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On A Night Like This, The Story Is Told ...

As Fate Would Have It



Fate Marable

Fate Marable from an article by Beaulah Schacht


Pianist and bandleader Fate Marable was born in Kentucky in 1890. When he was seventeen, Fate began playing on the steam boats on the Mississippi River - John and Joseph Streckfus hired him to replace their piano player, Charles Mills, who had accepted a job in New York City. There was a condition: Fate's responsibilities would include playing a large steam calliope. 'Steam streamed through the brass pipes and whistles at 80 pounds of pressure, the keys were hot and they were hard to hold down. Pitch varied with steam pressure, so there was a challenge of playing in tune. The calliope was designed to be clearly heard on shore, so the volume was River boat calliopeoverwhelming to the musician who was manipulating it. To prepare himself for playing the loud machine that spewed steam and water, Marable wore gloves, stuffed his ears with cotton, and donned raingear.'


River-boat calliope


'Later in 1907, he became bandleader for a paddlewheeler on the Streckfus Line running between New Orleans, Louisiana and St. Paul, Minnesota, a position he retained for 33 years. Later, he spent late nights in New Orleans' clubs scouting for talent and playing at jam sessions .......'

'As a bandleader, Marable shared the lessons from his mother with his musicians. Many of the musicians he hired played by ear, and he augmented their skills by teaching them to read music, and expected them all to learn how to play from sheet music on sight ... Members of Marable's bands were expected to be able to play a wide variety of music, from hot numbers to light classics, playing by memory or ear, and from sheet music. Above all they were expected to keep the dancers happy. Marable was a strict bandleader, demanding musical proficiency and rigid discipline from all his bandmembers, yet allowing them to develop their individual strong points.'


Capitol Riverboat

The S.S.Capitol river boat


One of the most beautiful sounds in the city of New Orleans was Fate Marable playing his steam calliope about seven in the evening every night. Those calliope concerts from the river-boats J.S. and Bald Eagle started in the first couple of years after the boats started using music - around 1916 '17, I'd say. Well, Fate would play the calliope in the evening to let the people know the boats were going to cut out on excursions. All over that river, Fate Marable had a fabulous reputation.

This is how the river-boats got music on them. Those boats had roustabouts on them, and half of those routstabouts played guitar, and nearly all sang. Well, when those boats went up the river, those roustabouts were on the lower deck and the passengers, the gamblers, et cetera, stayed on the upper deck. But when the people on the upper deck heard the singing and playing of the roustabouts, they would come downstairs, and that gave Strekfus, the owner of the boats, the idea of putting music on the boats...... (Danny Barker).

In 1907, Fate (Marable) came out of Paducah, Kentucky, and started to work with me on the steamer J.S. (That boat burned some time ago.) The Strekfus Lines now have another boat of the same name. Those boats were responsible for the start of many a famous musician as Fate, Louis Armstrong, Joe (King) Oliver, the Dodds brothers, Jules Buffano, Wayne King, Emil Flint and others.

About 1919, Fate dropped in at the Co-operative Hall and heard Kid Ory's band playing Honky-Tonk Town by Chris Smith. Fate asked who was playing the trumpet, and it turned out to be Louis Armstrong. Bob Lyons was managing the band and playing bass. Fate went up to Lyons and asked if he could use the trumpet man the nights Lyons didn't use him. So Fate did use him, and that's how Louis got his start to get out and go north, as Fate gave him steady work on the Capitol of the Strekfus Lines...... (Tony Catalano).


Listen to Louis Armstrong playing Down In Honky Tonk Town. This is a later Sidney Bechet band and the trombonist is Claude Jones rather than Kid Ory and the drummer is Zutty Singleton.




There was a saying in New Orleans. When some musician would get a job on the river-boats with Fate Marable, they'd say, 'Well, you're going to the conservatory.' That's becase Fate was such a fine musician and the men who worked with him had to be really good.

You know, Fate had a white band on the river-boats before he had his coloured band. The boats would spend the winter in New Orleans, and then, around April, go up to St Louis, stoppin' at Natchez and other places for a night or two. The way it worked on the boats Monday nights were for coloured..... The river-boats played dance music mostly. But Fate had things like Jelly Roll's tunes in the book. Numbers like The Pearls and Jelly Roll Blues. And he had songs like Frankie and Johnny. As a matter of fact, Frankie and Johnny, with Fate's band, was the first record I was ever on.


Listen to Fate Marable's Society Syncopators playing Frankie and Johnny.




At that time they brought the machines along with them and we made the record for Okeh in New Orleans. The other side was Piano Flight......The bands on the boats then were made up of two trumpets, one trombone, mellophone, violin, banjo, drums and bass .... (Zutty Singleton).


Here are Fate Marable's Society Syncopators and Pianoflage (Piano Flight)




The boat would stop every night in a different town ... big back-wheel boats. They advertised, like one-nighters, but still you were on the boat. There was a pretty big dance floor, with soda fountains - and a place to sleep. We started playing about eight. The boat left at nine. Everybody was down there by then. We had to play fourteen numbers by 11.30. Those fourteen numbers just had to be up there. There were two intermissions, one ten-minute, one fifteen-minute. The day rides would take you a long ways. Then the band would also get off the boat and go into the sugar cane ..... (Pops Foster).

From Hear Me Talkin' To Ya edited by Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff


Fate Marables Society Syncopators


Fate Marable's band on the S.S. Capitol.

L-R: Henry Kimball, Fate Marable, Boyd Atkins, Johnny St. Cyr, David Jones, Norman Mason, Louis Armstrong, Norman Brashear, and Warren “Baby” Dodds.


Fate Marable died of pneumonia in St. Louis, Missouri. He was 56 years old.

© Sandy Brown Jazz 2022

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Visit some of our other The Story Is Told pages:

Al Capone and Fats Waller
Censoring Ellington
Behind The Chorus Line
Times At Plunkett's

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