Frank Bettencourt

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Frank Bettencourt

Frank William Bettencourt, Jr (born 1913 in San Francisco, California; died January 4, 2009 in Birmingham) was a musician, arranger and bandleader. Based in Texas for most of his career, he came to live with his daughter in Inverness and performed frequently with a 7-piece band at The Club until retiring at the age of 90.

Bettencourt was the son of Frank and Edna Vargas Bettencourt of San Francisco. He first appeared on stage in a Vaudeville act when he was five years old. He graduated from San Leandro High School in the bay area and studied music education at San Jose State University. He played trombone and French horn in various orchestras while in school, and led a band that was allowed to play in the cafeteria during lunch hour. The summer after he graduated in 1936 his group was booked for a residency at Lake Tahoe and decided to stick with performing rather than teaching.

In 1937 his group was hired to tour with Buddy Fisher. He met his wife, Alice at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, Texas, where the tour began, marrying her on October 4, 1940. In 1939 Bettencourt joined the Bobby Peters Orchestra, then was hired by Jan Garber as conductor and arranger for his traveling orchestra, well-known for their "sweet" style of play.

In 1943 Bettencourt was drafted into the Army. He played in a military dance band until being assigned to an infantry unit preparing for the Battle of the Bulge. With his infant daughter, Suzanne, quite sick, Garber was able to pull strings to have Bettencourt removed from the infantry rolls. He was instead reclassified as a medic and given duties at a military hospital. In the afternoons, he and other musician-medics would play at various military bases.

Bettencourt returned to Garber's orchestra after the war and toured with him until 1961. During that period the criss-crossed the country backing up big-name acts like Tony Bennett, Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, and others. His family toured with him in the summer, and lived in Waco, Texas during the school year. When he left the group, he turned down an invitation from Lawrence Welk in order to launch his own band. He struggled at first, but in 1963 secured a plum booking at the Shamrock Hotel in Houston. His orchestra played with the likes of Mitzi Gaynor, Dinah Shore, and Carol Channing.

Some of the tunes penned by Bettencourt include "Clodhopper", "Pflugerville Pflip", "Blue Room Bounce", "Call to the Post Cha-Cha" and "The Magic Fire of Love". He sang male vocals himself, and employed female vocalist Julie Vernon. Bettencourt's group was the last big band booked in the Boulevard Room at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago. He was playing there during the chaotic 1968 Democratic National Convention. Later he had an annual 8-week engagement at the Roseland Ball Room in New York City. After Garber died in 1977 Bettencourt inherited his regular bookings at horse shows in the Southwest. He continued to play ballrooms and supper clubs as the era of orchestral entertainment and nightly dances contracted.

After Suzanne married, she and her husband, Denton Scott, moved to Birmingham in the 1960s. In the 1990s Frank and Alice moved in with Suzanne and her husband in Inverness, and later Mountain Brook. While living here he continued to perform in other cities, and was booked occasionally at The Club (where he had first performed with Garber's orchestra in 1951). He played New Year's Eve 1999 in Houston and retired from performing after a farewell engagement at The Club in 2005.

Alice died on December 4, 2006. He died in January 2009 and was survived by his daughters Suzanne and Jan, and three grandchildren. His funeral was held at St Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Hoover, and he is buried at Southern Heritage Cemetery.

References

  • Walker, Leo (1989) The Big Band Almanac. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press ISBN 0306803453
  • "Frank William Bettencourt" obituary (January 8, 2009) Birmingham News
  • Reynolds, Ed (February 3, 2011) "Leader of the Band" Black & White