Birth and Parents
Charles Wolcott was his parents’ first child, born in Flint, Michigan, U.S.A., on 29 September 1906. His father, Frederick Charles Wolcott, an accountant whose business interests were overshadowed by his love for music, formed a small-town orchestra in which his son participated, on the piano and accordion, from an early age. By the time Charles reached high school he had his own four-piece orchestra (piano, banjo, saxophone, drums) for playing at school dances. When he attended the University of Michigan, his larger band, “Charley Wolcott and his Wolverines”, played for faculty (ballroom) dances and his smaller bands for fraternity and sorority (tea) dances. In the 1920s he went to the larger city of Detroit to play piano in hotels and ballrooms with the Jean Goldkette Organization and also performed on radio shows.
Marriage & Family
Charles married Harriett Marshall, from his hometown of Flint, on 30 August 1928, and soon after they moved to Toronto, Canada, then New York where, in spite of the Depression, he was always able to find work as a pianist, composer, arranger, or conductor with the Paul Whiteman Band, Benny Goodman, the Dorsey brothers, Columbia Records, and network radio programs such as Bums and Allen (George and Gracie), Kate Smith, and Bob Hope.
For the occasion of his 80th birthday in September 1986, he and Harriett travelled to Santa Monica, California, to join most of their family in a celebration. This was the last time they were all to be together. If there was any regret in his happy and productive life it was only this, as he wrote to his granddaughter who was pioneering in Yugoslavia:
It’s sad not to be present during these precious days when one’s grandchildren and great grandchildren are spreading their wings. But there are compensations, however, when we realize the wonderful services being rendered by the various family members…. Nana and I send you loads of love, sorry it can’t be lemon pie too. Maybe next year, Nana will make one for you when you come [to Haifa]. Hasta lavista! [signed] Baba.
The letter is dated August 1986 and the wish could not be fulfilled. Five months later he passed away and was buried in the Baha’i Cemetery at the foot of Mount Carmel after a long and distinguished life dedicated for almost half a century to the Blessed Beauty, Baha’u'llah.
Memorial services were held throughout the world including one arranged by his wife and daughters in the Los Angeles Baha’i Center on 12 April 1987. One of Charles’ music colleagues from his days at MGM Studios, Johnny Green, closed his “Appreciation” remarks saying:
“Throughout the years since the end of our MGM togetherness, Charles and I have remained close through regular correspondence and intermittent in-person visits. His letters shared with me the difficulties and horrors that the Baha’is were experiencing [in iran] and his efforts to deal with these soul-searing situations. And, through it all, the beauty of his faith, the purity of his spirit, his divinely inspired patience, calm and kindness imbued life with a strong feeling of hope. All of you here know, even far better than I, what a dynamic force for good Charles W olcott was, not only in the wide circles where he was personally known, but throughout this sorely troubled world. It was my privilege to spend a couple of hours with Charles in person here shortly before his final return to Haifa [in September 1986]. How eagerly he was looking forward to his working retirement! And now he has been called home…. In my heart of hearts I know that Charles Wolcott’s noble and courageous spirit has been given as an inspirational beacon to all of us to make this world the far better place that it just has to be because he passed this way.”
- Text Source: Baha’i World – Vol 20.
- Written By: Sheila Banani (daughter)
- Special Thanks: Dr. Duane Troxel