When John Ewing Sr. was a preteen during the early 1940s, the now-83-year-old remembers lingering along Lake Street in North Omaha for the chance to catch a few notes of the music that drifted from the open windows of some of the city’s best venues.
“I lived about two blocks from there, and I’d be on the pavement near the Omaha Star building just to hear that music,” he recalled. “I didn’t know who the musicians were, but it didn’t matter. I’d have a grand old time standing there listening. Any big band that was important and playing at the time came through Omaha.”
Owing to Omaha’s location along the Union Pacific Railroad between Kansas City, Chicago and Minneapolis, the city became an almost obligatory stopover for the hottest touring acts. The same held true for artists crossing the country to get from the East Coast to the West. Many ended up spending a night or two in Omaha, and they never missed an opportunity to perform.
The list of musicians reads like a who’s who of big band, jazz and early rock ’n’ roll: Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Nat Towles, Fats Domino, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole and Ike and Tina Turner, to name a few.
Preston Love Jr., whose father, Preston Love Sr., became one of Omaha’s most renowned musicians of the big band and jazz eras, says this time in the city’s history was remarkable.
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