George Olsen

About George Olsen

b. 18 March 1893, USA, d. 18 March 1971, Paramus, New Jersey, USA. Olsen started his first dance band in Portland, Oregon, USA, in 1917. A six-piece group, this early combo included Wilbur Johnson, who at that time travelled under the billing ‘the world’s only mellophone soloist’, violinist Herman Kanin, later president of the American Federation of Musicians, and Olsen himself as drummer. Afterwards Olsen relocated to California to play theatre and ballroom dates. At that time he was contacted by Florenz Ziegfeld, who invited him to travel to New York to play in the musical comedy Kid Boots. Other Broadway shows followed, including Whoopee!, The Girl Friend, and Good News. He also played the New York nightclubs in the evenings, at venues including Jack White’s 54th Street Club, the Rendezvous and the Club Richman.
A national hit followed in 1925 with ‘Who’, recorded for Victor Records, which brought coast to coast fame. It enabled Olsen to recruit the best sidemen of the day such as Rudy Wiedoeft, Don Lindley, Chuck Campbell, Floyd Rice, George Henkel, Eddie Kilfeather, Jack Hansen, Bob Borger, Jack Fulton, Milton Neul, Ed Joyce, Larry Mercy, Jack Gifford, Dick Gardner, Fred MacMurray, Lou Busch, Eddie McKinney, Ernie Mathias, Orville Knapp, Leighton Noble, Red Nichols and Fran Frey. In MacMurray and Wiendoeft Olsen was able to work with the two most gifted saxophonists of their generation, and by the early 20s the band had extended to a 16-piece orchestra. At this stage they employed their most celebrated vocalist, Ethel Shutta, whom Olsen would later marry. In the early 30s the band returned to the Los Angeles circuit to play the Plantation Ballroom, at which time Olsen was also commissioned to make a number of movie shorts. When Knapp died in a plane crash in 1936, Olsen took over his band, and gave it its new name, Music Of Tomorrow. In this new role Olsen toured throughout America, with Noble now the featured vocalist. Olsen finally retired from band leading in 1951, after a final engagement at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago.

    Portland, OR
  • BORN
    March 18, 1893

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