The Orpheus Mandolin Club

Among the various bands that Orville was a part of during his career, was his own Orpheus Mandolin Club.

Handbill shared by Dave Sutherland
Handbill shared by Dave Sutherland

On February 5, 1895, after two postponements, The Academy of Music hosted a night of music and vaudeville headlined by The Bronson Minstrels. They were managed by local band conductor Chester Z. Bronson.

This handbill lists those who performed for the Olio (a collection of acts, typically local, that perform during the intermission of a minstrel show). The Orpheus Mandolin Club was called back for an encore and as noted, all of their instruments were made by Orville. Three months later, he would apply for his patent.

During 1894 and 1895, the Orpheus line-up would change, probably dictated by musician availability (they all had day jobs). Members included Orville, John W. McLouth, Roland Knight, Clarence D. Waldo,  James W. Kelley, V. T. Palmer, George Cornell, Lawrence Miller, D. Wood, and C. W. Watkeys.

Incidentally, on this night, the Bronson Minstrels included a future Gibson Company employee, vocalist Ted J. McHugh.

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The Academy of Music

Orville was an accomplished guitarist by the age of 20 and performed on the  Kalamazoo stage for over twenty years. He was also a song and dance man, a baritone vocalist, and a stage prop builder. In addition, he managed a number of holiday entertainment features and a small community theater group.

Orville and his band of fellow stage brothers were a local favorite. They were often called back for an encore and were known to schedule a second performance to accommodate those who had been turned away due to a full house.

In the early days, the main theater in Kalamazoo was the small and antiquated Union Hall on Portage Street.  But on May 8, 1882, the Academy of Music opened its doors with all the amenities of a modern theater.

Photo courtesy of the Clarence L. Miller Family History Room, Kalamazoo Public Library, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Photo courtesy of the Clarence L. Miller Family History Room, Kalamazoo Public Library, Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Designed by Dankmar Adler of Chicago, The Academy of Music had a number of innovations in theater construction including  the new concept of gradually raising the height of the floor from the edge of the stage towards the back, thus the back seats sat higher in relation to the front seating.

In addition, it had colored gas lighting controlled by a new gadget called a dimmer switch, a rain machine, a thunder cart, and six painted backdrops. The walls and proscenium were polished cherry and a nine foot wide, 100 light chandelier hung over the audience.

In the photo above, the entrance to the theater is in the middle with retail shops on each side.