The W.T. Grady Family Band
By Don Bailey
In the book I Remember by Mabel Bridges Cargill, one finds the following observation about life in Cliffside.
Another thing, they would have string bands and those men would get together and make music. Two of the people that I remember who were quite interested in this type of music were Dewey McDaniel and Gene Wilson.
According to Daisy (Mrs. Gene) Wilson, W.T. Grady taught Gene to play. Grady was an all around musician—and a man who moved around a great deal. He arrived in Cliffside after August 30 of 1921, at which time he was living in Forest city where son William Vernon was born, and before October 25, 1922, when another son, Lewis H. Grady, was born in Cliffside. (Lewis only lived until February 1, 1923. He is buried in the Cliffside Cemetery.)
We first find William T. Grady listed as a member of the Cliffside Orchestra (at that time called the Collins Orchestra) in 1924. There he is listed as playing the violin. In 1925 he again appears as an orchestra member, but now playing the sax. In 1926 he is listed as “leader” and violinist in the Cliff-Avon Orchestra. And in 1927 he is listed as playing the violin and mandolin.
In December of 1927 Grady’s string band, then called the W.T. Grady Band, was judged best at an Old Time Fiddlers Convention held at Ellenboro. In 1928 the Grady Band was composed of William Grady, his wife Elva, and their children Ethel Mae, Vernon and Paul—ages 12, 7, and 4. We assume the band continued to be composed of these five family members, because its name changed shortly to the Grady Family Band. This band played for movies, at the boxing matches that were popular in Cliffside for a few years, and no doubt at other events.
After leaving Cliffside, about 1929, Mr. Grady moved his family to Morganton where he took a job at the Alpine Cotton Mill. The family later moved to Shelby for a short time but then returned to Morganton. The Grady Family Band continued to perform for some time, and about 1930 cut a record with Columbia Records. The record had two numbers; on one side was “Carolina’s Best” and on the other “Gold Diggers.” Fortunately these recordings still exist and you can hear them with the players at left.
William T. Grady was born in Burke County July 21, 1893, the son of Thomas and Leona Lowdermilk Grady. (It is said that Grady’s musical talent came from the Lowdermilk side of his family.) On October 11, 1913 Grady married one B. A. Suttles. Of this union was born a daughter, Ethel Mae Grady, and a son. Both mother and son died in the flu epidemic of 1917-18. Grady was married again in 1920, this time to Elva Rose Harris. Elva Rose gave birth to Vernon, Lewis and Paul. W.T. Grady died October 14, 1947 at the Black Mountain TB sanitarium – in the same room where son Paul was also confined with a diagnosis of tuberculosis. The family always suspected William died of “white lung” from breathing cotton dust in the textile mills.
Elva Rose Harris Grady was born in Burke (or Caldwell) County, March 16, 1899. She was a daughter of Mack Harris and Emma Smith Harris. She and William were married May 29, 1920. Her obituary says she was a “former employee” of the Alpine Cotton Mill (in Morganton) and that she had retired in 1972 from the Home Laundry Service. She died April 6, 1982 at Grace Hospital in Morganton, NC.
Of Ethel Mae we know but little. She was probably born in Burke County in 1916. She married a Joe Overby and lived in Charlotte for some time, and she died prior to 1982, possibly in Florida.
William Vernon Grady was born August 30, 1921 in Forest City. He played in various bands with his brother Paul until he was called to service in World War II. Vernon married Sylvia Wenzel Grady September 20, 1958. He died September 19, 1988 at Grace Hospital in Morganton, NC, and at the time of his death was a retired mail carrier.
The only surviving member of the Grady band is Paul Simpson Grady who was born November 7, 1923 in Cliffside. Paul began playing the cello while standing beside it (because of his size) and bowing the instrument, as if it were a bass violin. From there he moved to other string instruments and then, in high school, to wind instruments. He played with several bands until he was diagnosed with TB in the mid 1940’s. While at the Black Mountain TB center he taught himself the piano and later worked as a cocktail pianist. Among the various bands with which Paul played was a Morganton Band called the “Old Mule Train Band” directed by J. Gordon Queen and managed by J. Alex Mull. Paul’s first marriage was to Estelle Edwards; but while he was in the Black Mountain center Estelle filed for divorce. In June of 1960 Paul married his second wife Phyllis Geneva Duckworth. Eventually Paul became music director for the Broughton Center in Morganton, a position he held for 30 years until his retirement in 1988.
The author is grateful to Phyllis and Paul Grady who provided information and photos, and to Daisy Wilson who provided the initial memories which led to this article.
Update: This brief item appeared in the Charlotte Observer on June 22, 2008:
MORGANTON — Paul S. Grady, 84, died June 20, 2008. Graveside service was held at Salem United Methodist Church.