Gifted on violin

First Posted: 2/23/2015

LIMA — Members of the Needlework Club likely didn’t know it, but when the club presented the play “Lost, a Comet” at Memorial Hall on a late-winter evening in 1927, they were seeing some true talent in its early stages.

In a column titled “News in Colored Circles,” the Lima News on March 17, 1927, listed Maidie Ruth Gamble among the play’s cast and Thomas A. Page Jr. as providing entertainment on the piano between acts. Fourteen-year-old Gamble would become the accomplished stage, screen and television actress Maidie Ruth Norman; Page, who was not yet 11 years old that night in 1927, would pick up the violin.

Thomas A. Page was born Aug. 22, 1916, to Thomas J. Page and Loretta Washington Page, who had married Nov. 24, 1914, in Lima. Page’s father often was listed in city directories as a janitor. Later directories would describe him as a porter, a shoe-shine man and, eventually, a musician. When he died at 83 in May 1966, the News described him as a musician who had “written and published many religious songs.”

For more than 35 years, Page’s mother worked as a maid for the wife of Lima banker and philanthropist Thomas R. Schoonover. Schoonover, who died in January 1958, bought McCullough Lake park, renovated it and donated it to the city of Lima in 1937 as Schoonover Park.

Pages’ parents divorced in November 1936. She eventually married Arthur Holman, who died in an industrial accident in Whiting, Indiana, in January 1949. She died at 72 on May 21, 1965.

If the stratified society of the time offered few role models for an African-American actress like Norman, a budding violinist like Page would seem to have had even fewer. There were prominent jazz violinists like Stuff Smith, who was born in Portsmouth, active during Page’s youth. Earlier, in the late 18th and early 19th century, violinist George Bridgetower, the son of an African father and Polish mother, studied with Haydn and was a friend of Beethoven. Civil War statesman and orator Frederick Douglass also fiddled around with the violin. Douglass’ son and grandson played violin as well.

Page is first described as a solo violinist in a story on a program being presented by the Aeolian Club in the May 12, 1929, edition of the News. On March 16, 1930, the News reported, “A delightful program of music and readings will be given in Second Baptist Church Sunday evening.” Part of the “delightful program” was a violin solo by the 13-year-old Page. And when Second Baptist Church held a ceremony June 7, 1931, honoring the high school graduates among the congregation, the festivities included a reading by Maidie Ruth Gamble and a violin solo by Page.

Page by then was in high school himself, playing first violin in the Central High School orchestra.

“Lima Central high school string ensemble took first place in its event in the eisteddfod (a performance festival which grew out of a Welsh tradition) held Friday afternoon and evening in the Fostoria High School auditorium,” the News wrote April 16, 1932. “The group under the direction of Prof. Mark Evans was composed of Thomas Page, Ralph Goldin, Elizabeth Baxter, Harry Hadsell, Mary Emma Hadsell, Selma Mervis, Doris Keller and Claude Fisher.”

In 1933, during the depths of the Great Depression, Page would lead the orchestra. On Feb. 17 of that year the News reported, “The Dixie Cotton Pickers, an orchestra under the direction of Thomas Page,” would entertain at “the first Family Night program to be held in the new Men’s Recreation Center, South Main Street. … Approximately 400 club members and their wives and families are expected to attend.”

By 1937, Page was studying violin at a prestigious preparatory school in North Carolina. “Thomas Page Jr., colored, son of Mrs. Loretta Page, 1413 Oakland Parkway, will appear in a violin recital at St. Paul A.M.E. church, Friday, Aug. 20,” the News wrote. “Page has been a student of the violin since childhood and has excellent technique. He is now attending Palmer Memorial Institute, a preparatory school at Sedalia, N.C., and studying violin under Bernard Mason, professor of music at (North Carolina) A&T.” The Palmer Memorial Institute, founded in 1902, was a school for upper class African-Americans. It closed in the 1970s.

“Mason, a concert violinist himself, is preparing Page for the same position in the musical world,” the News noted. “’I expect great things of Thomas. I wish I had more pupils with his ability and love for his art,’” Mason told the paper.

In the caption of a photo of Page, the News wrote Aug. 19, 1937, that Page “has been acclaimed as one of the outstanding youths of his race in national music circles.”

Page did not live much beyond his youth.

“Thomas A. Page Jr., 37, of 1413 Oakland Parkway, Lima violinist, died at 1 p.m. Sunday in his home after a five-month illness,” the News wrote March 7, 1955. “He attended Central High School, Palmer Institute at Sedalia, N.C., and Teachers College at Winston-Salem, N.C. Before his recent illness he was employed at Oliver’s Tavern as a musician.”

Page is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.

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