In the mood for the Wilbur Jacobson Orchestra


Diana Zimmerman

Gwen Gorley, the daughter of bandleader Wilbur Jacobson and his wife and singer Mary Wegdahl Jacobson, shared stories about her life as a young performer with the orchestra. The Wahkiakum Historical Society Museum has an exhibit featuring the big band, including some of their recorded music.

There's a new exhibit at the Wahkiakum County Historical Society Museum celebrating the big band era and one particular family who made a big splash on the local scene at the time.

"There were a lot of dances," Kari Kandoll, the museum curator said. "This was your entertainment."

Wilbur Jacobson, a trumpet and saxophone player who was born and raised in Cathlamet, started a band while he was in high school. When he met Mary Wegdahl, who grew up on Puget Island, he found a life partner and a lead singer.

In the late 1930's, Jacobson started putting together what would become the Wilbur Jacobson Orchestra, according to his daughter Gwen Gorley.

When Gorley was about a year old, she says, her father went overseas to serve during World War II. The music never stopped, as he performed with bands while in the service.

Back home again after the war, the Jacobson family grew larger, and so did the orchestra. A young Gwen, who first learned the trumpet, and later the saxophone and the clarinet was sitting in with the other musicians at 12, and eventually stepping into the spotlight to sing, just like her mother.

Musicians belonged to a union back in those days, and Gorley remembers that she was getting paid musicians scale, the same as the adults, even though legally she wasn't even old enough to be in some of the dance halls.

She remembers having to go sit in a car during intermission on more than one occasion just because of the drinking.

While Wilbur was a better bandleader than a singer, his brother Ted was a drummer and a singer. He left for New York soon after Gorley was born, and though she never got to know him, she'd always heard he sounded like Dean Martin.

"There were so many musicians who came and went," Gorley said. "I couldn't keep track of them."

Playing music didn't pay the bills, and her father had a job bringing The Oregonian from Portland to the area.

"He couldn't give up his music," Gorley said. "And he had about a thousand pieces of music, all numbered."

The museum is located at 65 River Street in Cathlamet and is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $2.50 for anyone 55 and over, and free for kids 18 and under.

Stop by the museum, check out their entire collection, along with the special exhibit which includes a recording of the Wilbur Jacobson Orchestra.


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