Another Studebaker-jazz connection (long post)

by Rob Rothberg

The forum has already discussed the involvement of 1600 Broadway – the old Studebaker building – in jazz history. (When I last checked a few weeks ago, the building was a scaffolding-encrusted shadow of its grand former self.)

But there is another connection between Studebaker and jazz. According to Richard Quinn’s article “Life and Death of a Giant” on the Studebaker Drivers’ Club website (, Jean Goldkette – while not busy hawking Eskimo Pies and Orange Blossom Honey – led the Studebaker Champions Orchestra. According to Quinn:

“Radio was becoming increasingly popular and Studebaker was quick to recognize the advertising potential of the new medium. On Sunday evening, Feb. 3, 1929 at 10:15 p.m. EST, the Studebaker Champions Orchestra led by Jean Goldkette was introduced to listeners for the first time. The program became quite popular and by 1930, Studebaker ranked third behind only Ford and GM in money spent on radio advertising. In many listener surveys the band itself was ranked at or near the top. The "Champions" name was an obvious reference to the championship performance exhibited by the Studebaker cars on the speedways and roadways of America. To emphasize the connection, the band often posed for publicity photos wearing pit crew type white coveralls. [Rather like Whiteman and crew dressing up in smocks as the Allied Paint Men.] In the early 1930s Richard Himber replaced Goldkette as conductor of the orchestra and he remained in that role for nearly ten years.”

That in itself is interesting, but there’s more. To promote the car, Studebaker had Alf Goulding, who had directed the film "Hells Angels," direct a nine-minute film entitled “Wild Flowers” in which the band cavorted on a giant wooden model of the car. The band played "Lovely Lady," "Blue Skies," and "I Love You Truly" in addition to the film's theme song, "Falling In Love With You."

Evidently the film was well received. Quinn quotes "Exhibitors Daily Review And Motion Pictures Today" as praising it in these terms:

“One of the cleverest, if not the best, advertising reel we have ever seen is one just produced on behalf of the Studebaker automobile. It brings in the Studebaker Champions, so well known to radio audiences, and they use a giant motor car as the stage for their entertainment. The music is excellent, the treatment is novel, and the sum total is far and away superior to nine out of ten of the short subjects now on the market as legitimate show material.”

To judge from this description, the film sounds worth seeing, Unfortunately, Quinn reports that a copy of has never turned up. I checked with a couple of film historians, but they had not heard of it.

Now we come to a question. Quinn states that in the film, "the orchestra was led by Victor Young." Recently, however, I came across a press photo that suggests Goldkette appeared in the film. Look at this photo:

The back of the photo states: “Maybe Jean Goldkette’s Studebaker Champions are featuring Babes in Toyland as they give this concert from the world’s biggest automobile. This popular radio orchestra and this huge Studebaker model were featured in “Wild Flowers,” a recent talking picture filmed at Studebaker’s proving ground, near South Bend, Ind. The car has 15½ times greater capacity than the normal President Eight roadster, in fact, the roadster can easily be hidden under the hood of this giant replica.”

I don’t recognize anyone in the photo. What about you forumites? Further information would we welcomed.

Posted on Apr 2, 2005, 3:43 PM

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