As Cliffites remember him, Harry Barton had rhythm

In fall 1938, Harry Barton traveled from his home state of Iowa to secure his position as the new band director of Boude Storey Junior High School. He knew no one in Oak Cliff, but one of the young majorettes at Storey, Bettye McGee, quickly determined that the handsome young man with the wavy hair would be perfect for her older sister, Eloise.

In fall 1938, Harry Barton traveled from his home state of Iowa to secure his position as the new band director of Boude Storey Junior High School. He knew no one in Oak Cliff, but one of the young majorettes at Storey, Bettye McGee, quickly determined that the handsome young man with the wavy hair would be perfect for her older sister, Eloise.

Bettye encouraged Barton to call her sister, and when Barton called the family home, Bettye told him to wait until she could go get Eloise. What she didn’t tell him was that Eloise was playing tennis … a mile away from the house! Bettye bicycled to the courts, retrieved her sister, and the duo sped back. Amazingly, Barton was still on the phone.

The sisters lived on Marsalis Avenue with their parents, Roxie and Bernard McGee. McGee worked for the North Texas Interurban, but on his way to work one morning in 1929, in front of the old Oak Cliff Carnegie Library on the southwest corner of Jefferson and Marsalis, he was struck by a drunk driver and, for the remainder of his life, walked on crutches.

Regaining his strength, McGee owned and operated two Ewing Avenue service stations before opening a small hamburger stand directly across from the Veterans hospital on Lancaster Road, where the entire family worked. It was a Depression-era struggle, but like most people of that period, they pulled together to make ends meet.

According to Eloise, “In those days, you could choose which high school you wanted to attend. I went to Sunset [class of ’39], but Bettye went to Adamson [class of 43].”

Within a year of that phone call, Harry Barton and Eloise McGee married in the Marsalis Avenue home of the Rev. Albert W. Luper, pastor of First Baptist Church of Oak Cliff. Afterward, the couple set up housekeeping on Woodin Avenue. Then, in 1942, Barton was named as band director at Adamson High School, where he soon organized a snazzy new dance band: the Rhythmaires.

“Through their years, the different [Rhythmaires] bands played for dances in the Adamson gym, at the Oak Cliff ‘Y’, at the ‘Family Night’ stage performances at the Texas Theatre, Lee Park and the old two-story clubhouse at Cedar Crest Country Club, among others,” says Adamson alumni association board member Don Coke (class of ’43).

“That wooden second-story floor [at Cedar Crest] was so wrinkled that it looked like we were playing hopscotch when we tried to dance,” he chuckles.

“The bands were hot, and the charts that Harry B. got for them were the best,” Coke adds. “Miller, Shaw, the Dorseys [Tommy and Jimmy], James, Goodman, Bob Crosby. When the war began to really drain the ranks of the big bands, you couldn’t hear better music played at LuAnns or the Plantation than what you could get at a Friday night dance at Adamson with the Rhythmaires.”

With WWII raging and November 1942 being the last date that eligible males could enlist and not be drafted, Barton joined the U.S. Army Air Force when he became aware of a vacant military band director spot. But in October 1945, Master Sgt. Barton returned home, slipping into his former job at Adamson, while also serving as band director at Forest Avenue High School (now James Madison). From there, Barton was recruited by another school system and moved “across the river” to begin a 20-year stretch as superintendent of music at Highland Park High School.

During that tenure, he also served for 29 years as director of pageantry for the annual Cotton Bowl game halftime shows with son, Corky, as his field coordinator. Before the days of computer-generated graphics and sophisticated communications options, Barton put together slews of impressive halftimes that included local bands, drill teams and majorettes, along with the university bands that represented the competing teams. Serving as his announcer for most of these years was Oak Cliff’s own Bill Melton (Sunset ’58), with whom Barton developed a lasting friendship.

“Actually, some of the bands came from beyond the local level,” Melton says, “including state and national. And, of course, the Kilgore Rangerettes were always there.”

When Six Flags Over Texas opened in 1961, Barton served as musical director of the Six Flags Revue show and, for years, oversaw the park’s “Battle of High School Bands.”

From their early days at Storey to their adventures in Highland Park and the Cotton Bowl, the Barton/McGees are a typical Oak Cliff story that expanded beyond Oak Cliff. Eloise Barton and Bettye (now Williams) still live in Dallas and remain close, often remembering those long-ago days when an accident changed their family’s future and they flipped burgers at Pop McGee’s little stand.

Harry F. Barton passed away in 2004, with thousands of students, parents, dancers and TV viewers all enriched by his contributions. The legacy he left continues in the lives of many, even today.

• Read more of Gayla’s Oak Cliff history columns here.


WANT MORE?
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Oak Cliff.
Tags from the story
Written By
More from Gayla Brooks

Oak Cliff history: Before there was Red Bird, there was Westcliff

It’s gone now. But back in the day, Westcliff Mall shopping center...
Read More
  • Larah

    Hi Sherry,  Your dad was a very special man.  I know him and your mom spoiled me rotten over the summers I got to stay with them.  I can still see your dad’s smile.  Beautiful.  By the way,  this is your cousin.  Don’t trip out. Hope all are doing well.

  • Purplepoodlemom

    So glad to see the reference to Rev Luper and First Baptist Church of Oak Cliff.  I attended there when I was growing up.  The church moved a few times but now seems to have vanished.  Thanks for all your efforts.

  • Marjorie Johnson

    Thanks, Gayla – this ws an excellent piece on our good friend Harry!  I appreciate your time & effort.  So glad to hear from you!  Marjorie Johnson in Sedona

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    The photos are of Harry Barton:

    1. When he brought the Highland Park band to the opening of the Cotton Bowling Palace in Dallas. Dallas cardiologist Dr. Michael Donsky is in the lower right corner. Barton is posing with actress Jayne Mansfield (mother of actress Mariska Hargitay.
    2. Barton as director of the “College Review” at Six Flags. Eloise tells me that Betty Buckley and John Denver are in the photo.
    3. Barton with the Boude Storey band.
    4. Barton with the Adamson Rhythmaires
    5. Barton with the Adamson ROTC band.

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Thank you for your kind words.

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Muchas gracias, mi amigo!

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Thanks, Sherry. My pleasure. Sorry it took so long to respond, but the magazine’s system isn’t working correctly and I just now saw this…when I checked myself. Glad Corky sent it along. And, by the way, there’s supposed to be a Harry Barton slide show (from the photos your mom gave me–that they didn’t have room for in the actual hard copy)–attached to this online column, beginning on Monday. I’ll email you when I find it in place…..hopefully!

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Thanks, Sandy. Sorry it took me so long to respond. The magazine’s system still isn’t working correctly. I just checked this and saw posts from two weeks ago!

  • Sherry46

    Hey Gayla!  Corky just sent this to me.  It’s awesome!  I forget how talented he was–to me he was just the best Daddy ever!!  Sherry Barton Roberts

  • Sandy White Nachlinger

    Enjoyed your column. Keep ’em coming!

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Wanted to make a small correction: Forest Ave. High School is now James Madison High School…not Lincoln, which has always been Lincoln. Thanks, Bob.

  • Bob Johnston

    Great column as always!

  • Anjiehat

    So interesting! Thanks for all the research you do to provide the history of Oak Cliff! Anjie Gayler Hatfield – Sunset ’62

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    To those of you who have posted comments and messages on the columns over the past couple of months, the automated program that normally alerts me to the postings wasn’t working properly. I’m told everything is now in regular operating order, so I’ll be able to answer your questions or statements. Thanks for the support. You, the readers, make everything better.
    Gayla Brooks Kokel