John McIntosh

The local history of the Trent Family and Alphonso Trent's orchestra has been recorded and preserved by our Fort Smith Museum of History, and by Dr. Henry Rinne, Dean of the UAFS College of Humanities and Social Studies.  What seemed to me to be missing was more of a visual and musical presentation celebrating Trent's life, and the life and times of those in his orchestra from 1925 to 1932.

After Dr. Rinne shared his research with me and I had an eye opening musical evening in my den with my neighbor, musician and historian Chris Cameron, I simply felt compelled to produce this documentary film for historical preservation purposes. Alphonso Trent's courage to assemble the first black orchestra in Arkansas, and simply his will for the orchestra to succeed was worthy of a lasting tribute for our community - past and present.

I grew up in an ideal time in Fort Smith, the 50's and early 60's when the city and our neighborhoods were wholesome, safe, connected, and frankly had an All American feel to me.  I received an honest and good education here, spent my summers at the Boy's Club playing baseball and basketball, and my Junior and Senior high days and weekends were spent on any field or court that had a ball and a team.  My life was free of racial tensions until the integration of Little Rock Central in 1957. I had the privilege of playing ball at Tulsa University where my best friends turned out to be two youngsters from the Queens in Brooklyn, New York.  When I brought them home for Thanksgiving it was the beginning of my real life education. I think you get the picture.

The more I learned about the difficulties Trent's orchestra had just getting from one engagement to another, let alone being accepted by whites at venues, the more I began to appreciate the courage of those musicians and their families who supported them.  They put themselves on the front line of racial tension in America in the 20's and early 30's. I hope this film and research will be seen as the fitting tribute they all deserve.  I feel honored to be a part of that tribute.

 

 

Conclusion

The story of Alphonso Trent and his Orchestra of Gold needs to be told. At a time when blacks suffered incredible hostility and abuse, Trent and his band opened a door to multicultural understanding and equality. And it was accomplished through his music. Playing to packed houses of whites, night after night, for a year and a half at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas as well as across the country, Trent proved the transformative power of music. It was one of the turning points in the history of race relations.