Monday, June 22, 2015

The Planters Pickers

At first, all I found was a single program announcement in an issue of the The Evening Independent newspaper dating to November 19th 1929.
 "Southern melodies, talking picture theme songs and negro spirituals will be blended by Billy Artz's Orchestra and the Hallelujah Singers, a negro male quartet, in the Planters Pickers program to be heard over the NBC system tonight at 10 o'clock from WEAF."
An issue of the Reading Eagle newspaper revealed that the program debuted on WEAF on October 25th that year. Even that first episode was featuring the Billy Artz's Orchestra and the Hallelujah Singers. Those two groups together were the "Planters Pickers."  The same announcement for the 30-minute program was carried by The Evening Independent newspaper out of St. Petersburg, FL. I also found an issue of the Bradford Era newspaper in listing a 7:00 PM performance on 1390 WHK-AM. At that time, the station was a member of the NBC network... and this was a syndicated program. The show either had moved to 10:00 PM on Fridays or it's a misprint.

Under the name Billy Artz Orchestra, the group cut at least 2 sides that were pressed on Oriole records the cut at few others on Banner, Perfect and Romeo. Later he led the strangely named Henry and George Orchestra. That was his recording career in a nutshell from 1929 to 1931. The Planters Picker just had the one season on NBC in the Fall of 1929. The Billy Artz Orchestra later ended up as the studio band for a few short-lived programs:  The Royal Vagabonds in 1932, the Bob Burns show in 1941, on WABC-AM solo in 1942, and house band on "Blondie," a radio sitcom based on the comic strip which aired in 1946.

Unfortunately I have no information on the Hallelujah Singers quartet. The name was used by different black singing groups going back to at least 1875. It could very well be members of a known group. The Hallelujah Quartet for example was a gospel group of similar description who performed on a number of radio stations around 1929-1931. It may have been them.