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The North Texan welcomes letters from alumni and friends. If you are a UNT graduate, please include your graduation year(s) and degree(s). Letters may be edited for length and publication style


Fax: (940) 369-8763

U.S. Mail: University of North Texas, The North Texan P.O. Box 311070, Denton, Texas 76203-1070

Submit a letter using the online form.


'Student' photo

person sittingIn 1943, 22-year-old 2nd Lt. W. James Davidson arrived in Denton to begin pilot training for the military. His task was to learn to fly L-5s, among other types of airplanes, to observe bursts of fire from the enemy and send the exact locations back to headquarters.

The pilots in training took their ground lessons in classrooms on the North Texas campus, took their flight training at Hartlee Field and lived in Chilton Hall. In Jim’s case, he also took piano lessons from Walter Roberts, the very distinguished pianist on the North Texas music faculty.

In the courtyard area behind Chilton Hall was a statue titled “The Student,” which was a favorite of the service men. Jim liked it so much that he had a snapshot taken of him sitting almost in the statue’s lap. The photo went with him everywhere after that, to Hawaii, to the Philippines and back to San Francisco General Hospital where Capt. James Davidson was taken to recover from a plane crash that nearly killed him.

Many years later, with a wife and a Ph.D. in English literature from New York University, Dr. Davidson applied for a position, and was accepted, as a teacher in the English department at North Texas. He repeatedly said that this was his dream job. He loved Texas, loved the university and wanted to show his wife the real statue instead of just a picture.

Now after the mysterious disappearance of the statue and its partial resurrection (fall 2000 issue), it is nice to remember what a part Denton, the University of North Texas and the statue played in the lives of many service men in World War II.

Norma Lewis Davidson (Mrs. W. James Davidson)
('62, '65 M.S.)


Ex out

I do appreciate your masthead stating, “A University of North Texas Publication for Alumni and Friends.” I am a proud alumnus and do not like the term “ex.” I'm a judge, and the term has very negative connotations for me. Please continue to serve the alumni and the friends (be they former students or not) with this excellent publication.

Patrick J. Curran
('71 Ph.D.)
via e-mail



Aces of Collegeland in 1938

See letter below

Members shown in the picture of "'Fessor Graham and the Aces of Collegeland in 1938" are, from left, Floyd Graham, director; Ralph Daniel (seated), piano; front row: Willard Crew, violin; Guy Bush, violin; Kenneth Keathley, guitar; J.B. Woodrum, drums; J.W. Jones, alto sax; R.L. Marquis Jr., alto sax; Gene Hall, tenor sax; Rex Shelton, tenor sax; back row: Chester Parks, violin; Judson Custer, violin; John Brown, bass; Edward Brewer, trumpet; Bill Collins, trumpet; Henry Parker, trumpet; Johnny Lawhon, trombone.

Making music

As you probably know, the picture with the caption "'Fessor Floyd Graham and his Aces of Collegeland in 1938" in the summer 2000 edition was featured in full color as a two-page spread in the 1938 Yucca, along with small black-and-white pictures of the Eagle Band and North Texas Salon Orchestra.

Many North Texas alumni remember the Saturday Night Stage Shows, but the role of this entertainment in saving North Texas from extinction is not well known.

When Robert L. Marquis became president of North Texas State Teachers College in 1923, he inherited serious problems, including poor legislative support, closure or merger threats and low student morale. In addressing these problems, he made student morale a top priority with innovations headed by on-campus dances and weekend entertainment. By authorization of President Marquis, the first on-campus dances were held in the 1924-25 school year. Soon thereafter, equipment was installed in the auditorium for silent movies, and a pit orchestra to provide accompanying music was organized during the 1927-28 school year. This group was augmented during the 1928-29 school year to form a "Stage Band" for the variety/talent shows. The 1938 Yucca is the first North Texas yearbook in which the Stage Band is called the "Aces of Collegeland."

President Marquis hired Floyd Graham in 1927, then director of the Denton High School Band, as North Texas band director, with collateral duties to conduct the new pit orchestra and to produce the variety/talent shows, known as "Saturday Night Stage Shows." Members of the popular Tom Rose Orchestra that played for on-campus dances formed the "core group" for both the pit orchestra and the Stage Band.

The actions initiated by President Marquis to improve student morale and to gain favorable publicity for North Texas no doubt contributed very significantly to increased enrollment at the school, stronger legislative support and abatement of closure or merger threats. Better public relations were generated not only by the new administration's attitudes toward on- campus entertainment, but by frequent Stage Band performances at high schools and conventions, by Marching/Concert Band appearances at fairs and other public events, and by Salon Orchestra weekly radio broadcasts from campus studios. Members of the Stage Band (Aces of Collegeland) were the principal players in all of these musical organizations. They deserve much credit for their part in saving North Texas from extinction and for helping the institution achieve its current prominence. Floyd Graham especially deserves appropriate recognition for carrying out so well the assignments given to him by President Marquis.

Aces member R.L. Marquis Jr. (Bob) was a son of the president and probably had considerable influence on his father's decision to establish the Stage Shows. He directed all North Texas instrumental music organizations during Graham's frequent absences due to health.

Member J.W. Jones provided the first "special" arrangement (chart) ever played by a dance or jazz orchestra at North Texas, copying it from a Benny Goodman recording of Bugle Call Rag. The addition of a third trumpet and fourth sax to the Stage Band (Aces) instrumentation was required to play this chart.

Member Gene (M.E.) Hall is well known as the founder of the North Texas jazz degree program, which, under his guidance, gained national and international recognition, bringing immense favorable publicity to North Texas. He conceived the idea for dance band (jazz) training at the college level while playing with a five-piece group at a dance hall near Sherman in 1931, just after graduation from high school. With a strong desire to be a dance-band musician, he searched for a college or university that offered training in this field but, finding none, decided that educational institutions were grossly derelict by not recognizing the growing importance of this type of music. Gene gained valuable practical experience by continuing to play with professional dance bands, learning the hard way. He joined the North Texas Stage Band (Aces) in the fall of 1936, and thereafter alternated between school at North Texas and playing with "semi-name" dance bands until earning his bachelor's degree. In 1944, he returned to North Texas to begin work on his master's. By that time, still no college or university had recognized the need for dance band training, so Gene, who had continued to think about methods for teaching it (13 years), decided to address the deficiency by using as a thesis topic "The Development of a Curriculum for the Teaching of Dance Music at a College Level." After many objections and much controversy, he persuaded Wilford Bain, dean of the School of Music, to approve the thesis topic. Walter Hodgson, who succeeded Bain as dean, agreed to let Gene use the thesis in developing a dance band degree program to be added to the curriculum in the fall of 1947, and that was the beginning of the now famous North Texas jazz studies program. Gene was a founder and the first president of the National Association of Jazz Educators (now the International Association of Jazz Educators) and was a North Texas Distinguished Alumnus.

Bob Marquis, John Brown, J.B. Woodrum and Johnny Lawhon were members of the original Stage Band (1929), and all members of the pictured Aces of Collegeland (Stage Band) were students at North Texas except Bob Marquis, who was a faculty member, John Brown and J.B. Woodrum.

I have had the privilege and pleasure of following developments in the North Texas dance/stage bands and the North Texas dance band/jazz degree program for many years, due in no small way to my close association with Gene Hall since 1931, when we both played in the five-piece band that started him thinking about being a professional dance-band musician. We often discussed the non-existence of suitable college training programs and possible methods for teaching dance-band performance.

In 1974, as a founder and the first formally elected president of the Floyd Graham Society, I reorganized the Aces of Collegeland, using only former members. Under my direction, this group played for every semi-annual meeting of the society until 1993, when we could no longer assemble a sufficient number of former members to make up a band that would be truly representative of the original Aces.

I am a UNT Distinguished Alumnus, and, in 1998, I received the first annual Dean's Award for "Outstanding and Continuing Contributions to the Musical Life of the College Since 1934," presented by David Shrader, then dean of the College of Music.

Based on my long association with "musical life" at North Texas, I wrote a booklet in 1996 titled "Early Jazz at North Texas 1901-1947," in which the origins of the Aces of Collegeland and the North Texas jazz studies program are discussed.

My wife, Margaret, and I are life members of the UNT President's Council and were general chairpersons for the 1988 Homecoming.

Incidentally, our son, William Wheat Collins III, also known as "Bill," played trumpet in the One O'Clock Lab Band during the mid '70s, making ours the only family in which a father played lead trumpet in the Aces of Collegeland and his son played the same position in a One O'Clock Lab Band. At age 87 plus, I still play in a six-piece Dixieland Band, the Delta Kings, in Fort Worth.

William W. “Bill” Collins Jr. ('37, '38 M.A.)
Fort Worth




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