Local History: ‘The Bohemians’ Gained Local, Regional Fame In 1920s, 1930s
From taking part in Scranton’s first “talkie” to a regular broadcast on Scranton’s WQAN, Morelli’s Bohemians made a name for themselves here during the turn of the 20th century.
The band, which boasted a number of fine musicians over the years, owed its existence to Anthony “Tony” Morelli, a native of Gubbio, Italy. His family came to America when he was just a child; the family settled in South Scranton.
While the inspiration for both the band and its name appears to be lost to history, newspaper clippings shed light on the big band’s activities.
Throughout the late 1920s and 1930s, the band often performed weekly on WQAN —The Times’ radio station which later became WEJL. Their broadcast often included comedians, vaudeville acts and other entertainers from around the region.
“WQAN will go on the air at 7:35 o’clock with the first of the election returns and will continue broadcasting them at regular half-hour intervals during the evening,” a Sept. 15, 1931, article began. “Between the broadcastings of the returns … the radio audience will have the pleasure of listening to ‘Morelli’s Bohemians’ … ‘The Wardettes,’ whose programs in the past over WQAN have been enjoyed very much; Sam Smith and George Kohler making their radio debut as ‘Lem and George,’ ‘The Grill City Trio,’ featuring several of the city’s popular musicians and two well-known entertainers, Jack Schmidt, vocalist, and Otto Koerner, guitarist.”
Two years before that, the band — then made up of Morelli, Joseph Doherty, William Miller, Rudy Schaeffer, Peter Noto, John Lantelf, Ralph Wert and Ed Leyh — performed a number of popular songs on a WQAN broadcast, according to a Scranton Times photo caption. They performed a number of songs, including “Silver Head,” She Was Just a Sailor’s Sweetheart,” “I Love My Baby,” I Want to Be Happy” and “Let’s Wander Away.”
In addition to their regular radio performances, Morelli’s Bohemians performed at dances and charity events here and in Johnson City, Binghamton, Wilkes-Barre and all spots in between, recalled Noto’s son, Pete.
Noto Sr. met Morelli at Scranton Talking Machine Co., which sold record players, radios and musical instruments. The company got its name from a nickname of the Victrola, which was often called a talking machine. Scranton Talking Machine Co. later shortened its name to Scranton Talk before becoming Household Outfitting Co., according to newspaper accounts. Morelli’s obituary reported that he’d worked at the company for more than 35 years.
The elder Noto, a trained violinist, went to Scranton Talking Machine Co. to buy a saxophone, his son said. Morelli sold him one. Noto quickly learned to play it and soon became a Bohemian.
“They played all over the area,” Pete Noto said about the band. “Back then, you didn’t have TV. You had a radio or you went out.”
In an undated photo The Scranton Times published as a “Remember Way Back” in 1979, Morelli’s Bohemians posed with dozens of others who took part in the “first all talking-singing-dancing picture made in Scranton.” The band was also featured on sheet music for “You Laughed When I Told You I Loved You,” written by then St. Thomas College professor Jimmie Driscoll.
The song, performed by the Bohemians, was featured on a record produced in 1929, according to Pete Noto.
Eventually, though, shifting tastes and the growing popularity of television and movies meant Morelli’s Bohemians’ popularity waned. It’s not clear when the band stopped performing.
Morelli was 63 when he died in 1959. He is buried in Abington Hills Cemetery.
ERIN L. NISSLEY is an assistant metro editor at The Times-Tribune. She has lived in the area for more than a decade.
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