The founders of The Coon-Sanders Nighthawk Orchestra were Carleton Coon and Joe Sanders. Coonie, as he was affectionately known was born in Lexington, Missouri but moved to Kansas City with his family as a young child. Sanders was born in Parsons, Kansas and grew up in Belton, Missouri. He received the nickname “The Old Left Hander” due to his skills in baseball. The two met one another in at Jenkins Music Store in downtown Kansas City. Joe was playing piano and when Carleton came in to buy some accessories for his drums. Very much impressed by the other’s musical abilities, he introduced himself and fast became friends. By 1920 the two decided to for The Coon-Sanders Novelty Orchestra.


In 1922 they became the first regularly broadcast musical group from 11:30 PM to 1:00 AM over WDAF Radio from the Muehlbach in downtown Kansas City. This station could be heard throughout the United States. Because WADF was so accessible to many people throughout the US the band skyrocketed in popularity and helped establish Kansas City as one of the country’s music capitals. As a result of their newly gained national attention it wasn’t long before the first ever radio fan club was born. The Nighthawks fan club as they were known were encouraged to send in requests via letter, telegram or telephone. Eventually they reached such popularity that Western Union set up a ticker tape between Coonie and Sanders’ instruments so that they could acknowledge telegrams between broadcasts.


In 1924 the group finally hit the road to Chicago for a three month long engagement at the Congress Hotel. During this stay the band recorded with the Victor Label. From 1924 to 1932 the band became one of the label’s most popular bands and the most consistent of sellers, releasing no less than 65 sides. While the band was busy playing a summer engagement at the Lincoln Tavern they were approached by one Jules Stein. Stein would later form the Music Corporation of America or MCA, one of America’s most prominent booking agencies. While in Chicago the band moved to the Blackhawk Restaurant and turned it into the hottest places to be. One of the restaurants regulars was the famous gangster Al Capone who was one of the Coon Sanders Band’s biggest fan, often leaving them $100 tips.   Eventually the band hit the road once more and made a new home in New York for an eleven month contract to play at the Hotel New Yorker Terrace Room where their CBS broadcasts were sponsored by Lucky Strike Cigarettes. Despite their great successes, Coonie was the only member of the band who loved being in New York. The nightlife of the city appealed to him greatly and he was known to frequent many night clubs in Harlem. There he met Cab Calloway who told him that it was Coonie that influenced his vocal style and that the Nighthawks were one of his favourite bands. While Coonie was out having the time of his life, Joe and the rest of the band was less than impressed with what New York City had to offer them. The bands mutual homesickness could be easily heard in their new theme titled “I Want to Go Home” which was one of the last recordings of their sessions with the Victor Label in 1932l. It was also at this time that music tastes in America were on the rise of change and they were ready for people like Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington and other African-American bands  to take the stage. May 4th, 1932  was the day that both Carleton Coon and The Coon-Sanders Nighthawks Orchestra died. Coonie succumbed to a jaw infection and the band was both literally and metaphorically broken up about it His funeral was taken back to Kansas City and was one of the biggest processions the city had ever seen. Despite Joe Sander’s efforts to keep the band together for the better part of a year, he ultimately wound up disbanding the group on Easter Sunday of 1933.   Though the band is long gone, the Christopher Conference Center located in Chilicothe, Ohio still holds the annual Coon Sanders Nighthawks Fan Bash which is a celebration of dixieland jazz.








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“Coon Sanders Nighthawks Orchestra.” Coon Sanders Nighthawks Orchestra. (accessed April 22, 2014).   Edmiston, Fred W.. The Coon-Sanders Nighthawks: the band that made radio famous. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2003.
“Who were the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks?.” home. (accessed April 22, 2014).

All images from the Missouri Valley Special Collections.