The Roaring Start

Alexa Birch, guest writer


            Five year-old Ella twirled around the spacious kitchen in their suburban home on Staton Island while her mother joyfully hummed a tune asshe cooked beef stew for supper. Ella giggled and danced around her mother’s legs, almost knocking her over. This elicited a smile and a laugh from her mother who stirred the thickening mixture, dodging Ella’s spinning arms while she glided around the kitchen. Just then, her mother broke out in song, using the wooden spoon in her hand as a conductor’s baton, waving it around as she sang My Lovin’ Henry.

            Ella clapped her small hands and tried to mimic her mother’s voice. It was not at all in tune, or in time with the beat of the song, but her mother appreciated it all the same. Her father strode in just as her mother finished the song and clapped, giving his wife a bear hug around her waist, kissing them both on the forehead. Ella cried, “again, again,” but her mother just smiled and shook her head, turning back to stir the pot of stew bubbling on the range.


Ella headed toward the bus stop, yawning as she trudged lazily. It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon and she had just finished her classes at Hunter College. Now she was on her way to  Macy’s, the department store where she worked. She reached the bus stop and waited there until a mahogany bus pulled up. She slipped her fare into the drivers hand, asked him to alert her when they had reached the stop closest to Macy’s, and looked down the aisle. Most of the seats were empty, except for a straggly group of elderly people snoozing in the back row. She selected a seat next to a window and sat down, resting her head against the back of the seat. The bus beeped and pulled away from the curb, sputtering its way into the busy city.


Ella awoke to the bus driver’s voice telling her that they had arrived at her stop. She rubbed her face to wake herself up and stood, another yawn escaping her lips. She smothered it with her hand and made her way down the aisle. The air contained a twinge of chill that was typical of the month of March. The slight breeze flitted over Ella’s skin when she exited the bus, causing her to pull her sweater tighter around her. She turned back to thank the driver, but the door had already closed and the bus had pulled away from the curb.

Sighing and walking briskly down the block, Ella entered Macy’s, flashing a cheerful smile to everyone she passed. She took her place behind a cash register, relieving the woman who was working at the time. The store was teeming with men and women alike, the buzz of excited chatter rising above the sounds of hangers clattering to the ground and heels clicking on the vinyl flooring. Ahem. The sound of someone clearing their throat brought Ella’s attention back to the matter at hand.

“Sorry,” she apologized, ringing up the prices for the gathered items on the cash register.

The woman just nodded, quietly thanking Ella when she handed her the bag filled with her merchandise. The next shopper approached the counter and Ella quickly rang up their purchase. At precisely 6 o’clock p.m., Ella’s shift ended, halting the continuous blur of faces and store items. She walked around stretched, her aching back stiff from standing for so long. Locking the registrar with the provided key, she hung it up in the back room, and locked the door behind her.

After bidding her fellow coworkers a good night, Ella exited the store, hugging her slim frame in order to keep warm. She walked to the end of the street and waved down a taxi. It screeched to a stop at the curb and Ella gratefully entered its cozy interior, asking the driver to take her to The Roseland Ballroom. News of the Prohibition filtered through the car’s radio. Many Americans were not very happy with the Supreme Court’s decision to ban the “manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors” (“Eighteenth”) within the United States. Ella was glad that America had finally come to its senses. Alcohol was addictive, and it ruined strong families and good marriages. She had seen the disastrous effects of alcohol and vowed never to drink it, or even be in the presence of someone who drank.

When the taxi came to a stop, Ella thanked the driver and hopped out of the car. Jazz tunes thumped the air and filled her ears, bringing a smile to her face. She hurried up to the oak door of the ballroom and yanked it open. The room was dimly lit, but Ella’s eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness as she made her way to one of the round tables strategically placed about the room. Samuel Lanin and the Roseland Orchestra were on stage, the whole room rocking to the the swing of the beat.

There were no seats available: It seemed like the whole city was in the room, listening to some of the greatest music ever preformed. Ella’s heart swelled in sync with the crescendos, and she swayed from side to side, her eyes closed. Some people said that jazz was immoral, a “primitive art”(Currell) or “merely an irritation of the nerves of hearing, (Ward)” but Ella thought jazz accurately captured the essence of the soul.

Hidden by the darkness that encompassed the room, Ella bopped, twirled, and swayed to the syncopated beat, clapping enthusiastically after each piece. Ella’s greatest desire was to be on stage. She wanted to acquire fame, like the musicians before her, and be remembered forever as one of the greatest singers of all time. It was a fleeting dream that Ella desperately hoped would come true.

As the night came to a close, the beat slowed down and the tones sweetened. The music took on a more mellow feel that could put the most troublesome baby to sleep. The saxophone sang out above the rest with a rich clarity unlike any other. As the orchestra finished up the last piece of the night, the whole room filled with applause. Ella clapped also and was turning to leave when a hand touched her shoulder.


“Its Ella.”

“I’m Louis Becker, the founder of The Roseland. I’ve noticed that you come here a lot and on different occasions I’ve noticed you singing and dancing right along with some of the performers.” Ella blushed in embarrassment of being caught.

“And might I add that you have a marvelous voice! Such talents should not be wasted! So I have an offer for you. How would you like to sing here, on stage, with Sam Lanin and The Roseland Orchestra as your accompaniment, two weeks from this Thursday?”

“Yes! Of course! I’d be honored Mr. Becker!” Ella squealed, her excitement barely contained in the now quiet room. “Thank you, thank you so much sir!”

Mr. Becker smiled. “Practices are every night starting at 7 o’clock p.m. Don’t be late. Oh, and for the performance please wear a gold dress and maybe accessorize with a gold feather headband. I’m sure you’ll find something fitting.”

“Yes sir, I’ll buy the prettiest gold dress I can find; you won’t be disappointed.” Mr. Becker nodded and handed Ella the music score for Avalon, written and sung by Al Jolson.

“Take care you don’t rip or crumple this score. Go over this song several times; try it out on the piano if you can. I expect you to have it memorized by the performance date.”

“Yes sir, I will. I swear it,” Ella said solemnly.

Mr. Becker grasped Ella’s hand in his, raised it to his lips and kissed it. Ella blushed and he let go, bidding her a good night. She practically skipped out the door, hailing another taxi to take her home. The whole drive Ella struggled with whether or not she should tell her parents about her singing gig, including her frequent trips to the ballroom. But by the time she had reached her house, she had made her decision: She wasn’t going to tell her parents. They wouldn’t approve; they never had.


The big day had arrived! After weeks of diligent practice, Ella was finally ready. She was so excited about her gig tonight that she practically glowed. The dress she had purchased for the event shimmered beneath the clear plastic in her closet. She breezed through her classes at Hunter College that morning, hardly paying any attention to the words her teachers were saying. At work, the job she thought was so tedious felt like nothing at all, so when the girl who worked after her showed up to take her shift, Ella was surprised. Time had flow by in the blink of an eye! Upon arriving home, she unlocked the front door with her key, and hurried up to her room, throwing off her coat and shoes.

Her parents weren’t home yet, so she didn’t have to worry about them seeing her when she left. She shrugged out of her clothes, carefully slipping on the glittery, gold, knee-length dress she had bought for the occasion. It hung off her shoulders and flowed just right, giving her the typical “flapper” look. Flappers were described as “lovely, expensive, and about nineteen,” (Rosenberg) and Ella guessed she fit the bill because she had recently turned nineteen. After sliding a shiny, gold headband with a silver feather over her shoulder-length hair, and applying a light amount of makeup, she was ready to go. Grabbing her new silver jacket and putting on her new silver heels, she headed down the stairs and out the door, flagging down the first taxi she saw.


The lights from the stage nearly blinded Ella as Sam and the orchestra took their places. She squinted, trying to gauge how many people were seated in the room. A smile stretched the corners of her mouth: They had a full house. Sam lifted his arms to direct the orchestra and awaited her cue. At her nod the orchestra began, instruments of wood and brass melding together to create sounds richer than the most expensive chocolate. A few measures later Ella joined in, her melodic voice rising above. Apart, they sounded incomplete, but together they produced music that challenged even the choirs of heaven.

I found my love in Avalon

Beside the bay.

I left my love in Avalon

And I sailed away.

I dream of her in Avalon

From dusk until dawn.

So I think I’ll travel on

To Avalon . . .


Works Cited

Currell, Susan. Edinburg: Scotland Edinburg University Press, 2009 Print. Mar. 29, 2016.

“Eighteenth Amendment.” Encyclopeadia Britannica. Encyclopeadia Britannica Online.

Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 27 Mar. 2016.

Rosenberg, Jennifer. “Flappers in the Roaring Twenties.” About Education. n.p., Dec. 19,                                     2014. Web. Mar. 29, 2016.

Ward, Geoffrey C.; Burns, Ken. Oct. 8, 2002. “Jazz: A History of America’s Music” n.p. New                 York: Alfred A. Knopf. Web. Mar. 29, 2016.


Bill Severn. “The End of the Roaring Twenties: Prohibition and Repeal” (New York, 1970), 126. Staff “Prohibition.” A+E Networks, 2009. Web. March 24, 2016.

Shmoop Editorial Team. “Culture in The 1920s.” Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov.                         2008. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.