Delmor “Del” Anthony Courtney (September 21, 1910*–February 11, 2006), was a big band leader in the Bay Area and later Hawai’i. He was nicknamed "Old Smoothie" because he played smooth, sweet dance tunes.
He played at the inaugural balls for four presidents—Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and his fans included the late Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, who occasionally dropped items about the band leader in his column. He became one of the biggest name bands in the San Francisco.
Del was born September 21, 1910 in Oakland. He started playing piano at age 9. He attended St. Mary’s, University of the Pacific (where he was a fraternity brother of Dave Brubeck) and received a teacher's degree and a master's degree in music from UC Berkeley, but chose to become a professional musician.
After forming his first band he started playing at the Claremont Hotel in 1933. He first toured the hotels and ballrooms of Seattle in the mid 1930's, and though it was less than commercially successful, he returned to California with some popularity. He recorded regularly and packed local hotel ballrooms with his simple and sweet melodies. In 1938, his orchestra was heard on local radio remote broadcast from the Rainbow Room of the New Kenmore Hotel in Albany, New York.
V-Disc 83 A - Recorded Mid-October 1943 Source: V-Disc Recording Session - RCA Victor Studios, New York 1. Journey To A Star 2. My Ideal Del Courtney and his Orchestra Vocal by 1. Del Courtney 2. Mary Jane Dodd
By the late 1940's, Del was touring again, with much better luck. The band played the New Yorker and Ambassador Hotels in New York, Edgewater and Stevens in Chicago, the Roosevelt in New Orleans, the Royal Hawaiian in Honolulu and their longest engagement, which was the famous Blackhawk Restaurant in Chicago, where the band played for thirty-two weeks. However, the band always returned to San Francisco and their loyal fans.
In the 1940s, Mr. Courtney tried his hand at boogie woogie, re-arranging familiar tunes like "The Skater's Waltz" into boogies. His recordings included the album "Dancing 'Til Daybreak." He hosted a live variety show on KPIX television in San Francisco in the 1950s, and a local radio show on KSFO that aired from the Tonga Room at the Fairmont in the 1960s. He was part owner of KSAN, AM1450. during the mid 60s.
From 1959–1978, Del was the music director for the Oakland Raiders, producing the team's halftime shows and organizing the Raiderettes cheerleader squad. His band also played in center field at San Francisco Giants games in the early days of Candlestick Park.
Mr. Courtney also appeared in Hollywood movies, short films and television shows. He played a radio disc jockey in the 1959 film "The Hideous Sun Demon." He appeared as himself in the 1988 comedy "Aloha Summer."
Del was married three times and divorced twice, and had
no children. His first wife Cornelia Driggs (Courtney) (m.1957–1966) was better
known as singer Yvonne King of The King Sisters. She sued for divorce in July,
1966, charging “extreme cruelty.” His second wife Yvonne Marie Antoinette
JaMais (m.1966–1972) was better known as singer Connie Haines. His third wife
was Nalani (Courtney).
|Del Courtney & Connie Haines|
In 1978, Mr. Courtney moved to Hawaii, intending to retire. But disco music had revived "touch dancing," so he agreed to play for "tea dances" in the Monarch Room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, a landmark on Waikiki Beach. The events were so popular that he kept doing them for 15 years. In 2005 he self-published a book of memoirs, "Hey! The Band's Too Loud."
Mr. Courtney performed at his 94th birthday party but spent much of his latter days in bed. He lived in a condominium in Honolulu's suburb of Hawaii Kai. He died at The Queen's Medical Centre on February 11, 2006 from complications of Pneumonia. He was 95. He is buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Hayward.
(Info edited from Oakland Wiki & San Francisco Chronicle)
* some sources give birth date as September 24th