Daughter writes of dad’s dancing career

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Jacob Schaperow

Moon Over Vaudeville by Maureen McCabe follows the travels of tap dancer Weldon Barr from one gig to another all over the United States, with long stops in the Washington area.

Ostensibly, it is a biography of the author’s father, a 1930s entertainer. But Moon Over Vaudeville isn’t all about Weldon Barr.

It’s about a time period. The most fascinating thing about this book is the sense of history it conveys. Looking at one of Weldon’s newspaper clippings, the first headline you see is “‘Slapsie Maxie’ Rosenbloom in Person!” with Weldon’s name boxed in red. The second headline you see is “The Real Story of Nazi Terror.” There’s more going on here than just vaudeville.

McCabe, along with graphic designer Clyde Adams, used her father’s scrapbook to put together the book over the last two and a half years. This is McCabe’s first book, and her plans for the future include possibly doing a compilation on photographers of the time.

Tap dancing through time

The book details each significant phase in Weldon’s vaudeville career chronologically. It also goes into some detail about Weldon’s dance partner, the people he worked with, and the places where he performed.

It was here in Washington where Weldon learned to tap dance. He was a telegram delivery boy when he moved here in 1927. One of the other boys was showing off his tap dancing moves when Weldon said, “Hey, show me how to do that.”

He taught himself all he could and then he went to Howard University looking for students with tap-dancing experience who would teach him what they knew.

Weldon and his dance partner, Honey Dalzell, traveled the vaudeville circuit until 1937. They performed together and with an ensemble called the Britton Band.

In 1941, Weldon was drafted into the army. He never stopped entertaining, though. In the army, he entertained soldiers; he took their minds off the war.

Vaudeville did the same thing for the population at large. It took their minds off their troubles and let them relax. Weldon got first place in the talent show auditions for the army production, Snap It Up Again, while he was stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland.

Capturing memories

Weldon returned to the Washington area in 1947, after his Army service, to settle down and start a family. In 1949, he and his wife started Weldon Barr Dance Studio at 1735 Connecticut Ave., N.W. (now a photography store). During this time, his wife, Patty, got him started scrapbooking.

“When she met him, in the late ’40s, she actually started putting the scrapbook together for him because he was losing [their photos and newspaper clippings], or he was giving stuff away. So she started getting him organized to keep the things,” McCabe said in an interview.

In the introduction, McCabe admits that she didn’t find her father’s vaudeville scrapbook particularly interesting when she was growing up. But as she matured, she gained an appreciation for her father’s vaudeville career.

“Sadly, while my father was alive, it never occurred to me to ask him about vaudeville, which was undoubtedly one of the highlights of his life,” she writes in the introduction. Luckily, she still had that scrapbook.

Moon Over Vaudeville costs $19.95, $24.90 with shipping. It can be purchased through the website www.moonovervaudeville.com, or a check made out to Moon Over Vaudeville can be mailed to P.O. Box 757, Bellingham, WA 98227. McCabe can be reached at (360) 255-3790.