Sunny Clapp & His Band O' Sunshine

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Sunny Clapp, sometimes known as Sonny Clapp, was born in Galesburg IL, the birthplace of poet Carl Sandburg. An accomplished bandleader, composer, arranger, trombonist, clarinetist, and alto saxophonist,…
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Sunny Clapp, sometimes known as Sonny Clapp, was born in Galesburg IL, the birthplace of poet Carl Sandburg. An accomplished bandleader, composer, arranger, trombonist, clarinetist, and alto saxophonist, he is mainly remembered for having written "Girl of My Dreams," a sweet waltz that was first recorded by Blue Steele & His Orchestra, with whom Clapp worked while leading his own dance band during the late 1920s and very early '30s. Initially a lush vehicle suited to crooners like Gene Austin and Perry Como, this melody was rediscovered during the '40s and '50s by modern jazz players Ike Quebec, Charlie Ventura, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charles Mingus. Despite this important contribution to 20th century music, Clapp's adventures as sideman and bandleader are shrouded in relative obscurity, while his recordings only exist on the blurred margins of availability and recognition.

Little or nothing is known about Clapp's life and work, other than the evidence to be found in musty discographies. He materialized at a Harmony recording session in New York on September 25, 1928 as trombonist with Jimmy McHugh's Bostonians in the company of reedmen Jack Pettis and Fud Livingston; two months later on November 27, McHugh's Bostonians (now containing such influential players as Jimmy McPartland, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman, and Ben Pollack) recorded the "Whoopee Stomp" and two love songs with vocal refrain by Claude Reese, otherwise known as Sunny Clapp. Those three sides were issued on Harmony under the name of Sunny Clapp & His Band O'Sunshine, making this the definitive first recording date for any ensemble operating under that name. On January 9, 1929 this group, under the name of Jimmy McHugh's Bostonians, backed pop vocalist Irving Kaufman on several sides for Harmony including "Futuristic Rhythm" and "In a Great Big Way," songs composed by McHugh and Dorothy Fields and popularized by the Ben Pollack Orchestra.

The Band O'Sunshine recorded for Okeh and Victor in San Antonio, TX in June and July 1929; in Camden, NJ in April 1931, and in New York in July 1931. The best example of their collective ability to swing is a spirited rendition of "When My Baby Smiles at Me." Probably the most significant jazz artist to have recorded with Clapp during this period was New Orleans clarinetist Sidney Arodin (1901-1948). Other regular members were trumpeters Tommy Howell, Bob Cusmano, and Bob Hutchingson; trombonist Lee Howell; reedmen Mac McCracken, Joe Lendin, Stewart Anderson, and Dick Dickerson, a baritone player who liked to double on the contrabass sax; tuba puffers Francis Palmer and Bill King; pianists Cliff Brewton and George Marks; guitarist Roy Smeck; banjo/guitar/violinists Lew Bray and Charles Sicai, and drummers Joe Hudson and Wally Gordon. In addition to Clapp himself, at least half of the guys in the band also contributed vocals; some of Clapp's records featured singers Arthur Keller or Jeanne Geddes, and Hoagy Carmichael sang on "Come Easy, Go Easy Love" at the Band O'Sunshine's final recording date in 1931. An obscure LP issued on The Old Masters as TOM-55 contains ten Clapp performances and five by Blue Steele's Orchestra. While Steele's best work has come out on an entire CD devoted to his band, Clapp's recordings are generally to be found piecemeal on various "Territory Band" collections.