The story of the Woodhull family and their music is told in the several
clippings that follow, including Woody's induction into the Country Music
Hall of Fame. Floyd (Woody) died in October1987 and he is buried in Woodlawn
Cemetery with his wife Jane Smith, who died in 1990. Thier obituaries are
near the bottom of this page. Two of these clippings were found in my parents'
stuff and one is very recent. If you have other clippings, also, please
send them in for inclusion on this page. If you remember Woody or attended
his dances, drop a note that we can include here.
|WOODY WOULDN'T BE WITHOUT BOX
By TOM PAGE (MILADY, Elmira, NY, April 2, 1972)
The main reason Floyd (Woody) Woodhull likes the accordion is that you can take it anywhere, even on roller coasters. "Sure, I once played the accordion on the roller coaster at Eldridge Park," said Elmira's premier accordionist. "I thought I'd pop a tonsil on that first dip. The 68-year-old Woodhull has been playing the melodious squeeze box for more than 50 years, one third of the instrument's existence. The old German invention marks its 150th birthday this year. Woody started out in 1915 on the piano, but some of the pianos he had to use were so far out of tune he switched to the accordion. "The accordion is a first cousin to the piano and you can always have it with you. I picked up the accordion easily from having studied piano. "The accordion was very popular in the 1920s, 30s and 40s in all hillbilly bands. Then your hillbilly bands played square dances. Country and western groups rarely do this. "Probably in the late 40s strings came in. Art Mooney popularized the banjo. With strings you can have amplification and all the sound effects you want. "The strings have taken over. Those who might have tried the accordion once now have turned to the guitar. And in some groups you'll find an organ or electric piano." Woody Woodhull has remained faithful to the instrument he calls a little orchestra or one-man band. Asked when he'll stop playing, Woody grins and shrugs, "Not until I have to." He and buddy Sam Rossi, 69, can be found Saturday nights at the Reed Tavern in Lowman. For the last 19 years, they've performed at regular Elmira Kiwanis Club meetings. "Sam and I consider it a hobby now. We've kind of tapered off from what we used to do." That Woody was a professional for many years can be seen by checking back over his square dance records made for RCA Victor and Folkraft labels and the distinction in 1954 of being named one of the three top square dance callers in the country. Woody now does a lot of solos. He played St. Patrick's Day at Bob Sullivan's Hilltop Restaurant and for 15 years accompanied Bob Gladke on his Seneca Lake boat rides for members of Home for the Aged. He teaches square dancing at Seneca Lodge in Watkins Glen. "I use the traditional New England dances," said Woody, explaining that the new western style square dances require 32 lessons. "You can teach the old New England dances in less than an hour. "It's too late for me on this western square dancing. The beat is half again as fast. I know some people in the 60s who do it, but I don't know how they take it." Although the accordion's popularity remains more or less stable, Woody explained that improvements are made in the instrument.
|MUSIC FOR WOODY
(Star Gazette, Elmira, NY, Saturday, Nov. 19, 1977) by Jim Jennings. This time is December, 1917, at Elmer Hamm's farmhouse, Greatsingers' Corners. It's 8 o'clock at night, and a husband, wife and their 13-year-old son begin the calling for a square dance. The man is playing the fiddle, the woman plays the guitar and calls the dance, and the young boy plays chords on the piano. That night, Floyd Clayton Woodhull made $3 playing chords on a piano for from 8 pm until 5 am the following morning. Now almost 60 years later Woodhull is doing the same thing his parents did: calling the dances, playing the accordion and having a good time. And, in between that timespan, he has produced 78 sides of records for RCA Victor and Folkraft Records, not to mention his appearances at the 1940 World's Fair in New York where he represented New York State. Floyd Clayton Woodhull, better known as "Woody Woodhull," has lived through 61 years of music, and he says he wouldn't change a thing if he had it all to do over. "I can look back on a lot of nice things that happened," says Woodhull, who has had his life written up in such prestigious publications as Life Magazine, the Saturday Evening Post, the American Legion Magazine, as well as a story by United Press International. His most recent accomplishment was his inductmen in October into the New York State Country Music Hall of Fame, Cortland, sponsored by the New York Country Music Association.
Woody, said the association president Merlin Reynolds, "is so well known all over New York State. He's been around and he's been known for years." Woodhull said he was "delighted" by the honor, although he was unable to attend the ceremony. But, he appears to take his induction, like other things, fairly nonchalant, but with good reason. "We used to travel the circuit six nights a week," said Woodhull, referring to the Woodhull Orchestra, in which his brothers John (Josh) and Herbert (Zeke) Woodhull also played. "I used to call festivals years ago, when I'd fly all over the country," said Woodhull. And, in between everything, he has been employed as a steamfitter's helper, a farmer, a salesman, a full-time orchestra leader and a husband and father. In 1976, though, Woody tried to retire. Woody and his partner for 22 years, Samuel Rossi, played their then-final performance for New Year's eve at the New Fort Reed Tavern. At that time, Woody said "We're quitting lock, stock and barrel.. ...I'm tired. I'm just worn out." But, said Woodhull, it wasn't easy to quit. "We quit at that time, and in a couple of months we were so damn unhappy, we went back to playing. We just folded and in two months we were just going nuts." So, Woodhull and Rossi decided to reenter the music business, only this time it would be for limited engagements, no more traveling for the group. So now, Woodhull and Rossi can be found every Saturday night at Fraley's Park in Waverly for an evening of round and square dancing. "I must have been born with a good set of tonsils," said Woodhull, referring to his calling at the weekly dances. "I call about 60 percent of the calls." But, although he wants to limit himself, Woodhull usually plays once-a-month at the Elmira Heights Senior Citizens Group dances. But, as for himself, a person who was named one of the three best callers in the country; a person who has played on ABC Radio's coast-to-coast programs, Woody Woodhull is taking life easy, although he still works full-time as a salesman. "I'm on the road five days a week as a salesman. The music now is an out. We get paid and have a lot of fun with it."
POSTER STIRS MEMORIES OF LOCAL HILLBILLY BAND
The music filling the room is not that of Billy Joel, Mary Chapin Carpenter, George Jones, Alan Jackson or any of the big bands. It's the sound of Floyd Woodhull, the square dance caller who built the Old Tyme Music Makers into a major central New York attraction back in the early 1900s. The group performed at the 1940 World's Fair, opened for bandleader Art Mooney at the old Strand Theater in Elmira and entertained from Long Island throughout central New York and Pennsylvania for years. On the record player, Woodhull belts out some of his traditional old-time New England square dances. There are tunes such as "Sashay By Your Partner," "Bird in the Cage," "Red Wing," and "John Brown's Body." A poster found in the wall of a Main Street building in Ovid has stirred a ton of memories relating to the Woodhull family and Saturday nights of round and square dancing at the Old Barn in Elmira Heights and a host of other locations. For the sum of 85 cents---71 cents admission and 14 cents tax---one could dance the night away from 9 pm to 1 am at the Interlaken School, compliments of the Interlaken Chamber of Commerce, and with music furnished by the Woodhulls. "One of the top square dance bands in the nation," the poster reads. Sally Tillinghast of Interlaken, owner and operator of Sally T's Beauty Salon on Main Street in Ovid, said workers rehabilitating one of her Main Street buildings found the poster in a wall. Turning to the computer and using the date of the Interlaken dance---Thursday, April 17---the poster is thought to date to 1940. And Tillinghast went one better. Her family has a Folkcraft recording of Woodhull's Traditional New England Square Dances, and it's those songs we are listening to. Many senior citizens in the area know them well, having used their Saturday nights to dance the night away at the Old Barn in Elmira Heights, an Alpine locale, the Lodi Hotel and who can forget Hayward's Barn in Interlaken. Known as the "top hillbilly band in the Northeast," the Woodhull family came about when Floyd's dad, Fred, decided in the late 1890s to leave Penn Yan for Elmira. A fiddler and dance enthusiast, Fred met and married Elizabeth Schmidt, a former Lock Haven, Pa., native who also had a keen interest in square dancing. Performing together, the couple soon began making personal appearances at homes throughout the area for $3 each. At that rate, Fred decided the $1 he was being paid for a 12-hour day as a construction laborer paled in comparison. Performing became a full-time endeavor. One of the couple's three sons, Floyd, took up performing as well. At age 13, he worked alongside his parents as a pianist. When asthma forced his mom, Elizabeth, to cut back on her expertise as a square dance caller, Floyd stepped up. Another son, Herbert, added his harmonica and a third son, John, became the guitar player. Woodhull's Old Tyme Masters became a reality in 1928. National exposure came their way with the 1940 World's Fair. The Music Masters were part of a national square dance exhibition in New York City. Another gig had a national touch to it, opening for bandleader Art Mooney at the old Elmira Strand Theater about that same time. That event was broadcast nationally. Fred, in his 70s, decided he had enough. His sons and the remaining musicians cut a record in 1941. For some reason, it wasn't released until 1948, just as people were finding other pursuits and switching from "hillbilly" tunes to the traditional western offerings. The Music Masters called it quits in 1973. Floyd continued to entertain and was elected to the New York State Country Music Association Hall of Fame. The Old Barn in Elmira Heights, reserved for Saturday night performances of the Music Makers, was sold. Other barns once frequented by the musicians and their followers also closed because the owners worried about liability or that "hillbilly" music was steadily losing its popularity.
Star Gazette Dec 29, 1939
Woodhull, Clayton Frederick infant son of Mr. and Mrs. Floyd C. Woodhull of 269 Caldwell Av. Died Thursday Dec 28, 1939. Besides the parents, he leaves his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Woodhull Sr. of Elmira and Mrs. and Mrs. Samuel Smith of Big Flats. The body is in the Hilton and Lindgren funeral home. Funeral and burial at the convenience of the family.
Star Gazette May 15, 1946
Woodhull, Fred 58 Orchards St. Tuesday May 14, 1946. Survived by wife Elizabeth; sons John, Bradley, Herbert and Floyd; grandchildren John Jr. with US Army in Korea, Bradley Allen, William, Mary Francis and Suzanne, all of Elmira. The body is at the Holly Funeral Home and this afternoon will be removed to the family home. Friday noon it will be take to Lake St. Presbyterian Church, where funeral will be held at 2 pm. Rev. Henry White, Woodlawn Cemetery.
Star Gazette May 15, 1946
Fred Woodhull Dead at 72, Founded Famed Orchestra
Fred Woodhull of 58 Orchard St., organizer of the Woodhull Old Tyme
Masters died at 10:55 pm Tuesday at the Arnot-Ogden Hospital. He was 72.
Mr. Woodhull known as “Pop” to thousands of admirers entered the hospital last Friday night after a heart attack at his home. He retired from the orchestra five years ago.
“Pop” did not take music lessons until he had played the fiddle 35 years and then it was his sons-who urged him to learn to read notes. He and Mrs. Woodhull who played the guitar, entertained at countless dances, in private homes as well as barns and halls, before Mr. Woodhull organized the Old Tyme Masters with three of his sons, Floyd, John and Herbert, about 17 years ago. John retired from the orchestra in 1943 but Floyd and Herbert have continued with the orchestra which has made the Woodhull name popular throughout the country. Not only has the group played for barn dances in this section but also has made several albums of recordings which have enjoyed a big nationwide sale. The largest crowd to dance to Pop’s music was at one of President Roosevelt’s birthday balls in the Cornell University Armory, where the attendance numbered 7,000 and at one time 4,000 responded to the caller’s instructions. The orchestra played at the New York World’s Fair, but the Ithaca crowd was the largest in Mr. Woodhull’s recollection.
Mr. Woodhull played in most of the older dance halls of Elmira, including Bundy Hall, Military Hall, Roseland and the 100F Hall on W. Water St., now only memories. In the late 30’s the Woodhull’s purchased the Old Barn on Grand Central Av. Where they since have played for round and Square dances each Saturday night. Born in Penn Yan, Mr. Woodhull moved to Elmira, when 10 years old. He was employed as a shipping clerk by N. J. Thompson & Co. for 31 years, retiring in the 1935. Although he often fiddled for dances until 4 am, he was never late for work nor did he stay out a day.
Star Gazette Feb 5, 1946
Woodhull, Fred Jr. 49, of 57 1/2 Orchard St. Monday, Feb 4, 1946 at 5 pm. Survived by wife, Nina; sons, Cpl. Bradley A. with Army overseas, Cpl. William S. with Army at Utica; parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Woodhull; brothers, John, Bradley, Herbert and Floyd, all of Elmira; several nieces and nephews. Body will be removed to home of parents of 58 Orchard St. today where funeral will be held Thursday at 2 pm. Rev. Henry White, Woodlawn Cemetery.
Star Gazette Sept 24, 1956
Woodhull, Elizabeth B. age 80 of 122 W. Chemung Pl., Sunday Sept 23, 1956. She was the widow of Fred Woodhull Sr.; member Lake St. Presbyterian Church. Survived by sons John F., Bradley, Herbert A. and Floyd C. Woodhull all of Elmira; five grand-children and five great-grandchildren: sister, Mrs. Ida Ramser of Lock Haven, Pa; brother Frank Smith of Monument, Pa. Body at Holly-Keck Funeral Home where friends may call today and Tuesday 2-4 and 7-9 pm. Removal will be made Wednesday at 1pm to Lake St. Presbyterian Church to lie in state until the funeral at 2pm, the Rev. Barnett S. Eby. Woodlawn Cemetery.
Star Gazette Oct 28, 1987
Woodhull, Floyd C. (Woody) age 84 of 622 Copley St., Elmira, Tuesday, October 27, 1987. Friends may call at the Don Kalec Funeral Home Wednesday 2-4 and 7-9 pm. Funeral there Thursday, 11am, the Rev. John B. McLaren officiating. Interment, Woodlawn Cemetery. Survived by wife of 60 years, Jane Smith Woodhull; daughter, Suzanne Tarr of Elmira; 2 grandsons, Scott M. Austin of Gillett, Pa and Floyd D. Austin of Rochester, NY; 3 great grandsons; brothers, John F. Woodhull, Sr. and Bradley Woodhull, both of Elmira; 3 nephews. Woody was a lifetime member of the Lake St. Presbyterian Church, owner operator of Woodhull’s Advertising for the past 35 years, originator of Woodhull’s Old Tyme Masters about 1929 and inducted into the NY State Country Music Hall of Fame in October 1976.
SMITH - Star Gazette Mar 15, 1990
Woodhull, Jane age 80 of 622 Copley St., Elmira, Tuesday, March 13, 1990. Survived by daughter, Suzanne Tarr of Elmira; grandsons and wife, Scott and Marlene Austin of Gillettt, Pa, Floyd D. Austin of Rochester, NY; 3 great grandsons, James, Brent and Michael; sister Marion Smith of Geneva, NY; nephews, William (ila) Woodhull, Jack and Viola Woodhull all of Elmira and nieces, Marjorie Fetes of Hollywood, Fl. Predeceased by her husband, Floyd (Woody) Woodhull. Donations to: St. Joseph’s Hospital Development Fund in her name would be appreciated. Jane was a member of Lake St. Presbyterian Church and retired from Avis Rent-A-Car. Family will receive relatives and friends at the Don Kalec Funeral Home. Thursday, 2-4 and 7-8:30 pm. With Funeral and Committal immediately following at 8:30pm. Rev. John B. McLaren, her pastor officiating. Interment, Woodlawn Cemetery
In any event those were wonderful times and how I wish I could again attend a square dance with a great old time caller! What exercise it would be for us in the so-called golden years. A few years ago we went to a "square dance" and it was impossible to follow what resembled, very loosely a "caller".
Once again, your site strikes a home run with wonderful nostalgic "stuff." It makes some of us young again, if only in our memories.
Answer to Clara's wuestions - Hi Joyce !
Vennetta Scott Baker was a teacher way back when at the Daggett one room school. She is still living in Horseheads at 91 years old. Will be 92 in July. Her mind is still very sharp. I know this for a fact, as I am her Step-niece.
Clara (Bierwiler) Griffiths
September 2005 - DEAR JOYCE;I used to square dance many times to woody woohulls music,i am 78 an can still remember all the good time my wife an i had on the dance floor.I still have a few of woody's records of square dances.He not only played at the old barn in ELMIRA but also at the Corning glass works club house on the corner of walnut & market street ,an the old MARTIN MARINE building in panted post Isaw woody just a few days before he died in ELMIRA. THE one song i remember most was the mocking bird.They don't square dance like they used to.As a matter afact country music has gone to the dogs, i was raised on country. Bob Burdick
The museum and I between us have most of his records, some photos of the band, newspaper articles, a painting of the Old Barn in Elmira Heights, and the postcard you included on your website. I've located his accordion, the hat he wore, annotations for his calls, and some other material his wife left to a family friend. This morning I located the banjo his brother used in 1929, and I'm going to see it Tuesday. Anyway, I appreciate your putting the material about him on your website, and if there's a way you can get word out to your patrons that we are looking for material related to the Woodhulls, that would be great.
Swing into the Chemung Valley History Museum’s New Exhibition
Get ready to square dance because the Chemung Valley History Museum announces the opening of its new exhibition, Accordions and Quadrilles: The Floyd Woodhull Story, on Friday June 30, 2006. The opening reception will feature The Relaxed Squares, square dancing group, and will be held on Thursday June 29, 2006 from 5:00pm to 7:00pm at the Chemung Valley History Museum. The public is invited. Call to RSVP by Tuesday, June 27 if you plan to attend.
No other man has left his mark so indelibly on American square dancing as Elmira’s Floyd Woodhull. From the 1930s to the 1950s, his family band Woodhull’s Old-Tyme Masters dominated western New York’s country music scene, and beyond our region the band’s instrumental recordings have been used nationwide by succeeding generations for practicing calls and dance steps. Many of the square dances now termed “classic” or attributed to “unknown sources” are actually Woodhull originals. “Marching Through Georgia,” Hinky Dinky Parley Voo,” and many other popular songs, which Floyd adapted to the square dance tempo are now considered a permanent part of traditional American country music and dance.
Accordions and Quadrilles: The Floyd Woodull Story explores the rise of Floyd Woodhull and his band during the tumult of the 1930s, and the band’s increased popularity throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Visitors can reminisce about nights spent square dancing to the Old-Tyme Masters as they view photographs, handbills, posters, Floyd’s accordion and hat, as well as other instruments used by the band.
Come to the Chemung Valley History Museum and immerse yourselves in the music and memorabilia of Floyd Woodhull and the Old-Tyme Masters. Dancing shoes not required.
Accordions and Quadrilles: The Floyd Woodhull Story will be exhibited through June 2, 2007.
Gallery hours: Tues.—Sat., 10:00am-5:00pm, Sun. 1:00pm-5:00pm
Admission: $3.00 adults, $2.00 seniors, $1.00 children
If you would like to attend the opening or need additional information:
Call: Rebecca Smith at, 607.734.4167, ext. 205
Or email: email@example.com