The Most Haunting Band Picture I’ve Seen, Pt. 2

The staff band at Cherry Hospital, formerly known as the “Asylum for Colored Insane,” also known as “the State Hospital.” Goldsboro, North Carolina. Circa 1920s.

Earlier this year I made a JLP blog post about this photograph.  This week I was treated to an unexpected email from a descendant of two of the men in the picture.  Her name is Bianca M. Rhym and over the course of several generous and compelling emails, she filled out the story.  With her permission, here are excerpts:

“My great grandfather, Albert Hill Whitaker, pictured second from right in the rear row and holding what looks like a french horn, was the grounds superintendent at the hospital from the early 1920s through mid 1970s. His older brother, William Clemon Whitaker, pictured third from left in the rear row with the trombone, was a fireman on the hospital grounds. They were born in 1898 and 1900 and they were the best of friends. I’ve seen this picture before and always liked it.

I have an old newspaper article that was once accompanied by this picture.  It’s from the 8/17/1969 edition of the Goldsboro News-Argus and was written by Joan Broyles. It’s a remembrance piece on the band.  I’ve included the text from the article below:”

Photo Caption: ‘HOSPITAL BAND OF THE 1920s — This picture of the now defunct Cherry Hospital band was taken in the 1920s. Members, who also performed at a number of social and civic occasions, were employees of the then State Hospital. Left to right, kneeling, are William Staten and Will Eller. First row, standing left to right, are Ervin Ashford, John Shines, Oscar Hines, Willie King, William Henry Simmons, Levi Hamilton (band director). Second row, left to right, Clyde James, Eugene Patterson, William Whitaker, Will Odom, a Mr. Whitfield, Albert Whitaker, and A. B. Howell. Albert Whitaker, who tells the story of the band elsewhere on this page, says that many members are now deceased.

Article Text:  A former employee of Cherry Hospital reminisced recently about a hospital band of which he was a member in the mid-1920s.

“The band was organized during the administration of Dr. W. W. Faison when Cherry was still known as State Hospital,” Albert Whitaker recalled.

“A. B. Howell and the late Levi Hamilton interested Dr. Faison in having a band which would bring amusement and entertainment to the patients,” he continued.

Whitaker, 67, was a supervisor at Cherry Hospital until his recent retirement.

The band, in which Whitaker played an “upright baritone instrument,” consisted entirely of hospital employees.

“Mr. Hamilton selected and gave Dr. Faison a list of instruments needed for the band, which were paid for by the state. Many employees agreed to be band members before the instruments were purchased, and they also agreed to pay for half of the instructions.”

Whitaker said Hamilton selected suitable instruments for each one. “We then began to learn to fill our horn, learn our lines and spaces, valuation of notes, flats and sharps.

“We were soon able to play for patients in different courtyards two times a week and board meetings once a month,” Whitaker remembered. “Dr. Jackson and Wiley Thompson of Goldsboro would join us on these occasions, and there was always barbecue and plenty of good eating.”

Whitaker said the band rendered many concerts at the hospital and performed on many other occasions as well, such as laying of the corner stone of First African Baptist Church, the opening of James Theatre, parties at Judge Robinson’s twice a month and other functions.

“Mr Hamilton resigned eventually to take care of personal business and an Englishman named Roberts succeeded him as director,” Whitaker continued. “Professor Roberts, a violin teacher, stayed with us only a short while.

“Our last instructor was Mr. Basden who was band director at Goldsboro High School. He stayed with us for quite a while and when he left we were playing a very high grade of music.”

Whitaker said the band broke up about 1930. “Members of the band began to leave to seek better employment and the group was eventually discontinued.”

But Whitaker says he kept up his interest in music. He changed to trumpet later and performed solos in his church.

Bianca Rhym continues:

“Albert Whitaker was my maternal grandmother’s father. He and William were born in Henrico, Virginia and grew up near Rocky Mount, North Carolina.  They had another brother, Eddie, who died from Typhoid fever at 15 years old, and a sister named Rosa, who died as a toddler or small child.  They also had three other sisters, Alice Arrington, Beulah Silva and Bertha Smoot, who relocated to New York City.

“They moved to Goldsboro sometime after 1920 to work at the state hospital. They are each listed in a Nash County, NC census in 1920.  They are listed as living on the grounds of the state hospital in the 1930 census.  Albert’s occupation is listed as ‘attendant’ and William’s is listed as ‘fireman’.  Albert went on to become the building and grounds superintendent at the state hospital.  He was a leader at the state hospital and in the Goldsboro community, as a member of a Masonic lodge and St. Mark’s Baptist Church.  Albert said he planned to write a book about his experiences working at the state hospital.  I’ve seen a note written by one of the physicians at the hospital calling him an amazing man who could jump a six-foot fence with just a running start.  William eventually relocated to New York City, and then came back to Goldsboro where he was laid to rest.

“Albert and William each had children and grandchildren born in homes built on the state hospital campus, and they both retired from the state hospital.  Albert has children still living in Goldsboro, one of whom will be 90 years old soon, and William has one daughter living in Atlanta.  Albert was married twice and William was married four times, so they both have a lot of grandchildren, great grandchildren, great great grandchildren and even great great great grandchildren living around the world.

“They were the descendants of Annie Whitaker, born around 1820, on their paternal side, who was a slave in Nash County, NC, and her Whitaker ‘master’.  Their maternal lineage leads back to free African Americans, native Americans, so-called ‘Melungeons’ and European Americans.

“So, after reading the article again, I’d say the picture is from the early to mid-1920s. I also found pieces of Grandpa’s sheet music for the song ‘The Beautiful Garden of Prayer’ by J. H. Fillmore, which I’m assuming was one of his favorite songs to play.

“I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Albert’s oldest daughter – my maternal grandmother – moved to Boston with her husband around 1950.  I now live in Charlotte, NC with my husband and daughter.

“I think that about covers the pertinent facts, but if you have any questions, by all means, ask away.  Thank you so much for posting what motivated me to take another look at my family history.  I look forward to reading your updated post.

Bianca M. Rhym”

I’m very grateful to Ms. Rhym, and more curious than ever about this picture and the hospital.  What these men might have been able to tell us about Thelonious Monk’s father after his commitment there, for example, is one particular thing that comes to mind.  There might be no way to track that down in 2012.  The imagined and unimaginable undocumented stories from the general history cast a spell.  Ms. Rhym’s info makes this a less “haunting” band picture to me.  I had imagined that the band members were patients, not hospital staffers.

A final thought:  Goldsboro, North Carolina is remembered in John Coltrane’s song, “Goldsboro Express,” named after the railroad line that his uncle worked on.

-Sam Stephenson

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