SC 1996.16


Processed by Mary J. Counts, spring 2006
and Mathew T. Colbert, fall 2007;
Finding aid revised by David Peter Coppen, summer 2021







Shelf location:  M4A 1,1-7 and 2,1-8
Extent:  45 linear feet

Biographical Sketch

Musician Carl Dengler—dance band leader*, teacher, composer. and arranger—was born on December 16th, 1914, in Rochester, New York. He took his first drum lessons at age seven with Frank Brownell and soon began studying with Floyd “Tommy” Thomas. In 1928, aged 14, he made his public debut as a band leader on WHEC’s “Buster Brown” radio program with his own group, the Madison Junior High School dance orchestra. While enrolled at West High School in Rochester, the young Carl joined a professional ensemble, Willis Jensen’s U. of R. Orchestra, which playing at Rochester’s Odenbach Hofbrau. In the early 1930s, he won opportunities to play in the ensembles of the well-known band leaders Hughie Barrett, Johnny Schwab, Sax Smith, and Art Taylor. Subsequently, he went on the road touring with Paul Tremaine’s orchestra from New York City and with Bill Staffon’s Victor recording orchestra. He also played drums in the original production of Alec Wilder’s first musical comedy, Haywire.

In 1935, Mr. Dengler formed his Rainbow Rhythm Orchestra, selecting, as the ensemble’s theme song “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows.” The Rainbow Rhythm Orchestra played engagements at country clubs, colleges, hotels, and ballrooms and additionally completed a 32-week stint at Rochester’s Seneca Hotel. In 1939, the orchestra was engaged for a year-long contract to perform on the S.S. Argentine, which sailed between New York City and Buenos Aires, stopping at various ports-of-call between the two cities. Upon the ensemble’s return to land in 1940, the Rainbow Rhythm Orchestra was reengaged by Rochester’s Seneca Hotel. Soon thereafter, the group left the Seneca to play briefly at the Manitou Beach Hotel on the way to landing a place at Fred Odenbach’s Peacock Room, where they would remain for five consecutive years. Altogether, the success of his Rainbow Rhythm Orchestra won Mr. Dengler a reputation as Rochester’s foremost bandleader. Across a span of more than 50 years, his orchestra was engaged to perform at many prominent social events in New York State and Pennsylvania. In addition, Mr. Dengler made numerous radio and television appearances; his credits include hosting a regular program on station WHAM (Rochester), which was also broadcast nationally. One particular press article (1995) within the collection recalls that Mr. Dengler had formerly been known as “The Musical Mayor of Clinton Avenue” after the street where numerous venues—clubs, ballrooms, and restaurants—once stood, all of which had featured live music.

Alongside his extensive activity as a band leader, Mr. Dengler was both a percussion teacher and a vocal coach. As a mature adult, he studied piano. He was a close associate of Alec Wilder and many other locally and nationally prominent musicians. He maintained an informal but close relationship with the Eastman School of Music by employing many Eastman students, thereby assisting them in launching their careers, especially in the fields of popular music and studio music. In the percussion field, he counted as good friends or acquaintances such figures as Louis Bellson, Buddy Rich, Ray McKinley, John Beck, Roy Burns, Don Lamonde, Gene Krupa, Dave Tough, Morey Feld, and George Wettling.

According to a publicity flyer printed by the CBS-affiliate radio station WHEC (Rochester, NY), Carl Dengler’s approach to satisfying his clientele was his so-called Formula D, an approach to providing listenable and dance-able songs “for the young people who like music sweet and smooth, the middle-aged who like the music of their younger days and the oldsters who like peppy music to make them feel young again. Formula D according to Carl is devised to keep everybody happy—get folks to relax and dance to smooth music instead of the neurotic fads that come and go.”

At the age of ten, Carl Dengler had been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and thereafter lived with the knowledge that he would lose his sight. He adapted to this reality by consciously storing memories of places and experiences and by developing methods of coping with everyday situations. He would go on to perform dedicated volunteer service for the Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired (ABVI) of Greater Rochester (New York), which recognized him with a Certificate of Appreciation (1988) and later with a Lifetime Achievement Award (2002). The latter award is presented by the ABVI to individuals who exemplify the spirit of ABVI-Goodwill and who demonstrate a commitment to the Association’s mission of assisting people who are blind or visually impaired to achieve their highest level of independence in all aspects of their lives. Mr. Dengler’s achievements as a musician and as a dance band leader were cited as an inspiration to the community served by the Association.

Mr. Dengler was a member of ASCAP.  He composed numerous songs, several of which were published by the Amateur Organists and Keyboard Association. His song “The Autumn Days” was recorded by renowned popular pianist Roger Williams.

Mr. Dengler died in Rochester on June 7th, 2006. He had been preceded in death by his wife, Virginia (Ginny).

*Documents within the collection present a variety of names for Carl Dengler’s ensemble, apparently indicating that he formed and led more than one ensemble during his professional life. The names include: Carl Dengler and his Rainbow Rhythm (or his Rainbow Rhythmers); Carl Dengler and his Orchestra, or Carl Dengler’s Orchestra; Carl Dengler’s 13-piece band; Carl Dengler and his Conga-Rhumba Band; and, Carl Dengler’s Big Easter Band (for an Easter ball). One press item from early 1960 indicated that Mr. Dengler had just formed “a new orchestra with an entirely new idea . . . features Robert Barlow (Eastman School-educated harpist) as harpist, plus vocal stylings by the Debonaires.”


The Carl Dengler Collection was a bequest to the Sibley Music Library in 2006. Previously, in 1996, Mr. Dengler had made a gift of twelve scrapbooks that documented his professional life across the span of several decades. The twelve scrapbooks were returned to Mr. Dengler in 1999 at his request while he continued to work on his papers with the assistance of close friends. Those scrapbooks were ultimately absorbed into the given collection, which was received after Mr. Dengler’s passing. The gift of the Carl Dengler Collection was graciously facilitated by Mr. Dengler’s niece, Mrs. Linda K. Russ of Lancaster, New York. An additional gift of sound recordings, housed in boxes 67-69 of the collection, was received at a later time.

Scope and Content

The collection documents the life and work of a dance band leader whose professional career spanned more than five decades. Carl Dengler founded, directed, and managed his own dance band at a time when dance bands were popular in American social life, providing live music at social and civic events. A significant portion of the Carl Dengler Collection lies in the vast library of published and manuscript music:  parts and lead sheets, published popular sheet music, and arrangements in manuscript—in short, a huge gathering of source material for performance. A similarly vast extent of audio content in various formats captures both the sound of Mr. Dengler’s musicians as well as spoken word content featuring Mr. Dengler himself. A substantive extent of press material and various ephemera document his ensemble’s engagements and also its reception by Rochester society. Given Mr. Dengler’s longtime association with fellow Rochesterian Alec Wilder, this collection represents a worthy resource for those studying Alec Wilder’s life and music. The two men’s friendship and mutual respect is manifest in music manuscripts, press material, and presentation copies of books and photographs.

Quite apart from his ensemble activity, Mr. Dengler was a proud native of Rochester, New York. His engagement with the local community, and his advocacy on behalf of Rochester’s history, are reflected in numerous items; these include his radio talks, press interviews, his regular column in Rochester TV Life, and more.  Further, as a man who was legally blind for essentially all of his adult life, Mr. Dengler’s service on behalf of the ABVI, and his example as a role model, is another special aspect of the collection. Various documents and awards record his service to the ABVI and his recognition by same.

Restrictions and Use

The collection is made available for research without restriction. Requests for reproductions in any format will be granted in keeping with the provisions of the United States Copyright Law (1976) and its revisions.


The Carl Dengler Collection bears significant associations with numerous other holdings of the Ruth T. Watanabe Special Collections. Most prominently, the Sam Forman Dance Orchestra Collection, the namesake of which was professionally active in dance band and dance orchestra circles for approximately as long as Carl Dengler was, is a collection of ensemble scores and parts of songs that were popular in the years leading up to, and during, World War II. In that the Carl Dengler Collection constitutes the library and papers of a conductor, other such collections at RTWSC are those of Frederick Fennell (BM ’37, MM ’39), who enjoyed tremendous success primarily conducting bands and wind ensembles, and Stanley Sussman (BM ’60, MM ’62), who served as music director for several dance companies, including the Martha Graham Company. Further, this collection represents one of a growing number of collections at RTWSC boasting significant holdings of popular sheet music; those collections are featured on the SML’s website‌specialcollections/‌findingaids/‌popular/.  Further, this collection joins others at RTWSC in its application to the history of music in Rochester; others in that number are the collections of the Tuesday Musicale, Joseph F. Krautwurst, A. C. Kroeger, and Max Schaible (which holds material of the Teutonia Liedertafel). Finally, Mr. Dengler’s friendship with Alec Wilder recalls RTWSC’s Alec Wilder Archive, which comprises the single largest gathering anywhere of Alec Wilder’s manuscripts and papers.



Mr. Dengler’s music library—comprised of lead sheets and ensemble parts, published sheet music and books, and manuscripts of his own songs—has been maintained in the same order as it was found. When these materials were received originally, the lead sheets and band parts had been organized according to their specific titles and housed in manila envelopes. The parts are here labelled as they were found.  Altogether, the library is sub-divided into the following series and sub-series, largely according to instrumentation:

Series 1:  Manuscript Music

    1. Lead Sheets
    2. Bass Solos
    3. Harp Solos
    4. Piano Solos
    5. Saxophone Solos
    6. Violin Solos
    7. Band Leader Themes – Piano
    8. Band Leader Themes – Tenor Saxophone
    9. Banjo
    10. Carl Cocomo’s Tunes
    11. Ed Jaworski: Program Piano
    12. B-flat Parts: South American
    13. Flute Parts: South American
    14. Piano and Tenor: Hawaiian
    15. Piano Program
    16. 2nd Piano Program
    17. Combo Book: 2nd Piano
    18. Other

Series 2:  Published Sheet Music

    1. Song Sheets
    2. Ensemble Arrangements (Band)
    3. Combo Books
    4. Song Books
    5. Song Collections
    6. Choral Works: Men’s Voices (TTBB)
    7. Other Published Music

Series 3: Original songs by Carl Dengler


This sub-group comprises Mr. Dengler’s various personal papers and other effects, which have been arranged into nine series according to material type:

Series 4:  Photographs

For ease of filing, the photographs have been arranged by their dimensions. RTWSC personnel have relied on provided caption information to arrange the photos in chronological sequence; each photo citation specifies whatever information accompanied the given photo. Where no date was provided or could be discerned, entries have been indicated as “undated.”  In many instances, a group of photos was found enveloped together and labelled according to a venue or occasion; in such a case, the specified venue or occasion has been indicated for each photo in the group, regardless of the actual subject(s) depicted in the photo.

    1. 4” x 5” Sleeves
    2. 5” x 7” Sleeves
    3. 8” x 10” Sleeves
    4. 9 x 12” Sleeves
    5. Framed Photographs
    6. Oversized Photographs

Series 5:  Scrapbooks

As regards their format, all but two of the so-labelled scrapbooks are actually photograph albums, in which documents have been placed in the manner of scrapbooks. Compiled and labelled by close friends of Mr. Dengler, the scrapbooks represent a deliberately chosen and carefully organized presentation of documents from Mr. Dengler’s life and career. The scrapbooks are arranged largely in chronological order. Specifically, scrapbooks 1 through 12 form a cohesive sequence in chronological order; Scrapbooks 13 through 18 are organized thematically around specific names and subjects as are identified in the finding aid. Boxes 37 and 38 hold bona fide scrapbooks that were compiled in an earlier time, and as such, they stand outside of the given chronological sequence.

Series 6: Correspondence

Inbound letters to Mr. Dengler have been arranged alphabetically by the surname of the given sender.  One designated file holds fan mail sent by other individuals, and one designated file contains outbound letters sent by Mr. Dengler.

Series 7: Programs

Series 8: Press Material

A substantial sequence of press clippings documents Mr. Dengler’s life and the activity of his ensemble. These materials have been arranged chronologically.

Series 9:  Association with Alec Wilder

Mr. Dengler appears to have shared a strong mutual respect for Alec Wilder, a fellow Rochesterian. On one occasion, Mr. Wilder paid Mr. Dengler a high compliment on one of the presentation copy books preserved herein. The items in this series attest to their association.

    1. Manuscript Music
    2. Published Music
    3. Papers
    4. Books

Series 10: Books

This series is comprised of a small collection of presentation copies of relevant music literature.

Series 11: Awards

This series is comprised of the certificates and awards that were presented to Mr. Dengler by the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ABVI) of Greater Rochester. The Lifetime Achievement Award is housed in box 45 and must receive special handling.

Series 12: Ephemera

This series is comprised of a variety of printed matter that ultimately reflects the society and the milieu in which Carl Dengler and his musicians worked. Items specific to “Carl Dengler and his Music” include business cards, publicity flyers and handbills, invitations, and printed postcards soliciting dance number requests from attendees at events where Mr. Dengler’s musicians performed. Also included are travel-related items from Hawaii, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. Other materials, namely invitations and menus, pertain to the social life in and around Rochester where the Dengler musicians were engaged to play. A special group of items are a dozen issues of Rochester TV Life in which Mr. Dengler was featured as a regular columnist.


Mr. Dengler’s personal collection of sound recordings presents a diversity of content: a collection of commercial releases; privately captured recordings of the Carl Dengler Orchestra in various venues; spoken word content in which Mr. Dengler speaks about music or about the community of Rochester, New York; and other spoken word content. The greater number of recordings of the Carl Dengler Orchestra date from the 1970s and 1980s, with some earlier recordings here represented in re-formatted guise.

The recorded content in Sub-group III has been arranged by format. Note that the descriptive information provided for the individual entries in Series 14-16 represents, in the greater number of instances, a direct transcription of the handwritten or typescript information appearing on the labels of the discs, reels, or audio-cassettes (or else on their containers). Any more detailed description remains unavailable at this time.

Series 13:  Commercial Recordings

This series constitutes a collection of commercial releases of big band and popular music from the 1940s and 1950s. The recordings are arranged alphabetically according to main entry (whether that be name of composer, principal artist or band leader, or title).

Series 14: Instantaneous Discs

 Series 15: Magnetic Reels

    1. 10 1/2” Reels
    2. 7” Reels
    3. 4” and 5” Reels

Series 16: Audio-cassettes