Richard Himber‘s not as well remembered today as other band leades of the 1930s, but he was plenty big in his day. His music certainly stands up, and we regularly feature his recordings on Cladrite Radio. When this Snapshot in Prose first saw the light of day, in 1935, his orchestra was holding forth from New York’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, and his popular radio program was flying high.
As the story reveals, though, Himber’s origins were more modest than that. A precocious youth, he got his first professional gig playing violin for a Coney Island dance orchestra at the dewy age of 13. Not a bad jump, from Coney Island to the Ritz-Carlton.
P.S. Read all the way to the end of the story, and you’ll find a couple of our favorite Himber recordings awaiting you.
In the best Horatio Alger tradition, the young hero always trudged along a dusty road armed with a knapsack and the grim determination to (a) make his own way in the world; (b) pay off the mortgage on the old homestead; and, (c) always be valorous in his endeavors.
The only difference between the Alger character and Richard Himber, young composer-conductor of the Studebaker Champions program, is that there was no dusty road and Himber carried a violin in place of a knapsack.
Leaving his home in Newark, New Jersey, at an age when most youths are deciding whether to take algebra or commercial arithmetic in the first year at high school, Himber decided that music needed him and that he could get along very well without an academic education.
Apparently he was correct, for at the age of 13 he strolled down to Coney Island, played his fiddle for a cafe manager and, presto, was hired to play with the orchestra. The summer of 1920 over, Dick Himber came to New York with three months of orchestra playing under his belt and very little else.
He was broke, 13 years old, and in a strange town. His pride prevented him his returning to his home in New Jersey. By nocturnal visits to small restaurants where he played for the diners, he managed to pick up enough money to exist. It was while playing at a small restaurant for whatever change the patrons cared to give him that he was heard by Sophie Tucker.
Shortly afterward the famous Sophie went on a vaudeville tour, taking with her the original “Five Kings of Rhythm,” destined to set a new style of music making. Richard Himber, 14 years of age, was the conductor and violinist!