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Mason Prince
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Bands
Biography
Background: The French Lick, Ind., native had a love of airplanes, but because he was black he could not join the Army Air Corps. Instead, he volunteered for the Navy, where he hoped to become involved in aviation. He soon found himself near Chicago at a Navy training camp for musicians after a companion volunteered the information that Prince could read music. He played clarinet in High School and a bugle in the Boy Scouts. "I just didn't want to play clarinet, so I told them I played trumpet. And I couldn't play very well, but they needed musicians so bad that they gave me a shot at it." He was stationed in Hastings, Neb., and moved "temporarilly" to Omaha in 1947 after he was discharged.

Today: Prince performs regularly at taverns and lounges in Omaha and Lincoln, often with the Bill Ritchie Quartet. Prince worked full time for 34 years with the Omaha Public Power District, retiring last year as a manager of printing services. "There really aren't too many of the older musicians left. Most of them have quit playing or have died. I'm one of the lucky ones. I guess I can name five or six of the older musicians that are still active. The guys that I work with are much younger... I feel really flattered…

1940s and '50s: For the first two years after his Navy discharge, he hit the road with several Midwestern bands led by such figures as Basie Givens, Lloyd Hunter and Nat Towles. He spent four years in the early 1950s with drummer Walter Harrold's combo at the Trocadero Club at 20th and Cuming Streets. Other regulars were bassist William Parr and pianist Doris Shephard.

1960s and '70s: During most of the 1960s, Prince performed with pianist-organist Big Daddy Sailes at the old Lamplighter Motor Inn, near 72nd Street and West Center Road. In the early 1970s, he led a band at the Hilton Hotel (what is now the Red Lion Inn) for 1 1/2 years.

Thoughts on jazz: "It's just something that gets in your blood. and you just can't quit it. It's just the joy of doing it. Jazz musicians generally do not do this for money, because there is not much money in it."

A Fond Memory: Prince misses the days when area musicians could go to McGill's Blue Room at 24th and Lake Streets and jam until eraly-morning hours with touring groups led by the likes of Gene Krupa, Charlie Barnet and Woody Herman. "If you got up there and you really didn't know your instrument and you wanted to come out and play with them, they would just call tunes on you and change keys on you and make you quit right in the middle of it."