Brother Vincent Lopez
Anatomy of a Band Leader

by Sir Knight Joseph E. Bennett, KYCH, 33º, FPS

    Messner and his Music Box Band had been a fixture at the plush Marine Grill Room of the Hotel McAlpin for years. His elegant alto saxophone and clarinet performances qualified Johnny to fill the lead chair in any reed section. In addition, he was also an excellent singer with a fine formal musical education the perfect choice for Vincent Lopez.

    The new assistant leader relieved Vincent of a great many responsibilities. He called and conducted rehearsals, became the band's featured vocalist and instrumental ,soloist, and served as leader when Lopez was absent. Most important, he provided the freedom necessary for Vincent to prospect for opportunities in the newest entertainment medium-television.

    Lopez was convinced there were great opportunities in pioneer TV programming, similar to those in radio two decades earlier. His public image had been sustained during the war years by virtue of the radio audience who listened to the band's continuous broadcasting from the Taft Grill. The strains of Lopez' piano theme "Nola" continued to be a familiar musical radio identification well into the decade of the 1950s. It was as much a part of the Lopez persona as the cryptic greeting, "Lopez speaking." A number of recorded live broadcasts survive to confirm the quality of Vincent's tasty musical offerings. Regardless of ill health and his eclectic business responsibilities, Vincent Lopez still provided the musical image necessary for his band. His presence at the keyboard, playing a musical specialty like Zez Confrey's venerable "Kitten On the Keys," never failed to delight the patrons. His strong piano lead continued to anchor the arrangements, as always.

    By the late 1940s, Vincent's health had declined to an alarming level. He needed a full-time nurse to monitor his medical needs and provide necessary home care. The obvious candidate was Betty Long, a registered nurse and longtime Bible student. Her resume included credits as a song composer and clothes designer, in addition to her qualifications as a nurse. Betty was the ideal medical attendant for. Vincent. Almost immediately, she took over the management of the maestro's personal life, which included a generous dose of social discipline. Before long, they
    were married. Lopez settled into a structured domestic routine for the first time in his life. Within a brief period, his health improved dramatically, and he began to enjoy a level of contentment he had never achieved in his adult life. Healthy and mentally rejuvenated, Lopez made many early television appearances over the DuMont TV network. He was also an honored guest on Ed Sullivan's nationwide show.

    Before long, DuMont signed Lopez to a 15-minute daily TV program. He played the piano, chatted with show business guests, and interviewed audience visitors in an informal, personal style. The program grew into a national weekly television show, which included a guest list with more than 200 famous entertainment personalities. A Dinner Date With Vincent Lopez" enjoyed two and a half years of national popularity.

    Johnny Messner departed at the end of 1958. Lopez disbanded his orchestra to devote time to a scaled-down musical agenda. He played a number of engagements in Las Vegas with a small band and was very successful. However, his chronic eye problem plagued him after World War II.
    By 1960 it became acute and required a series of surgical procedures. In spite of his vision difficulties, Vincent was able to continue his musical appearances on a limited scale and to participate in a number of ancillary business ventures. Secure financially for the first time in his life, he was contemplating retirement as the decade of the sixties ended.
    Vincent and Betty retired to a quiet life in Florida, where the little Portuguese maestro lived out his life in tranquil contentment. As his health eroded, he was eventually compelled to live in a private nursing home. Lopez died quietly in a North Miami hospital on September 20, 1975. He was 85 years old. His demise occurred two years after his 50-year recognition from the Grand Lodge of New York, on August 21, 1973. His symbolic membership was in the venerable St.
    Cecile Lodge No. 568 in New York City, as was that of Paul Whiteman.

    St. Cecile was founded after the Civil War as a daylight lodge catering to the working habits of the entertainment community. Its membership rolls over the years have reflected the names of countless distinguished musical and stage personalities. Among the most prominent names "on its rolls are those of Vincent Lopez and Paul Whiteman.

    Lopez received his E.A. Degree on June 5, 1923, his F.C. Degree on August 7, and the M.M. Degree on August 21, 1923, Author William Ray Denslow lists Lopez as being a member of "Cabellerus de America Lodge" in Buenos Aires, Argentina. That lodge, no longer listed on the international register, may have been one simply listed as "America Lodge No. 32" on the current record. However, the archives of the Grand Lodge of New York are silent in regard to Vincent's membership in Argentina.
    When Lopez died in 1975, he left a record of half a century devoted to memorable musical entertainment. Over those five decades, he carved a niche in the pantheon of popular musical giants which will endure for all time. He earned and squandered vast sums of money, but in the end, he managed to close his career in financial security. Nevertheless, his legacy as a founding father of the Big Band Era is unblemished. We, as Freemasons, are obliged to revere his memory as a faithful and distinguished member of the Craft. Vincent Lopez alone suffered the consequences for his personality flaws during his long life, and we are not privileged to pass judgment on any of his actions. It behooves us, as Freemasons, to wrap his faults and foibles in the mantle of Masonic charity. Our own frailties demand it.

    DeLONG, THQMAS A.: Pops, pub: New Century Publishers, Inc., Piscataway, New Jersey, 1983 DENSLOW, WILLIAM R.: 10,000 Famous Freemasons, Vol. III, pub: Missouri Lodge of Research, 1959
    DEXTER, DAVE: Playback, pub: Billboard Publications, New York, N.Y., 1976 LOPEZ, VINCENT: Lopez Speaking, pub: Citadel Press, New York, N.Y.
    SIMON, GEORGE T.: The Big Bands, pub: Macmillan Company, New York, N.Y.,1967 WALKER, LEO:
    The Big Band Almanac, pub: Vinewood Enterprises, Inc.,Hollywood, California, 1978
    The Wonderful Era of the Great Dance Bands, pub: Howell-North Books, Berkeley, California, 1964, Da Capo Press, New York, N.Y., 1990

    Archives of the Grand Lodge of New York, A.F. & A.M. Archives of St. Cecile Lodge No. 568, New York, N.Y.
    Sir Knight Joseph E. Bennett, KYCH, 33º, FPS, and P.D.D.G.M. of the Grand Lodge of Ohio, is a member of Holy Grail Commandery No. 70, Lakewood, Ohio. He resides at: 1001 South Diamond Street, Nampa, ID 83686.

Published 080514 Updated: August 12, 2014