Just what inspired Harold Betters to pick up that jazzy trombone?
EDITOR'S NOTE: On Thursday, feisty trombone legend Harold Betters of Connellsville will celebrate his 85th birthday doing what he does best: playing his own special jazz fused with rhythm and blues — “Just hopin' to get ‘em up to dance.” Harold's got his love for music naturally: from his musical family.
When Harold Betters was a kid growing up on Connellsville's West Side, he faced a musical dilemma: which instrument would he pick?
“It was never a question of whether or not I would play music,” Betters said during a recent interview at his Francis Avenue home. “It was simply expected.”
Betters' Eighth Street childhood home was steeped in music, led by his father, George, who played the violin.
Lela, Betters' oldest sibling, was a pianist. His other sister, Vera, enjoyed singing. His two older brothers played instruments: Jim on trumpet and George on saxophone. Younger brother Edgar also embraced the sax and Jerome, or Jerry, was a drummer who sang.
Harold was born fifth in a family of seven. He idolized his oldest brother Jim. “I really wanted to play the trumpet, but I didn't want to compete with Jimmy,” Betters said. “My Lord, could he play!”
Influenced by Dorsey
Betters, growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, had another idol — Tommy Dorsey, whose big band swing sound Betters admired.
“I finally got to see Tommy Dorsey,” Betters remembered. “Man, I was spellbound!”
Betters enjoyed watching his brothers play in Connellsville High School's marching band. Jim was its drum major.
“I remember being at parades and Mom would say, ‘Harold, look! Here comes Jimmy!' Jim would be out in front of the band, prancing in that fancy drum major uniform and throwing the baton way up high.”
Recalling Jim & Jerry
Betters lost his big brother Jim, who died in 2002. Jim lives on in the memory of his family and older Connellsville residents who will never forget his mournful trumpet playing “Taps” at the city's Memorial Day services each May. He performed for decades with Connellsville's Molinaro Marching Band, which celebrates its centennial this year.
Harold Betters has enjoyed a thriving trombone career; his “baby brother” Jerry also did well with the Jerry Betters Band. Harold and Jerry often played together. Their first public gig was at the Betters Grille and Hotel. Owned by their family, it was located on Water Street near the old B&O Railroad station and was managed by their mother, Lela (Bell) Betters and later by his older brothers, Jim and George.
“Jerry was a real character. He was a lot of fun to be around,” said Betters, who lost Jerry in a 2007 tragedy that came out of nowhere. The two brothers had planned to have breakfast together when Harold received an abrupt telephone call from his younger brother, Edgar. “He was in a panic. He said, ‘Harold, you gotta get over here fast. Jerry just got hit by a truck.'”
It's ‘Harold & Vera'
Jerry Betters was struck as he tried to cross Eighth Street (Route 119), and died at age 74.
“It was such a shock,” said Harold, whose wife Marjorie (“Bunny”) and brother Edgar passed away a couple years later. “Now it's only me and (sister) Vera, who lives in Atlanta, Ga. But we have our memories.”
On Thursday, the feisty trombone legend will celebrate his 85th birthday doing what he does best: playing his own special jazz fused with rhythm and blues — “Just hopin' to get ‘em up to dance.”
Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.
Wednesday: Harold Betters recounts growing up in Connellsville and the racial barricades faced by African Americans in Pre-Civil Rights America.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Storm watch in effect for Sunday, Monday in Fayette County
- Gaming proceeds fund emergency units
- Geibel distributes new computers to each student
- Fayette County zoning board considers proposed resort in Dunbar Township
- Fayette officials reappoint dead man
- Measles warning issued to Connellsville
- Fayette dad’s appeal denied in 2012 conviction
- Demolitions worry Connellsville health board
- Connellsville business owner’s loss of pet prompts fund for animal respirators
- Connellsville finances discussed
- Senator opens Connellsville office