b. Arthur G. Hickman, 13 June 1886, Oakland, California, USA, d. 16 January 1930, San Francisco, California, USA. Hickman has been noted in many histories as the first musician to assemble a dance band in its presently perceived format, though this remains a subject of some dispute. Though many groups had previously organised for impromptu performances, for example at weddings and other social functions, before Hickman’s time none had done so on anything approaching a professional footing. Originally a sextet, Hickman’s band was formed in San Francisco, California, USA, in or around 1913, with their first engagement accompanying the San Francisco Seals baseball team at their training camp. After that they were booked into the St. Francis Hotel for a six nights a week residency. This proved so popular that the engagement was extended, allowing Hickman to expand the number of musicians he employed. The line-up now included Fred Coffman, Walt Rosener, Bert Ralton, Clyde Doerr, Vic King, Mark Moica, Ben Black, Steve Douglas, Bela Spiller, Frank Ellis, Jess Fitzpatrick, Juan Ramos, Roy Fox, Forrest Ray, Ed Fitzpatrick, Dick Winfree, Earl Burtnett, Dick Noolan, Hank Miller, Lou Marcasie and Ray Hoback. Their most prestigious booking came in 1915, when San Francisco played host to the 1915 World’s Fair, with Hickman’s orchestra providing much of the musical accompaniment. Having heard them play at the St. Moritz Hotel Florenz Ziegfeld invited the group to New York in 1919, booking them into the Biltmore Hotel Roof and his own Ziegfeld Roof. Six months of further engagements kept them in New York, where they proved just as popular as they had been in front of Californian audiences. In 1920 Ziegfeld again commissioned them, this time to provide music for the theatre run of Ziegfeld Follies. They finally returned to the west coast later in that year to appear at the St. Francis Hotel. After opening the Cocoanut Grove in 1921, the group moved to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. But by now Hickman had tired of the big band business he had helped to create, and handed his orchestra over to Frank Ellis. Ellis kept it active until the late 20s. Luckily, recordings of this pivotal group still survive, mainly on Victor Records, HMV Records and Columbia Records, and Hickman’s theme song, ‘Rose Room’, continues as one of the dance band genre’s great standards.
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