Once Upon a Time

Teenie Weenie Orchestra made big musical impact

The Teenie Weenie Orchestra, a creation of Georgia Morey, was formed in 1922 in Quincy. It took its name from a popular 1920s comic strip called "The Teenie Weenies." The orchestra was made up of Morey's own violin students and other children who played woodwind, brass and percussion instruments. | Photo courtesy of Quincy Public Library
Posted: Jan. 19, 2020 12:01 am

The Teenie Weenie Orchestra presented its first concert to the Round Table Club and other invited guests on Dec. 14, 1922, in the Webster School auditorium.

The conductor, Georgia Morey, violin teacher at Quincy Conservatory, formed the orchestra in November 1922 with some of her younger pupils, all under 12 years old.

Original Teenie Weenie music was composed by Marx Oberndoffer, director of the Minneapolis Symphony, bringing to life the characters in the Teenie Weenie family created by William Donahey in his comic strips. The music had been recently published and Morey was one of the first to order it while in Chicago in the fall of 1922. Morey was born in Barry, Ill., on May 7, 1889, to Henry and Anna Ellers. She married George E. Morey in 1913 and had a son, George Morey Jr.

Morey taught violin and piano at the Quincy Conservatory of Music and became well known for her ability to work with young students. The orchestra met once a week at her home at 432 N. Sixth to practice.

For the Teenie Weenie program, Salla Lee Hart introduced the orchestra dressed as the "big little girl" who loves the "Teenie Weenies," according to The Quincy Daily Journal on Nov. 19, 1922.

Adele Smith, playing a "Lady of Fashion" and a teacher, was pianist. Other members performed as the following characters: "Clown" by Robert Botts, "Mr. Lover" by Alexander Waldfogel, "Mrs. Lover" by Ruth Buss, "Policeman" by Carl Luthin, "Cowboy" by Sammie Waldfogel, "Cook" by Max Meyer, "General" by Theodore Pezman, "Dunce" by Billy Wessels, "Indian" by James Monanteras and "Chinaman" by George Morey Jr.

Special scenery and costumes were used for the performances by the orchestra, with the "Lady of Fashion" and her stylish clothes and the "Policeman" with his star.

The Quincy Daily Herald on Nov 20, 1922, wrote about the first performance, where the Teenie Weenie Orchestra presented two numbers: "The Lady of Fashion Waltz" and "A Chinese Monday."

The stage was arranged with a 2-foot high thimble for the "Chinaman" to conduct his wet wash and with a clothesline strung at one side. The performance featured Salla Lee Hart "in a pretty frock" introducing the Teenie Weenie family.

Adele Smith, as the "Lady of Fashion," portrayed the piano teacher who taught the Teenie Weenies to perform and "sat gracefully at her piano," said The Quincy Daily Herald on Dec. 16. Robert Botts, as the clown in his funny suit, played the orchestra leader with flourishes for the other characters as they performed on violins. In December 1922, it was reported that Morey had received a letter from Mr. Oberndorf, the composer, asking about the orchestra.

As its original performance was a success, the Teenie Weenie Orchestra continued to perform in the area. The next performance was Dec. 17, 1922, for the Temple B'nai Sholom. The orchestra performed for the Junior Music club on Jan. 19, 1923, at the Webster School auditorium. Other performances included the Luther Memorial church on Feb. 22 and Woodland Home on Feb. 25. On May 12, 1923, the Teenie Weenies joined the program for the Music Week recital by pupils of the children's department at the Quincy Conservatory of Music.

Music Week was an annual event started in 1921 to showcase the talents of musicians from the conservatory with a weeklong program of concerts and shows.

On Dec. 21, 1923, the Teenie Weenie Orchestra again played for the Juvenile Music Club at Webster School, with several new members added. Among the violinists there also now was a cornetist, drummer, clarinetist and pianist.

On April 6, 1924, the listing of actors featured new characters, including: Irene Selvan as "Queen Moole"; Ralph Davidson as the "Turk"; George Morey as "Grandpa"; Carl Luthin as the "Aviator"; Sylvester Toben as "Paddy Pinn" -- tallest of the Teenie Weenies; Junior Musolin as "Rufus Rhyn," a poet; and Billy Wessels as the "Sailor."

The orchestra continued to grow in popularity over the years, and other new characters were added, including a nurse and a scout.

The popular children's orchestra continued to play throughout the area. The group was scheduled to play at Madison School on April 25, 1924, and also at the Methodist Church in Barry in May 1924 for a social to raise money for a new church building. The orchestra continued to play in the Conservatory of Music's Music Week festivities throughout the 1920s.

On Feb. 14, 15, and 16, 1925, the orchestra was scheduled to perform on the stage at the Washington Square Theater, which opened in 1924. At the time, the orchestra had 16 members between the ages of 6 and 10. However, on Jan. 30, 1925, it was reported that the concert had to be canceled because of child labor and curfew laws.

W.H. Curran, head of the Illinois Department of Labor, notified Joseph Desberger, manager of the Washington Square Theater, that the children must be 16 years old to appear on a stage in Illinois. On Feb. 8, 1925, this ruling was reversed after the true nature of the production was explained to Curran, with the production rescheduled for Feb. 19, 20 and 21, 1925.

The Teenie Weenie Orchestra entertained audiences in Quincy throughout the 1920s and 1930s under the direction of Morey. All of the young musicians went on to play in the high school music program, and many were involved in music in adulthood.

On Nov. 8, 1944, Morey died unexpectedly after surgery in Chicago. Her orchestra students lost a dedicated teacher and talented musician.


Melissa DeVerger is a librarian and a Quincy native with an interest in history.



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