Monday, September 22, 2014

Darlinettes and Rhythmettes: Big Band Sounds at the WC

In 1942, big band music from the likes of Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, and Benny Goodman were all the rage, but local big bands were hard to find. Most of the musicians in these groups were male, and they were being drafted into military service during World War II. But a group of students at the Woman's College stepped in to fill the void, forming the Darlinettes and their four-member vocal group, The Rhythmettes, in 1942.

Practicing in the Brown Music Building
Many of the Darlinettes' and Rhythmettes' performances took place at Woman's College. They played many of the formal dances and "soldier dances" held on campus during and immediately after WWII. But the group was not confined to the WC campus. They played shows at the USO Club on North Elm Street, and they entertained troops stationed at the Army Air Corps' Overseas Replacement Depot in Greensboro. In 1946, they traveled to Asheville to provide entertainment at the 1st annual conference of the 191st District of Rotary International. Cleveland Thayer, General Chairman of the Distrct, wrote to offer his personal thanks to the Darlinettes for "the fine work of your orchestra."

The founding leader of the Darlinettes and Rhythmettes was Cherry Folger, who also played trumpet. Folger was reportedly the first trumpet major in the history of WC, and was quite the musician and leader. At the age of 14, she was fronting an all-male musical group in her hometown of White Plains, NY. According to a newspaper article from 1943, she "often hits high 'E' above high 'C' on the instrument, and has been known to touch high 'G.'" She formed the Darlinettes soon after arriving at WC in 1942 (she transferred after spending her first two years of college at the Eastman School of Music and the University of Rochester).

 

When Folger graduated in 1944, Doris Funderburk took over the baton for the Darlinettes. Under Funderburk's leadership, the Darlinettes continued their busy performing schedule. But they also found time to record an album, titled "Autumn Serenade." The 78 rpm records were made May 26, 1946, at the Vic Smith Recording Service in Greensboro. They featured 10 songs, including an original piece written and orchestrated by Funderburk called "You Don't Get it From Books."

The group continued performing, with membership swapping out with each graduation, through the early 1950s. Many of the Darlinettes took up non-musical careers after graduation, but a few continued in a musical path. Frances Stevens Snipe of Clemson, SC, sang with Greensboro band leader Burt Massengale's group for a number of years. Mary Sampson Irvin played trombone with the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra. And Doris Funderburk Morgan served as the organist at the old Charlotte Coliseum for many years, playing music to enliven crowds at the Charlotte Checkers ice hockey games.

In September 2002, several members of the Darlinettes were reunited at an event organized by Burt Bruton, the nephew of the late Sue Bruton, an original member and saxophonist in the Darlinettes. The following May, the UNCG School of Music declared May 2 to be Darlinette Day. They hosted an event featuring Darlinettes members and established a Darlinettes Artist in Residence Endowment Fund, aimed at bringing female jazz artists to the school.

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