Opening Act at the Lido Casino in 1940

By | July 31, 2014

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Rudy Bundy OrchestraOn Garfield Drive, not too far from the famous Lido Casino, a comfortable but unpretentious house was noted for its unique fence. Carved in wood across the length were the first five bars of home owner’s theme song, “Thrill!” Inside, one of the rooms was filled with photographs and mementos of a life in the spotlight.

For many years this was the home of Rudy Bundy, a nationally known bandleader during the big band era who brought his 12-piece orchestra to Sarasota in 1940 to be the casino’s opening act.

The Rudy Bundy Orchestra was the first big-time band to hit Sarasota since the Great Depression and they were an exciting act to listen to and watch. They had played the Palace Theater in New York and also headlined in nationally known clubs around the country. Their music was carried coast to coast on CBS and the Mutual Broadcasting System and they were recorded by RCA Victor.

Outfitted in brown slacks, tan double-breasted coats, and white and brown wing-tipped shoes, the orchestra was an impressive-looking group. As an ad for the Lido Casino put it, “On Lido Beach the nights are enchanting…it’s time to listen to Rudy Bundy’s music borne on the soft breezes of the Gulf of Mexico.” In fact, on calm evenings, Bundy’s music could be heard at his house by his wife, Katie.
Pounding out such swing-era dance music as “Begin the Beguine,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “I’ll Get By” and, of course, “Thrill!” the group wowed the revelers that festive December evening.

It was to have been a limited engagement, but shortly after the celebratory opening, Bundy returned, built his home on Garfield Avenue, and stayed to become one of Sarasota’s most popular performers.

One of Bundy’s fans who would become a lifelong friend was circus boss and would-be musician (he played the sax), John Ringling North, president of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. North, who loved to party into the wee hours, hit on the idea of opening an upscale nightclub with Bundy as the “draw.”

As Bundy told the story, one night they went to North’s uncle John Ringling’s old real estate office on St. Armands Circle, broke into the musty place for a look-see and determined that it wasn’t large enough for their purposes. Next stop for the duo was the John Ringling Hotel, which North would imbue with the trappings of the circus. It was here he decided to open the M’Toto Room lounge, telling Bundy that if it didn’t work out, they could drink all the booze themselves. But the M’Toto Room quickly became a hit, for may years the focal point of Sarasota’s nightlife – Bundy playing his “sizzling clarinet,” occasionally accompanied by North.

Bund, who had started playing professionally in the 1920s, gave up his band – but not his clarinet or his music – in 1954 and devoted himself for quite some time to the circus; North had asked him to be his assistant and treasurer. He would later be vice president.

Always popular, a gentleman with a ready smile, Bundy continued playing music into the 1980s. He died on August 1, 2000. He was 93 years-old and had brought countless hours of listening pleasure to music lovers around the country.

Courtesy of Sarasota History Alive!


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