Fate Marable’s New Orleans Band on the S. S. Sidney

Riverboats and Jazz

Without a doubt the most famous riverboat bandleader was Fate Marable (1890-1947). Born in Paducah, Kentucky, Marable was hired as a musician by Captain John Streckfus in 1907 and remained with the company until 1940. His first assignment was as a pianist on the original J.S. in a duo with a white violinist, Emil Flindt, but his talents as a bandleader and talent scout soon became evident, and it was Fate that organized the first New Orleans band for the Streckfus steamers in 1918. This band, which featured such future jazz stars as cornetist Louis Armstrong, drummer Warren “Baby” Dodds, clarinetist Johnny Dodds, banjoist/guitarist Johnny St. Cyr, and bassist George “Pops” Foster, made its debut in 1919 and quickly set new standards for music on the river. Marable was known as a “taskmaster” and New Orleans musicians used to jokingly refer to a stint in his band as “going to the Conservatory” because of his insistence on reading skills and flawless performances. Daily rehearsals of two hours were normal, and Captain Joe Streckfus was usually on hand with a stop-watch to test the band for tempo. As one veteran player recalled: “Captain Joe Streckfus was very particular about music on the Streckfus excursion boats. He would attend rehearsals, tap his feet with his watch in his hand, and if the band failed to keep the proper tempo (70 beats a minute for fox trots and 90 for one steps) somebody got hell. If it happened too often, there were new faces on the bandstand.”