Ed Allen’s Band on the S. S. Capitol

Riverboats and Jazz

Ed Allen was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1897 and “took up” trumpet at age nineteen while he was living in St. Louis. Like many of the black “reading” musicians in that town, Allen found work on the Streckfus riverboats, and about 1924 he was put in charge of one of the company’s New Orleans bands on the Capitol. The orchestra became known as Eddie Allen and the Gold Whispering Band (so named because they played “very softly”), but in an interview in 1961 with Herb Friedwald for the Archive of New Orleans Jazz at Tulane, the leader indicated that this was not always the case: “The band was a big hit…we played a sort of big-band Dixieland (10 pieces) which we evolved. We would ‘rock the boat’ with our rendition of one of New Orleans’ standard numbers, “Panama,” and Captain Joe would tell us not to play it any more.” Allen stayed with the boats as a leader for about two years before seeking greener pastures in New York as a recording artist with Clarence Williams and others. Pictured, from left to right, are Harvey Lankford, Sidney Desvigne, Floyd Casey (standing), Ed Allen, Johnny St. Cyr, Ike Jefferson, Walter Thomas, George “Pops” Foster, Norman Mason, and Gene Sedric.