward Nell, and his violin teacher was Hugh McGibeny.  While at school, he did recitals and public programs around Indianapolis, usually of religious or classical music.

Carey said that one of Sid’s early jobs was as a violinist in a movie house built by John Wise – this would have been the Home Theater, later the Vaudette, which was open between 1906 and 1913.  Sid was accepted into the Musicians Union in 1919.  The 1920 census says that he was a violinist in an “opera house orch.”  His brother said it was the Circle Theater Orchestra, and that Sid was concertmaster for small groups.  He must have been commuting regularly, because he is actually listed twice in the census, once with his family in Noblesville and once with a cousin in Indianapolis.

According to Carey, Sid moved to New York around 1923.  He had transferred his union membership in 1922.  In September of 1924, Sid was playing violin with Ernie Goldman and his McAlpin Orchestra at the McAlpin Hotel.  The band was reviewed in “Variety”, which highlighted Hawkins saying he “deserves program distinction for his vocal efforts. Hawkins is possessed of a sympathetic tenor that is more impressive coming from a musician”.

1925 was a good year for Sid.  He was heard regularly singing on the radio on WHN Manhattan.  He was also appearing at the Silver Slipper nightclub, where he may have met the celebrated Texas Guinan.  He would talk later about working for her, possibly at her club, the El Fay.  Later that year, she put him in her musical revue “Texas Guinan and Her Mob” which was performed at Keith’s Hippodrome.  Another member of the cast was Ruby Keeler.

The late 1920’s saw Sid in a variety of jobs.  In 1927, he was playing violin on WSMG in New York.  Then, in 1928, he was cast as “Robert” in the Broadway musical “Sunny Days”, which starred Jeanette MacDonald and ran for 101 performances.  He then worked as a vocalist with Jimmy Carr and the Silver Slipper Orchestra.  He had another shot at Broadway in 1929 when the orchestra was cast in the show “Keep it Clean”.  However, the show failed, with a short run of June 24 to July 6.  The only description that we have of it is from a brutal review in a Brooklyn newspaper.  Sid and the orchestra moved on to do a tour of Pennsylvania in August and September.  Later that year, he was part of the floor show at the newly-opened Hollywood Restaurant, once again working with Texas Guinan.

He hasn’t been found yet in the in 1930 census, which would make up for him being listed twice in 1920.

After some more solo nightclub work, Sid tried a couple of different singing partners in the 1930’s.   He and Jack Arnold were singing sophisticated songs at the Mon Paris nightclub in 1935.  In 1936, he paired with Jim Morehead at the Rainbow Grill at Rockefeller Center and at the Cocoanut Grove at the Park Central Hotel.  Then, in 1937, he paired with again with Jack Arnold at the Club Bali as a part of the “Park Avenue to Reno” revue.  When it was reviewed in Billboard magazine, they said,

“Arnold and Hawkins possess class and charm, and what’s more, are endowed with extra good voices.  Arnold is a tenor and baritone Hawkins accompanies at the piano.  Their forte is songs and impressions in a satirical vein, but show versatility by doing a medley of love songs in English, French, and German.  A standout for the classier joints and should go far.”

The review in Variety said, “Team excels in this type of entertainment, worth of offering being readily realized and enthusiastically received by smart audience here.”

The team moved to the Montmartre Revue at Jimmy Kelly’s in 1939.  The same year, Sid made a change in his personal life when he married Claudelle McCrary, a violin teacher from Florida.  In the 1940 census, Sid is listed as a singer at Jimmy Kelly’s.

The start of WWII may have changed something, because on his 1942 draft registration, his employer is listed as the Hotel Elysee, but doesn’t say what his job was.  He apparently tried a new performance style.   His brother said that Sid could also play the accordion and he can be found working at smaller clubs as a singer, accordionist, and guitarist in 1941-1943.  The late 1930’s may have been the peak of his career, as there hasn’t been much information found about his life after that.  His brother said that despite the distance, Sid still called home every week.  His wife died in 1975 in New York and he was living in Jersey City when he died eleven years later.