Category Archives: History

Memorial to Caller, Hilt Kelly

Hilton Kelly, the legendary Catskills fiddler and square dance caller, died on Tuesday, March 3 [2015] in Mountainside Residential Care Center in Margaretville, according to a friend of the Kelly family. He was 89 years old and is survived by Stella Kelly, his wife and bandmate of 66 years, as well as two children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Kelly, the son and grandson of fiddlers and square dance callers who farmed in Delaware County’s Redkill Valley, near the hamlet of Fleischmanns, began teaching himself how to fiddle when he was five years old. By age 15, he was leading a band called “The Melody Boys,” playing and calling at dances throughout the Catskills on an almost nightly basis, according to a history written by historian Bill Birns in the Catskill Mountain News.

Read more here:
Hilt Kelly, legendary Catskills fiddler and square dance caller, dies

Johnny and Janie Creel Square Dance Collection, 1958-2014

The materials in this collection date from 1958 to 2014 and document the organizational histories of several Louisiana Square Dancing Clubs. This collection consists of minutes, correspondence, scrapbooks, newsletters, programs, and other publicity materials related to Louisiana square dancing organizations.

The collection was compiled over the years by Johnny and Janie Creel, who were founding members of both the Metropolitan New Orleans Square and Round Dance Association and the New Orleans Callers Association. They also served on the board of the Louisiana Square Dance Association.

See the finding aid here:

Jesse Cosby: African American Square Dance Caller in the 1950s

An article about the Jesse Cosby Neighbourhood Center in Iowa and how it is struggling to stay afloat included a biography of Jessy Cosby that indicates that he was a popular square dance caller in the 1950s.


Jesse Lee Cosby was born Feb. 8, 1907, in Jefferson County, Ala.

At one time during his early life, he was so poor he had to scrounge for food out of garbage cans. He swore he’d better himself someday.

He arrived in Waterloo in 1945 after serving 3 1/2 years with the U.S. Army’s 389th Engineer Service Regiment in Europe during World War II, at the urging of his niece, Phyllis Henderson — mother of Jesse Henderson, the center’s current director. Cosby’s first job was shining shoes in an East Fourth Street barber shop.

At the same time, Cosby organized and directed a junior-senior a cappella choir that performed spirituals, gaining recognition throughout the Midwest.

“He wanted white people to understand the black people better,” a niece, Odie Smith, explained.

One of his regular customers was director of the Waterloo Recreation Commission, who was so impressed by Cosby he offered him a job on the commission.

Talented at many activities, Cosby found himself well suited to the task.

He picked up many new interests, including square dancing. Cosby became a nationally-known square dance caller. Ebony magazine did a feature on his square dance calling. He built a lighted patio in his backyard for spontaneous square dances.

He was so well-respected for his work with youths that, in 1950 he was appointed by Gov. William S. Beardsley to the National White House Conference on Children and Youth in Washington, D.C.

Cosby also directed the a cappella choir of Payne Memorial A.M.E. Church, of which he was a member.

When he died of cancer in 1957, he had been working toward realizing his dream for a neighborhood center in the north part of Waterloo.

In 1966, the Jesse Cosby Neighborhood Center opened. Its longtime home, at 1112 Mobile St., is the former St. Peter Claver Catholic Church. That church, sponsored by neighboring St. Mary’s Catholic Church, had served black Catholics for 25 years until that congregation was merged into St. Mary’s in 1965.

In 1973, Jesse Cosby’s niece, Mary Berdell, became the first African-American to serve on the Waterloo City Council.

I would have loved to hear him call! I wonder if any recordings were ever made, or if the Ebony article can be found and reprinted. I will start to took for it!

Edit 1: The Ebony article appears in the June 1954 issue (Vol. 9 Issue 8, pp. 55, 57-8, 61). I have written to Ebony to see if I can get a copy of the article.

A Taste of Square Dance History: Silver Dollar Squares

The Silver Dollar Squares is a club that was formed in the 1950s. This account of their history shows how some of the clubs operated back then, and serves as an interesting contrast to how clubs are run today.

Club rules were different in the early years: If you missed 3 dances in a row you had to go back and take lessons, square dance attire was required or you weren’t admitted, any visitor had to be personally sponsored by a member to be at the dance, and to attend class or become a member required personal sponsorship of a member.

You can read more about the history of this club here: Silver Dollar Squares

“Mandatory Square Dancing” at Fordlandia in Brazil

In response to the article on Quadrilha, a form of square dancing popular in Brazil, reader Nick says:

“…in order to reduce his dependency on British-controlled rubber from southeast Asian plantations, [Henry] Ford attempted to establish his own rubber plantations in Brazil’s Amazon River basin. The company town for the plantation, creatively named Fordlandia, featured a dance hall, and square dancing was required.”

Gizmodo has this to say:

Local [Brazilian] workers were expected to adopt a suburban Michigan lifestyle, too—along with a healthy dose of Ford’s own morals, which meant that both booze and ladies were outlawed within the town. According to a terrific podcast from How Things Work, the transplant town even hosted mandatory square dancing. Hamburgers and other American fare featured in the cafeteria.

Source: On Henry Ford’s 150th Birthday, a Look Inside His Failed Utopia

This is taking “mandatory square dancing in PE class” a step too far!