Ogden’s Music Men

Earnest Nichols with the Women’s Band in 1919.
Red Nichols’s headshot

Ogden has been home to many talented people over the last 150 years.

In past years, Joe McQueen, Sammy Brue, Roland Parry, and Moroni Olsen (voice of the magic mirror in Snow White) have all called Ogden home at one point in time. A name many might not recognize is Loring “Red” Nichols. The Nichols family moved to Ogden in 1905, when Ernest Nichols became a professor of music at Weber Academy. Ernest was credited with organizing the first band in Ogden and served as the head of the music department at Weber for 20 years. In 1917, he also created the Ogden ladies’ band in 1917, which was comprised of 30 members who played concerts throughout Ogden. During the end of World War I, the band played at the Union Station, welcoming home returning soldiers. He also created bands for the State Industrial School and the Boy Scouts. Nichols was involved in the musical landscape of Ogden until 1923, when he left Weber Academy and moved to California. In 1936, a musical study scholarship was established in his name in the city schools of San Leandro, California. Ernest passed away in 1948.

The entire Nichols family was musically inclined. In 1911, Ernest and his four children provided musical entertainment at the Eighth Ward hall. The program consisted of songs, instrumental selections, and dancing. Loring Nichols, a wonder on the cornet, was just six at that time and played to more than 1,000 people. He credited his father’s “discipline” when it came to him practicing every day. He said that each discipline was now worth $1000 to him. At the age of 15, Culver Military Academy in Indiana gave Loring a scholarship to attend and play for the school band. It was during his time at Culver that he began to garner national attention which led to him becoming the youngest professional bandleader. Starting at age 19, he was recording with greats like George Gershwin, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller. Red moved to New York City in 1923, where he teamed up with trombonist Miff Mole and recorded under the name The Red Heads. Starting in 1927, Red had his Five Pennies dance band and played throughout the country until World War II, when he broke up the band to enlist in the armed forces. He was rejected and went to work as a welder in the shipyards for the war efforts. Following the war, he resumed his career but played mostly in Las Vegas casinos and Los Angeles nightspots. He was described as a workaholic as he was rumored to have appeared on over 4,000 recordings during the 1920s alone.

It was during the 1930s, when Red was conducting the Earl Carroll Vanities in Los Angeles, that he met Willa Inez Stutzman, one of the chorus girls. Willa and Red struck up a relationship and were married. In 1948, Danny Kaye starred in a movie of Red Nichols’s life story called “The Five Pennies.” The movie centered on the turning point in his career when, while traveling with his band, his daughter Dorothy was stricken with polio. The movie was a hit in Ogden as it highlighted a local boy who made it big. Red passed away at the age of 60 in 1965 after have a heart attack while in Las Vegas. His legacy, as well as his father’s, continues to live on in Ogden. As one person wrote in the Ogden Standard Examiner, “No one can estimate the great good that this man did for Ogden.”

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