Fans, Friends Bid Goodby to Woody Herman
In a traditional and subdued funeral setting far removed from his Thundering Herds that graced American bandstands for five decades, Woodrow Charles Herman was eulogized Monday as “the greatest Pied Piper of American music.”
Speaking at St. Victor’s Roman Catholic Church in West Hollywood, where Herman married his wife in 1936 and where her funeral service was held in 1982, Msgr. George J. Parnassus said that he had offered the dying clarinetist, bandleader and singer a musical service more oriented to the frantic style of the swing bands that had permeated his life.
But “he said he wanted the ‘regular stuff,’ ” said Parnassus of his longtime parishioner.
“It was easy to be his friend. He was a genuine person, easy to like, who loved his faith,” Parnassus added, noting that the funeral Mass was being conducted on All Souls Day in which Christians remember the dead worldwide.
Herman, in financial difficulties because of tax debts, died Thursday at age 74 of pneumonia and other respiratory complications.
Most recently, a series of fund-raisers realized about $140,000 to help pay the rent on Herman’s Hollywood Hills home. There is legislation pending in Congress to forgive the bandleader’s tax debts.
Herman’s daughter, Ingrid Herman Reese, blamed her father’s financial problems on a former business manager who failed to withhold payroll taxes for three years in the 1960s.
Some members of the old Herds--Nat Pierce and Ralph Burns among them--were on hand Monday to say their farewells, as were such Herman colleagues as bandleaders Les Brown, Ray Anthony and Henry Mancini.
But there seemed as many friends and neighbors in the crowd of about 200 as there were musicians. And of the musicians, many had since given up the rigors of the road for a more settled life.
“Woody and I shared a bandstand when he fronted his first band in 1937,” said Zinn Arthur, long retired from music.
The eulogy was delivered by Jack Siefert, a nonprofessional, who also was on hand that night in 1937 when “The Band That Plays the Blues,” as Herman called his first group, made its debut.
“I was a fan and became a friend,” Siefert said. “We shared a milkshake together that first night and a lot more over the years.”
It was Siefert who called Herman the Pied Piper of modern music, a man who kept his bands on the road and before the public throughout his life and even after death. (The latest Herman band is currently on a tour of the Midwest.)
And it wasn’t just Herman’s need for money that kept him in front of a band, Les Brown said.
“He would have stayed on the road without all his financial problems. He just loved it,” said Brown, adding that, because he doesn’t travel with his own Band of Renown, his appearances now average little more than one a week.
Anthony was asked if he, Herman, Brown and Benny Carter were the last of a once-thriving breed of Big Band leaders.
“There’s Tex Beneke and Les Elgart and . . . ,” he answered, his voice trailing off. “There’s a few left. But not enough. . . .”
After the 50-minute service, Herman was buried at Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery.