Brief History of the Withrow Minstels

The Start of Withrow’s Famous Musical Shows

Adapted from an entry in the 1948 Withrow Annual.

Very few at Withrow know how the show got its start.  In 1929, Mr. George G. Smith a young, ambitious musician with generations of musical background and his inherited nickname—”Smittie,” came to Withrow as a part time band director and harmony teacher.  In 1930, the Withrow alumna association wanted a little musical program for part of its entertainment.  Mr. Nelson Walkie was the director, and Smittie had the job of handling the musical end of the program.

The first stage set; a very simple one, was merely a backdrop of grey curtains with a painted wooden moon hung in the

center of the stage  above the orchestra.  There were a few soloists, but the major part of the program was handled by the orchestra alone.  That performance was such a success that it was decided to repeat the show in order to make money for the band.  With the contribution of a piccolo from Tower News, Smittie and the orchestra set out to build up the show.  The Ponies were added along with more soloists, and the entire program rounded out. 

In 1932, the minstrels had no equipment, so they rented lights; and had Mr. Paul Henkel joined them.  Mr. Henkel was a master at set design and produced some beautiful, imaginative backgrounds for the show.  The first pony costumes were made of oil cloth and were knee length.  The show was a scintillating hit.  Smittie and his Minstreleers  did wonders for school spirit and school pride.

1932 was the “opportunity year” for the show.  The Wurtlitzer Music Company offered a prize, a trophy, and a week at the R.K.O. Albee in Cincinnati plus an engagement in the R.K.O. Keith’s in Cleveland. The students begged, teased, tormented and finally succeeded in persuading Smittie to enter the orchestra in the contest—it won the “opportunity review.”  That gave the show its great boost.  For thirty-five years (1930—1965) the show grew and prospered, until Smittie’s retirement in 1965, but it did so only through the tireless efforts of Mr. and Mrs. George G. Smith, the III.  They’ll always be “Smittie” and his wife Thelma at Withrow.