Band hitting all the right notes

The Philadelphia Rhythms are, back, from left, Arnold Johannes, Chris Hendricks and Ivan Hendricks, and in front, Macwillian Diedericks, Melisha Minnaar and Dale Hendricks.

For the past 70 years, a band spanning multiple generations has been entertaining crowds all over the city.

The Philadelphia Rhythms, from Sybrand Park, was founded in 1947 by, the late Arend Hendricks, a trumpeter.

As a young man, Arend and his peers were schooled in the various traditions of orchestras which operated since the first half of the century in and around Cape Town.

One such orchestras was Joe Murray’s Philharmonic Orchestra which Arend and childhood friend, John “Joepies” Thomas, were members of.

Arend later decided to venture on his own and formed the Philadelphia Rhythms dance band, with the assistance and input of Joepies and some of the young talented musicians who would become household names in their respective communities.

“John was a renowned banjo player on the Cape Flats music scene, also known as the Banjo Man,” said Arend’s son, Chris Hendricks, who currently leads the band.

“They focused on producing a unique and distinct sound, placing a particular importance on the harmony which comprised trumpet and three or four saxophones. This they not only achieved, but did masterfully,” said Chris.

This was the start of the Cape’s dance band era, with a variety of new dance bands coming into existence. In 1971, Arend had to retire due to ill health and his son, Gerald Hendricks, took over the leadership.

Chris described the 1940s, 50s and 60s as “magical moments” as dance halls were a buzz with celebration of music and dance. “Ladies in their swirling dresses and gentlemen in their finest suits, the langarm was an entirely social ballroom event where young love blossomed on the dance floors and communities shared a common love of true Cape Town music,” Chris said.

Until the late 60s, the square and commercial dance styles, created by the coloured people of Cape Town were a must at every function. On a Sunday during the summer months, many organisations held outings at picnic sites across the peninsula where the band would entertain the crowd.

The Philadelphia Rhythms also played at the ball in the Cape Town City Hall to celebrate Queen of England’s 21st birthday in April 1947. “This was one of the many highlights for the band, being invited by the Cape Town City Council to play at a function of splendor for King George IV and Queen Elizabeth during their tour of this country,” Chris said.

The band also released records in the 1950s, with popular songs including Sunshine of Your Smile, Song of India, There Goes My Heart, Hey There and With These Hands.

Before apartheid’s divisive Group Areas Act of 1950, bands like Philadelphia Rhythms played at dances in venues across the city, entertaining their many followers.

The Drill Hall or Banqueting Hall in Cape Town, the Weizman Hall in Sea Point, the Mowbray, Woodstock and Wynberg Town Halls, were some of the venues where regular dances took place.

In the early 1960s people of colour were prohibited from using these venues for their fundraising and moved to liquor-serving establishments, such Retreat Hotel, Athlone Hotel, Snannies Inn, and Beverley lounge, on the Cape Flats.

“This not only created a new generation of heavy liquor consuming people but also kept young people from having clean fun, without liquor, a culture which has negatively progressed over the decades and what we are witnessing today in our communities,” Chris said.

The pinnacle of the band’s success came in the 60s and 70s, when they played almost every Friday and Saturday night with a matinee on a Saturday afternoon and toured as far afield as Kimberley.

This was the era when a crop of young musicians made their mark in the band including saxophonist, Gerald.

After Arend’s retirement, Gerald assumed leadership.

When Gerald was not occupied with the logistics, he would be scribbling away on his music sheets, churning out new arrangements for the band. They released two records: Any Time Is Party Time in 1973 and For the Good times in 1974.

At that time, they specialised in strict tempo dance music, quicksteps, slow foxtrots and waltzes, which were all done in the “Phillies style” along with sambas and vastrap, playing anything from ballroom to serious jive.

The band’s enduring success can be attributed to the dedication of both Arend and Gerald.

Today, the band is still swinging and can be heard under the leadership of Chris and the 4th generation of musicians gigging at a variety of functions in and around Cape Town.

As part of the band’s 70th anniversary and together with Valiant Heart Xmas Band, celebrating their 60th anniversary in 2018, they will be hosting their annual New Year’s Eve Ball, at the Pinelands SAPS Hall on Sunday December 31.

Tickets cost R150 for singles, R250 for doubles and R800 a table. For more information, contact 084 381 0429.