ANGEL’S CASINO: The Record Hops
by Ann Angel Eberhardt
In the late 1950s the rock-and-roll singing quartet,”Danny & the Juniors,” urged everyone to go to the hop and that is exactly what many teenagers did in those days. While the Korean War and the Cold War were occupying the adults of our country, we oblivious teens were at the record hop, doing the stroll, the stomp, a regional style of jitterbug, slow dancing, and the twist. All this was inspired by the persistent backbeat of rock and roll music, presented live or played on vinyl records by a disc jockey. In his memoir, my dad wrote:
It all started in a modest way. One day I was contacted by the disc jockey (DJ) from the Sharon radio station. He advanced the idea of a dance, which he would promote during his radio program, and I agreed to give it a try. We would split the door entrance fees down the middle. Due to radio advertising and word of mouth, attendance at each dance progressively increased. For music, the DJ played records that were also heard on his radio show. [From “Trivia & Me” by August Angel, 1996]
Fred Cole was probably that first DJ who proposed a record hop deal with Dad. Another DJ who emceed the dances was Marc Howard of WPIC, who went on to become a television news anchor at a variety of stations from 2003 until he retired in 2007: WFMJ-TV in Youngstown, Ohio, New York City’s WPIX, 26 years with WPVI in Philadelphia, and finally with KYW-TV, Philadelphia. Lew Russell was also an announcer at the hops at that time, according to an entry in my 1955 diary.
The Angel’s record hops would sometimes feature up-and-coming stars. My brother, Mike Angel, remembers two guest performers from the Pittsburgh area: Bobby Vinton, whose songs “Blue Velvet”and “Roses are Red (My Love)” became #1 hits in the early 1960s, and the Skyliners, a doo-wop singing group, best known for their 1959 hit “Since I Don’t Have You.” My 1956 diary records a guest visit by Billy Merman, well-known for his song, “900 Miles,” to an “Angel’s” record hop that was raising funds for cancer research.
These teen dances began in July 1954 with a crowd count of around 200 and an entrance fee of a mere 30 cents per attendee. When students returned to school the following September, the hops were moved to Friday nights from 7:00 to 11:00 until the next spring. By then, the number of attendees grew to an average of 500 teens and occasionally topped out at 700. Eventually, the ticket price rose to 50 cents. My friends and I spent many an evening seated at a table near the entrance selling tickets to the dancers. As a receipt, each customer’s left hand was stamped in red ink with the word “Angel” in cursive lettering and surrounded by a circle. Later, technology improved and hands were stamped with an invisible ink that showed up under a blacklight.
If we weren’t working at the entrance, we could be found standing behind the bar at the other end of the vast dance floor, selling potato chips and cold soft drinks, such as Coke or the fruit-flavored Nehi “pop” to the thirsty dancers. The hall became the choice place for teenagers, not only to dance but also to meet new friends and greet old ones, to see and be seen.
However, a new problem developed, as my dad described:
…[T]he playing of records at a public dance drew the ire of musicians and bands. The DJ and I were confronted by members of the Pittsburgh Musicians’ Union, who said the dance would be picketed unless live music was played in addition to records. Also, if recorded songs were played between rest periods of live music, the dance would not be liable for plagiarism. We listened and quickly agreed to bring in a local union band starting with the next dance.
When the DJ advertised the addition of live music to the Friday night dance, teenagers were thrilled. Dancers from as far away as Pittsburgh invaded the hall, filling it to capacity each week. Extra duty police were assigned to control the traffic jams and milling youth, and were paid as a dance expense.
One of those groups was the Del Sinchak Band from Youngstown, Ohio. The group started out as a polka band called Del Saint and the Devils, but switched in the 1950s to rock ‘n’ roll. Besides playing at Angel’s dances, they recorded their own singles and backed popular recordings of the day, such as the Edsels’ Rama Lama Ding Dong in 1958 (with Del tapping a cowbell), and songs by Chuck Berry and Conway Twitty. Sinchak, whose parents were Slovakian immigrants, later returned to his polka heritage. He still leads the band (which includes two of the original musicians) to this day and has won many awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the Cleveland Polka Hall of Fame in 2009. More information can be found on the band’s website.
Dad concluded his memories of the record hop days by writing:
Success of the Friday night dances was an incentive for others to try. Several miles from Angel’s, Thornton Hall started Thursday night dances on their floor normally used for roller-skating. They were fairly successful but no competition to Angel’s. News came that several other “hops” were launched in nearby towns, but Sharpsville’s dances were “tops” in the field.
Linda (Addicott) Marrie (SHS 1960), wrote the following concerning Angel’s Casino:
Angel’s Casino…Nothing stirs the memories of my youth like the thought of Angel’s Casino. It will always be the highlight of my days in Sharpsville. There was nothing better than being there on a Friday night, dancing and enjoying the music and our friends. I often wonder if Mr. Angel knew how much we appreciated him giving us some of the best times of our lives. I doubt if we ever told him but I hope he knew.
I really feel sorry for anyone who didn’t grow up in the 50’s as we did. It was absolutely the best of times.
— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ,
with help from Linda (Addicott) Marrie (SHS 1960)
and August Angel’s memoir “Trivia & Me”, 1996.