Baron Elliott

Territory Dance Band and staff Orchestra for WJAS and WCAE
Baron Elliott was a saxophonist and leader of the Stardust Melodies Orchestra, a territory dance band that toured the Midwest and broadcast live daily on stations WJAS and WCAE from 1936 through 1951. Baron Elliott’s orchestra was also heard nationally on the CBS radio network in 1939 and 1940. The Stardust Melodies orchestra entertained fans for 47 years appearing at ballrooms and dance halls before crowds as large as 3,000 in Chicago, Columbus, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Washington DC, and Pittsburgh. Their signature song “Stardust Melodies” was released in 1943 on the Musicraft label and they also recorded for Decca in the 1950s.  The band was noted for their smooth sweet "Guy Lumbardo like" dance music.  Several alumni of the band went onto national success including Broadway singer and recording artist Lisa Kirk, arranger Billy May, and Grammy winning arranger Sammy Nestico.

Charles Craft Mastes Many Instruments

Baron Elliott, whose real name was Charles Craft, was born in Troy Hill section of Pittsburgh in 1915.  At age 6 his family moved to Reserve Township.  He was one of two children.  His father was a steel worker and later car body repairman.
  
Charles Craft’s interest in music began at age 5 when his mother brought him a harmonica.  Craft’s grandfather bought him a violin at age seven and he began seven years of private violin lessons.  At Allegheny High School he played violin and viola in the school orchestra.  His also learned bassoon at the request of his orchestra director.  His father bought him an alto saxophone and he quickly master it so that he could play in the high school dance band..
  
In addition to his music Charles Craft was a talented pitcher and captain of his high school’s championship baseball team.  He also pitched for sandlot teams.

Baron’s first experience leading a band was at St. Josephs Orphan Asylum, on the site of North Catholic High School, where he taught 30 children to play harmonica every Friday afternoon.  He organized a an eight piece dance band in 1933 during his high school senior year.  They performed at the Lowrie Theater on Troy Hill and at proms and social events.

Baron Elliott on WJAS Radio 

After Craft’s graduation in 1933 Pittsburgh radio station WJAS-AM hired Charles Craft’s band to do a live regular Sunday afternoon show.  Charles Craft decided to adopt a stage name in 1934.  He asked the band members to throw their name suggestions into a hat.  Charles randomly picked the name “Baron Elliott Orchestra” out of the hat.    

The Sunday WJAS show increased the Barron Elliott Orchestra’s popularity in the Pittsburgh area.  They performed frequently with long engagements at Kennywood Park, the Palisades in McKeesport, West View Park and downtown hotels.  The orchestra was hired as the official full time staff orchestra of WJAS in 1936.  Broadcasting daily from Pittsburgh the orchestra was heard in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania.   In the big band era live music was the main feature of many broadcast radio stations.

Touring Territory Band

In 1937 the Barron Elliott Orchestra signed with MCA, one of the biggest booking agencies in the U.S.  They made their first big out of town appearance performing at the Castle Farms Club in Cincinnati.  That engagement led to steady bookings across the Midwest.   They sometimes made 30 appearances per month.  The signed with the William Morris agency in 1940 and continued to tour the Midwest.

Around 1938 Barron hired Pittsburgh trombonist/ trumpet player Billy May.  May also wrote arrangements for the band.  In July of 1938 Billy May met band leader Charlie Barnett and began writing arrangements for the Barnett band.  May joined Barnett's band in 1939 working a the arranger and a trumpeter.  May went on toe writer arrangements for Frank Sinatra, Nat "King" Cole, Peggy Lee, Vic Damone, Ella Fitzgerald and many others.  He also wrote music for many popular television shows. 

WCAE Radio

The Baron Elliott Orchestra became the staff orchestra at WCAE-AM (now WEAE) in 1940.  . They perofrmed live on the air five nights a week with a half-hour show.  During 1939 and 1940 the Barron Elliott Orchestra was also heard nationally on the CBS Radio Network performing 15 minute live shows on Tuesdays and Sundays.

Sammy Nestico joined the Baron Elliot Orchestra in 1941 at age 17.   Song pluggers came to the station to convince Baron Elliot to play their tunes.  If Baron liked a song he would give the piano sheet to Nestico to arrange for the band.

Stardust Melodies Single

In 1942 the Baron Elliott Stardust Melodies Orchestra recorded the single "Stardust Melodies / Vos Zokt Eer.  It was initially released in Pittsburgh on the National Record Mart label.  Musicraft Records purchased the master to distribute the song nationally in 1943.  According to  Billboard Magazine the "Vos Zokt Eer" song was shipped to 200,000 juke boxes in the U.S. over a four week period.  Billboard review the single comparing Baron Elliott's "smooth and sweety styled music" to that of Guy Lumbardo. .

With their single and national radio exposure on CBS, the band was offered an engagement in New York City at the Edision Hotel.  It could have been their big break into the New York market.  But World War II and Uncle Sam called the Baron to service.  Three weeks before the Edison Hotel engagement was to begin Charles Craft entered the U.S. Army. 

Uncle Sam Drafts the Baron

Charles Craft, aka the Baron, continued to be a band leader in the U.S. Army.  He was assigned to the the 35th Special Services Company in Europe and became a staff Sargent.   He organized an orchestra and produced camp show titled "Broadway in Khaki" that was performed throughout the European theater.  Before the Normandy invasion his show was staged for troops in England, Wales, and Scotland.  Four weeks after the Normandy landing his musical troop was sent to France to entertain GIs at hospitals and in the R&R areas near the front lines.  They followed fighting forced  into Belgium, Luxemburg, and Germany.

Elliot's army troop was performing in the Belguin town of Malmedy in December 1944 when the Germans launched the Battle of the Bulge. Elliott and his band were were given weapons and fought to defend the town. Elliott's daughter said in an interview "During the Battle of the Bulge he slept with his saxophone on one side and his gun on the other side," Elliott was awarded a Bronze star for his combat action.

Discharged from the Army in December of 1945 Baron Elliot returned to WCAE .

End of the Big Band Era

Baron Elliott's Orchestra appeared daily on WCAE at 6:15 PM from 1946 through 1951.  The band continued to play at the William Penn Hotel, West View Park's Danceland and Kennywood along with one night prom and party shows.  The orchestra released the single "No One Could Love You More" on Decca in November of 1951.

But ballroom dancing and the big band era slowly died out.  People stayed home to watch television, went to night baseball games, and turned to rock and modern jazz.  The ballrooms went out of business. The the last steady extended engagement for Elliott's band was the Ankara club in 1951.  

The work for Elliott's band shrunk to weekend dates in smaller clubs and bars.  Elliot took a job selling cars in 1955 and he told his band members to find day jobs.  Two members formed their own popular Pittsburgh area dance bands: Benny Benack and Lee Kelton.

Baron Elliot had a television show sponsored by Iron City Beer on KDKA TV during the 1960s that ran for 39 weeks. 

Charles Craft continued in auto sales becoming a sales manager at a dealership in Mckees rocks in 1972.  Craft later worked for  Mt. Lebanon Motors and North Hills Chrysler.

Charles Craft disbanded the Baron Elliott band in 1981 after 47 years in the music business.  He also retired from his sales job in 1981 to become a snowbird.spending his winters in Port Charlotte Florida and his summers at his Ross Township, Pa home.  

Baron Elliott continued to perform as a solo sax player entertaining residents of nursing homes such as the Vincentian Home in McCandless, the Kane Regional Nursing Centers..

Charles J. "Baron Elliott" Craft, suffered a heart attack in November of 2002 and died of a stroke at age 88 on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2003, in Venice, Florida. 

Stardust Melodies
Billboard Magazine Feb 1943