Herb Sell (3)
Born in 1929 in Pennsylvania, Herb grew up in a time where music was prominent. He talks about the music his mother and father played and how he came to learn how to play the piano.
HERB SELL: And so I worked with the kids and got them all ready, but naturally he– he’d put the finishing touch on. But if they wouldn’t have been in pretty good shape, he never could have done it, you know.
HERB SELL: And so Mike Eaton and I went down to pick him up. And the plane was empty, you know. All these people, a hundred or something must have come out,
HERB SELL: I couldn’t see anything what Jester looked like. I had gone to this movie, Finian’s Rainbow. And he was in that. And I– I think he was in a quartet, and I think I knew which one was him, but I wasn’t quite sure.
HERB SELL: And of course, I had been over, the Air Force had him– the Air Force Band had him as a guest. They were having an all black music, and they had him as a guest that day, and he was directing the sergeants, the singing sergeants. And Eleanor and I went there, and then I saw him backstage and I said, well, we’re– we’re going to soon be together.
HERB SELL: But I still had no idea for sure with all these people coming. He must have been the last one on that airplane, because here comes Jester. So anyway, Mike and I, we brought him back. And I didn’t quite know what to do with him, where to– where to house him, because I didn’t– wasn’t thinking about him staying at my place.
I thought about putting him in a motel. And of course, this motel, the only motel we had was– I forgot– coming up here 140 there.
HERB SELL: And then I got to thinking. I thought, well, if I put him in that motel, what are– what’s he going to do for breakfast and everything. I have to come get him or– well– because I know they didn’t have anything like that there at [INAUDIBLE]
HERB SELL: So then I took him– I brought him up to Lewistown because I was having a party and had all my friends and all the street and everything. Of course, he wanted to show all these pictures from Africa–
HERB SELL: –that he’d just come back from. And oh, he was quite– he was showing all kinds of stuff.
HERB SELL: Well, I go on over to Shoddy’s restaurant, when it was still open, and he had about six rooms over there.
INTERVIEWER: Uh oh.
HERB SELL: So I said, well, show me one of your rooms.
HERB SELL: Well, it only had a bed and a little night– it wasn’t even a desk in it to even write a letter. Just a place to sleep and hang your clothes up. And I thought holy smokes.
I thought, I can’t bring him over here. So then I says, well, he was over there. I said, Eleanor, I said, you think we should ask him to stay with us? Well, she said, why, sure. And we only had one room upstairs, and that was my daughter’s. We sent her up to my mother.
HERB SELL: So we asked him, you know, if he’d like to stay with us. Oh, he says, I sure would. And so from the on, we became very good friends. And I have at least 30– 30 handwritten letters from him. Some must be seven, eight pages long.
HERB SELL: He was telling me everything at that– all the movies he was in.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Yeah.
HERB SELL: And he directed choruses of 10,000 people over in Europe and things.
HERB SELL: So anyway, that worked out real good. And Tommy Damp was– I had him sing a solo with him. Or a duet. But before Jester could do anything, I wasn’t sure whether he was going to make it. So I did like I always did, night. I did a Jerome Kern concert.
And I think– I’m not sure when Jerome Kern was born. 1880, I believe. And this was ’70.
INTERVIEWER: So it would have been 90 years.
HERB SELL: It might have been ’85–
HERB SELL: To ’45.
HERB SELL: So what would that have been? Well, I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: 20, 35 years.
HERB SELL: I don’t know why I did Jerome Kern.
INTERVIEWER: 25 years.
HERB SELL: It was for some reason. So I did the same thing. I– I decided I would– I would– I knew Jerome Kern had one daughter. She was spoiled and she was married to three, four different movie stars, divorced. She was 50 years old at the time. I forget her first name.
And, of course, Jerome Kern was always so busy like all musicians, you know, never get to do things for their kids. That’s the only trouble with music, you have to do things in the nighttime, you know. So I wrote New York again, or telephoned. And I said, would it be possible to get in touch with his daughter?
Oh, yes. They gave me– gave me her address, and her so many names that she packed to. And I wrote to her telling her what I was doing with Jerome Kern. I– I had all these songs. And she wrote the most beautiful letter back. I couldn’t find that one.
HERB SELL: She wrote the most beautiful letter back. She says– she says, in this day and age, she says, she can’t imagine high school kids singing this music of her father’s. And it was hand written, very nice letter, nice stationary. And that’s one of my little mementos that I–
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, sure.
HERB SELL: –like to look at. But anyway, we went on– went– went on with Jerome Kern, and I did– of course, I had Moe Dudder. You’ve probably heard of Moe– Myron– who’s in a lot of shows. I think he’s retired. He was a very good choral director, too.
And I brought him back because when he graduated, I had him do “Old Man River.” And of course, I had him do it in his concert.
HERB SELL: And I changed it so it would go way down as low as he could get when he’d slide down there, you know.
HERB SELL: And of course, Jester made the remark. He says, I never heard that done like that, he says. And so anyway, he’s sitting with my wife. And my wife said he kept saying, he was all nervous, says, my Lord, he says, I didn’t know he was having anything like this in front of me.
He said– this the first time he was here– he said, well Lord, he says. All these people are going to go home by the time he gets up there.
HERB SELL: But they didn’t.
HERB SELL: They didn’t.
HERB SELL: He got on the stage about– I don’t know why it started at 7:30 or not, but that Jerome Kern concert lasts a solid hour, and he got on stage about 10, 15 minutes later. Probably was on there quarter after 10.
HERB SELL: But what a concert. I picked out– I picked out the 100 best from the 160 that I had out in the [INAUDIBLE].
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Yeah. Wow.
HERB SELL: And– and the Gershwin concert, the last number is Oh Lord, I’m on my way. And I had sophomores get up and we had 100, about 180, 190 singing that song.
HERB SELL: So anyway, I picked out the 100 best. I had 40 boys, 60 girls. And what a concert. I– I listen to that recording, and I just– they sound like adults, you know.
HERB SELL: You would never they were high school kids.
HERB SELL: So then my last concert, I’ll go on– and of course, I had– I think I told you the story about the country and western concert.
Mike Hagan was his name. Very good guitar player. We– you know, all schools have talented people. I know that. And all teachers go through a lot of things, you know, and have stories. But Mike Hagan was an excellent guitar player. And– and I asked him, after the– after the Jester Hairston concert, I said, did your daddy come to hear you in that concert?
He said, no. I said, he didn’t come to that one? Said that no. He said, he won’t come til you do something he likes. And I said, well, for heaven’s sakes, what does he like? Well, he likes country music.
And so I knew he– the boy could play guitar. He was going to be a senior next year. And I said, well, that’s what we’ll do next year.
HERB SELL: So I started that concert. I always like to do– to make history on the stage rather than just hodgepodge. So I started off with early mountain music and worked our way up through things. And then after intermission, I finally did a lot of things by Hank Williams.
HERB SELL: I had special arrangements. I only made one mistake out here. I called up Nashville, the fella who had done this record. He was kingpin at booking and stuff. He– he had the history before Hank Williams came along. I had written him and I said, well, I’ve had a lot of guests, you know.
And I– I was telling him all of the people and everything and having stuff, and I said, I wonder if you might be able to send somebody up to be with us for this country music. I said, after all, I said there aren’t too many schools teaching the history of country music.
Well, I got a letter back and he was going to send– and I– I– I didn’t recognize the name. But the guy had written some– some famous country songs, you know. But he said, well, he wrote in the letter, he said, sometimes this fella likes to go out and promote– you know, promote things, country music, in his songs, you know.
HERB SELL: And I wrote back. I said, oh, gee. I said, I was thinking about somebody like Johnny Cash. Well, that was the end of our– our letter writing. I never received another letter from him. I guess he thought he was going to do enough by sending us– about this fella coming for nothing, you know.
HERB SELL: Cause I didn’t ask how much they– they was going to cost.
HERB SELL: But anyway, I did have a lot of celebrities and–
INTERVIEWER: Herb, who– who are some of the other celebrities that you had? I mean, you mentioned Duke Ellington. You had–
INTERVIEWER: Well the funny thing about at this western concerts– and I was– to me, it was– it was just a gem because two weeks later, Count Basie came. And I had put, you know– our chorus had just– had done a concert that lasted from, I think it was 7:30 to– I remember I looked at my watch, it was 10:11–
HERB SELL: –when we finished.
HERB SELL: And I thought, well, people would get up and leave. But if they wouldn’t have been enjoying themselves, I think they would’ve. It was just loaded with all kinds of stuff. It was– it’s like hell’s a popping. You don’t know what’s coming next, you know.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Sure.
HERB SELL: And that’s what I always liked to do is have surprises.
HERB SELL: So I had Count Basie booked for two weeks to the day right after that concert. And to me, it always amused me because here– and I had a rough time at that country concert because a lot of the girls, they did not want to sing that kind of music.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Yeah.
HERB SELL: They– we are not going to sing something like this. You know, it took an awful long time. But it was probably the most popular and well done concert–
HERB SELL: –of– of– of any of them. You know just as well. And so I thought now after three and a– three hours or so of that music, and then here comes Count Basie and [INAUDIBLE] jazz.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. What a difference.
HERB SELL: And I always got a kick of that.
INTERVIEWER: You– did you have Maynard Ferguson come?
HERB SELL: Uh, yeah.
HERB SELL: See, I– oh, after– after Count Basie, we went to the new school. And of course, we had a new principal. And we got over there. And, of course, right away things were going to change.
And so that was the first Christmas that the kids weren’t on the stage. You were putting them on the risers down here and have– have them sing once in a while during a– a– a– a show type thing, you know what I mean.
HERB SELL: And so that sort of upset me. Just want to say something quickly about a couple of teachers. Mike Eaton, of course, was a genius when it came to Christmas time. He– he had so many wonderful shows that kids just loved him, and I did too.
And we’d go up in the balcony, and he’d always let me know what songs he wanted me to sing and these– at different places, and I’d get them all ready, a capella because we didn’t have a piano up there, you know.
HERB SELL: And see, I was thinking of her. Ms. Bea Miller. She would come down when I got there, and she’d been doing this for years. But she would come down at Thanksgiving and she– I– the– the gowns, you know, like altar boy gowns, you know, they wear.
And they were all back in a little room in my– where I taught the music. And she would come down there since Thanksgiving was over and she’d go back here and she would iron every night all these robes. Then she’d want me to get their heights and their names and everything, and– and then she would, you know, on each robe, she would put the size and she’d pull them all just like this or maybe she put them in alphabetical order.
She worked in– she would do that until almost to the time for the Christmas concert. That’s how she dedicated herself.
HERB SELL: After we left, Mrs. Massari tried, and she worked along with me. And after Mrs. Massari retired, that was the end of that stuff. Of course, today, they’re in the rag bag.
But they really did look nice. And she was so careful. She would always say, now girls, you cannot wear slacks because you’re going to look like boys.
INTERVIEWER: That’s right.
HERB SELL: She wanted them to look like– she didn’t want any pants hanging out.
HERB SELL: And so I think of things like that, how dedicated she was. And Mike Eaton, the same way. Very dedicated. He was in all these programs.
HERB SELL: And he was– he would– we’d have– he’s say, now Herb, it’s time for you to come up and talk to me. I come up, give him my scripts. I always read books on [INAUDIBLE].
HERB SELL: I didn’t– I didn’t do things, and then I turned the book into like a living history book. That’s what I did.
INTERVIEWER: And Mike became your editor.
HERB SELL: And I did the same thing with country western. I didn’t know anything about country western, but I started reading the whole works, you know.
HERB SELL: And I wanted to bring you a picture down, d then I forgot it.
INTERVIEWER: That’s OK.
HERB SELL: Well, I think I did tell you when I was up here how when I first met Mike, I thought he was– I didn’t think I’d ever meet anybody like because my boss in the service was just– he was just so different. I mean, he was– I mean, he met all these people.
That’s how I met Duke Ellington and so many celebrities because he was editor of “Who’s Who” out of Chicago.
HERB SELL: And he would drag me here and there. And I went up to Chicago, that’s how I first got to hear Dizzy Gillespie when he was just a young guy, too.
HERB SELL: And Lord, they paid– played at 2 o’clock in the morning.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Sure.
HERB SELL: And– or three, even. And then they wanted to know where they were going to go next for a little party.
HERB SELL: And so I never thought I’d meet any person like that. He was just– in a way, took me on like a father, you know. And so here’s Mike. I start in February and he has this first yearbook thing, you know. And well, I laughed and laughed.
He always even struck me that he– to get a trio or quartet of seniors or boys and stuff to entertain him between. So I would– that’s what I’d do, and I always did it with him. And he and I became very close.
And course, a lot of other people, too. But I think he liked me, you know, the stuff that I was doing. He got a kick being back there at Duke Ellington, too. He was always back at the curtains, you know.
INTERVIEWER: Sure. Yeah. So Herb, when–
HERB SELL: But no, I went to those– yeah. After Count Basie– oh, then new principal. He says to me– I shouldn’t say these things– but anyway, he said to me, he said now, he says that the women’s– what is it? The– they don’t– I don’t know if they still have them anymore or not.
They’d meet and have meetings once a month at schools. Were the PTA. He said, well now the ladies of the PTA said you’ve had all these things that you’ve had. They’d like to have something what they want. And I said, well, what do they want?
Well, they’d like to have Fred Waring. Well, that got me because I had intentions of– I would have had Louise Armstrong there if he wouldn’t have got sick–
HERB SELL: –right after– or right before Duke Ellington, or right afterwards. And instead of Jester Hairston. But he got sick and had canceled everything outright. And then I had– my idea was I wanted to get Lionel Hampton. And I had ideas of things that I still wanted to do, because I knew they weren’t going to be around forever.
HERB SELL: And that was my idea in this whole thing. So Fred Waring. So– well, he cost– well, I had Duke Ellington, that’s right, when the school opened. In ’72, it opened. Spring of ’72. I had Jester there again. Two weeks later, I had Duke Ellington.
HERB SELL: And that’s when he came up with me. He says, as far as he was concerned, he took all the money. I thought, that’s not the idea. This is education.
HERB SELL: You know, it’s not money. Because the first time I got Duke Ellington, and the Board of Education said, well, that’s fine to see everything work, but don’t– but you have to go through us from now on.
HERB SELL: So anybody I got, I had to go through them.
HERB SELL: See, the first time I wrote– I signed a contract and took care of it. Well, anyway, so we got Fred Waring, which was very nice. I mean, it was $3,000. And our course, somebody called up from Baltimore and said, well now you have to be very careful because they have union people, and when– and they will set up his stage and then they’ll charge you an extra fee.
Well, the extra fee was about $300. I thought, well Lord God, Duke Ellington came, nobody set his stuff up. They went to work and did it himself.
HERB SELL: So the band director– I forget his name now– we– in order to sell $3,000, $3,500 I think we made, he said, all the money we make would go to the music department. Well, we had to sell that place out.
And that meant the band director was answering calls all the time. I was selling tickets. And the– the band director was losing his little mind over it.
HERB SELL: So we finally– it was successful. Naturally, more people. And, of course, Fred Waring puts on a nice show.
HERB SELL: But if you look in the history book, his name is– will take a paragraph–
HERB SELL: Someday.
HERB SELL: You know. I mean, he did his thing. And he was very popular. But to me, Duke Ellington is something more when it comes to America. Of course, he– Fred did a lot of things in World War II and–
INTERVIEWER: Oh, yeah.
HERB SELL: –and he sang beautiful music. But anyway, that wasn’t my cup of tea, you know.
HERB SELL: That’s not what I was trying to do.
HERB SELL: So then after we got through that, next year, going to have Fred Waring again. Well, Fred raised his price $500 and the same guys came in again, $300 union guys.
HERB SELL: You can’t touch anything, you know, with them [INAUDIBLE]. See, we– you know, the choral society, we were on 12 or 13 different TV programs. And that’s the way it was down there. You couldn’t even lift up the– couldn’t lift up the conductor’s stand, you know.
So again, this takes a long time. He and I is charging the tickets, and then we had to have them, you know, seats with numbers and stuff, send these tickets out. And you know that– that poor– I forget, he’s retired now. He finally went down to– into Maryland close to Harper’s Ferry to finish out.
But he almost went off his– he really did. And course, as far as making anything, we didn’t make anything. I never– you know. So then, finally that stopped. And so the next year, I think it was ’74, I got a call from New York, would I take Woody Herman. That he’s canceled out and they say I had booked some bands.
I said, yeah, I’ll take him on a Monday night. And they said, $1,750 on a Monday night. I said OK. So when I got home, they called again. And he said, we were wondering if we could book Woody Herman on Friday night for $2,000. And I said, no. I said, you told me Monday night for $1,750.
Oh, OK. OK. You know, once they– one they commit themselves, they’re not supposed to–
INTERVIEWER: That’s right.
HERB SELL: Well, I only had two weeks. And of course, if you’re going to promote something, you have to– you have to pay the piper and pay for–
INTERVIEWER: Sure. Advertising.
HERB SELL: Pay for advertising.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, yeah.
HERB SELL: Of course, I just put– I would put things in the newspaper and– and say he was coming. And that was it. And then I’d have to go by the students and try to do it that way and get it out. So at $1,750, I think we– I mean, I never sold tickets for more than $5. You know, so I think we– we didn’t have a full house, but– but I think we made almost enough to do it.
HERB SELL: But what was so nice about it, Duke Ellington had just died. It was ’74. That was ’74, yeah.
HERB SELL: And he died in, I think it was the end of April or 1st of May. And– and it was only two weeks later that Woody Herman came. But Woody, being a great musician and everything, was so– you could see he was distraught over the whole thing.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, sure.
HERB SELL: And he played a whole half an hour–
INTERVIEWER: Of Ellington?
HERB SELL: –for Duke– for Duke Ellington.
INTERVIEWER: Wow. That’s great.
HERB SELL: And I thought that was so wonderful–
INTERVIEWER: Yes, absolutely.
HERB SELL: –that he did that. Then let’s see. I decided I would– I thought, well, he was pretty jazzy, Woody. And I thought, well, I’ll go to the middle of the road and Les Brown only came over here two months out of the year anymore, May and June.
And Mrs. Solomon said she was on a– a boat ride or something, [INAUDIBLE] resort, they danced to him or something. You know, Donna. And Donna and I is good friends, you know. She’s always inspired me to do things, you know. Just to– and Russell, I liked him very much.
And so I was able to book him. And I forget how much he was. I talked him down to at least $2,500. They probably wanted $3,500 if they could’ve gotten it.
HERB SELL: And so anyway, I went– this is bad. Excuse me, newspaper. It’s not the newspaper now, but this is quite some time ago.
HERB SELL: It was 35 years ago. So I went over and I wrote up all this. I had his picture and I wrote up this beautiful article about how– how he worked with Bob Hope all through World War II and all the things and “Sentimental Journey” he wrote, you know, and all this and that. I said, now– I said, now take your time.
I said, you don’t have to put it in tomorrow. I said, we still got two weeks to go. I said, but– well, they wanted to know who the benefit of it was for. You know, who [INAUDIBLE] talking to, [INAUDIBLE]. I said, benefit?
I said, it’s the benefit for the community. I said– I said, you’re not going to have Les Brown coming through here again, you know. This is a historical name.
HERB SELL: And well, they wanted to know who the benefit was for. I kept thinking, well, I thought– so that’s all I said. And Lord, the next night, they put it in the paper. It was back on the third or fourth page. I think he had his little picture with the caption on it.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. And that was it.
HERB SELL: That was it. My article that I took a little special care of historical value. So I got a little disturbed over that. Then I guess Maynard Ferguson was next. And we made enough to pay him off.
He wanted– I forget. He wanted $3,000 or something. And I said, well, I’ve only paid bands $2,000 and $1,750 and $2,000. And he said, OK. Well, they’ll come for $2,000 but they want to see the proceeds and they want to split the profits.
HERB SELL: Well, I don’t– I don’t think we even made $2,000.
HERB SELL: But anyway, it was nice to have him.
HERB SELL: I’ll never forget, I– they– they wanted a– a bowl of ice or whatever. I forget what you call them. And so I went back. I thought, oh, that’s strange. And so they– after they left and went out on the stand, I went back in his room there, see what this bowl of ice was.
Well, they had a bottle of champagne back there in there.
HERB SELL: And it was half full. I thought, wow. And I went out real quick. Boy, he was jumping on the stage, you know. So he came after intermission and I went back in his room again and– and then I went back and I went back there and peeped again, and the champagne bottle was empty.
HERB SELL: But he was something, though.
INTERVIEWER: Yes indeed.
HERB SELL: Oh, boy. I could– I could not understand for his age.
HERB SELL: I remember seeing him in ’50– 1950 in– in Philadelphia. A friend of mine and– he knew somebody down there, one of the– the ones who will seat you.
HERB SELL: The ushers.
INTERVIEWER: Ushers, yeah.
HERB SELL: He knew an usher down there. And he put us up in this famous hall– I forget what the name of it- but we sat up there in a box seat. And we were the only ones up there, and we could look right down on the stage, the stand. Big stand there, it was 6′ 6″.
And Maynard was about probably 19.
HERB SELL: With him there.
HERB SELL: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: He went a long time.
HERB SELL: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, he did.
HERB SELL: And he was good then.
INTERVIEWER: Yes he was. So–
HERB SELL: In fact, I played the church the other morning. I do things like this once in a while. I played over at [INAUDIBLE]. And of course, I played Stan Kenton’s “Interlude,” which was a very beautiful song. And my excuse for it was– well, I do everything for the glory of God, you know.
HERB SELL: But my excuse was, I thought that “Interlude,” to me, was more beautiful than most of the interludes that these other guys were writing and putting them in Christian songbooks, you know.
INTERVIEWER: It’s gorgeous, yeah.
HERB SELL: I thought the Lord would appreciate that.
INTERVIEWER: So when did you retire, Herb?
HERB SELL: I retired, let’s see, in 19– oh. 1992.
HERB SELL: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, so you– you’ve–
HERB SELL: So it’s almost 18 years ago.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Wow. Now–
HERB SELL: But I– I enjoyed being in Carroll County.
INTERVIEWER: I’m sure.
HERB SELL: They treated me fine.
HERB SELL: The rotarians, I’ve been over there many times. And I took the course– courses over there for many concerts, spring and Christmas. And I– they made me an honorary rotarian, and I–
INTERVIEWER: Yes, absolutely.
HERB SELL: –I really appreciate that.
INTERVIEWER: And you’re still active in music?
HERB SELL: Yes. Yes, I am. I still have my little church choir in Lewistown at Redeemer’s, and I keep thinking, well, this should be the year. This should be the year. Now, let’s see. I’m setting it for maybe when I’m 85.
HERB SELL: Then actually take a vacation somewhere.
INTERVIEWER: There you go.
HERB SELL: And you still play piano in– in the– you know, out and about?
HERB SELL: Yes. Oh, yeah a lot of people will call me. I’m– I got some bookings. I go once a month to the Elks Club of Hanover. Right now, I’m playing at OIivia’s halfway to Gettysburg.
INTERVIEWER: That’s a beautiful little club.
HERB SELL: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: With a little res– nice restaurant.
HERB SELL: And I have– I’m going to be down at the landing several Saturdays. And then I play over at the country club, which I enjoy, brunches. And since I don’t cook very well, I get my dinner over there, or lunch.
INTERVIEWER: There you go. Well, let me ask you a question, Herb. I always end these interviews with a question. If you were going to offer some advice to a youngster– you worked with a lot of youngsters in your career. You’ve helped a lot of girls and boys to become musicians.
HERB SELL: Oh, I know a lot of them.
HERB SELL: And they were– some of them were really most talented people I would never thought I’d ever see in school. Of course, I know a lot of teachers went through the same thing.
INTERVIEWER: Sure. And times have changed. But if you were going to offer some advice to a youngster today who thought that they were going to start a career in music, getting ready to get out of high school or getting ready to get out of college and wanted to have a career in music, what advice would you give them?
HERB SELL: Well, you really have to like what you’re doing, that’s for sure.
HERB SELL: And you have to have some talent, naturally. If you’re a band director, naturally you– you have to like instrumental music. I always wanted to be an instrumental teacher. And– and I couldn’t– I don’t think I said it, but I asked Phil Royer when I was at college– did I say that? Did I say something about that?
I said, well– I said, when am I gonna learn to play the instruments? And he says, oh– he says, you’re not going to play any instruments. He says, you might learn to hold a couple of them. And he gave me a– a viola. I put that on my chin, I thought, oh my Lord, how does anybody play this, you know.
And I said, well, what am I going to be? He says, you’re going to be a choral director. A choral director, I thought. After going to school, music school all these years, and now I’m– I’m supposed to be teaching singing, you know, which I wish I would have had a better voice. Because like I said, if I did, I’d go on the road right now.
I’d love to sing those Frank Sinatra songs. I have to scat if I do anything. I only ever sang a couple songs, I can sing. “That’s My Desire,” after my wife, for getting married, you know, courting. And I used to sing “Down the Road a Piece” by Freddie Slack. But– and I do. I can sing.
I can sing hymns. I– you got to be able to sing.
HERB SELL: Right now, my voice is a little cracky, but– but I– if you’re going to be a choral director, I think you should be a pretty good pianist, for one thing. It’s very difficult to go into that and expect students are going to do your playing and things.
HERB SELL: And so you should be able to play. I– I got along with my students when I played them “Boogie Woogie.” I– every once in a while, I’d let loose with the “St. Louis Blues” and– and they still remember that. I don’t remember as much. I was sort of afraid to do those things.
But evidently, I’d slip them in early in my teaching career. So– but I never got with The Beatles too much or other things. I was always– I was very surprised when we were in new school and some of the girls were bringing in recordings of bossa nova. I thought, oh my goodness, well, this sounds pretty cool.
I thought, for heaven’s sakes. They like bossa nova after hearing all this rock, you know. But of course, that’s gone by. I mean, that’s a style and anybody likes to hear it.
You have to have a lot of patience, and you have to know really what you want and– to be– it’s like anything. I guess, sports too, coach. If you just settle– if you settle for mediocracy, is that a good word?
HERB SELL: That’s what you’re going to get.
INTERVIEWER: Sure is.
HERB SELL: I– I– I never– of course, like anybody, you– you let a couple bombs, I guess. But I was deathly scared to always– to have any– to do something that wasn’t worthwhile or good, you know, that I thought. And I’m pretty hard to please so– when it comes to music.
And so patience is one of the big things. And you know, if you’re– I was someone that I wasn’t going to– oh, I– I did a couple things by The Beatles, one or two things that I really liked. And some other things, pop music.
But usually I had– my deal was I had to have a purpose back of something. I just didn’t want to do something that was just to entertain.
HERB SELL: Or I didn’t want to do the popular music of the day just to please the kids.
INTERVIEWER: You wanted to educate.
HERB SELL: So I just– I probably drove them crazy. But we did sing an awful lot of music.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, you did.
HERB SELL: Yep.
INTERVIEWER: Well, Herb I want to thank you so much for taking your morning to come in and talk to us today. It was very enjoyable and very enlightening, and I learned a lot.
HERB SELL: Well, thank you. I– and I still have a great regard for Carroll County. If it wouldn’t have been for me getting out of Lewistown and– of course, I had a– a great experience in the service, and I was determined I wasn’t going to go on the road and stuff like that.
But when someone suggested to come down to McDaniel, I– you know, or western Maryland– that was the most wonderful thing I could have done. And I’ve really had a wonderful career down here in music, and I’ve made so many friends and–
INTERVIEWER: Well, you’ve influenced a lot of children, I can tell you that. You’ve made a big difference in their lives. There’s a lot of people in this community that know you, that know Daddy Sell.
HERB SELL: Oh, yeah. I– I– the daddy came by back in ’69 when I was doing that Duke Ellington jazz concert first. That’s about as jazzy as I ever got up til that time.
HERB SELL: And I started calling all the guys that cliche word, “daddy.” Well, then they started calling me daddy back. And of course, as the years went on, it’s still daddy, and a lot of people were still– a lot of kids still call me daddy when I see them.
And I used to bring my daughter down when she was in high school, and of course, all these girls would be running– “Hi, Daddy.” “Hi, Daddy.” Oh, boy. She got infuriated. She said, well, he’s not your daddy. He’s mine.
And– and I’m not sure over the years if they realized what it all was about, but that’s how it came about. It was that cool, daddy.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Sure.
HERB SELL: And so they started calling me that, and it just– it kept going from 1969.
INTERVIEWER: It stuck.
HERB SELL: I used to, every year, have them sing for their song “Autumn Leaves.” And I got that by “Autumn Leaves,” the words are so sad. And I remember when Phil Royer’s wife died, and he had the whole– the teachers, all the teachers at the first meeting of the year, sing “Autumn Leaves.”
And I thought– I never asked him, and I thought, why did you pick a song like this for singing, you know? And then I looked at those words and I got to thinking, I just wonder if he was thinking about his wife.
INTERVIEWER: I bet.
HERB SELL: And you know, I used that song from the very beginning of my career, almost. I figured, well, if they could sing that, they must have a pretty good voice.
HERB SELL: And if they were afraid or didn’t try to sing it, I said, OK, sing “America.” But I often think about that. And of course, for 35 years, anybody who graduated under me knows the “Autumn Leaves.”
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Wow. Well Herb, thanks again. It was great having you today, and we really appreciate it.
HERB SELL: Well, I appreciate being here. And again, a great county.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, indeed.
HERB SELL: And I love the people here.