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Panhandle Spirit: Aviatrix Club

The Aviatrix Club attracted the best big band musicians in America to Amarillo in the 1950's.(Courtesy Aviatrixclub.com)

Amarillo has a rich musical history, but there’s a link to one chapter of it that many of us have driven by, with no idea of its significance.

Back in the 40’s, when East Amarillo Boulevard was still Route 66, seeing that giant ‘A’ that now sits on top of the Club Vibe sign, meant you had arrived at the Aviatrix Club.

“All the big bands came through Route 66 at that time. So you could catch any of them passing through town and try to book them. He had pretty much everybody, the Dorsey Brothers, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, you name it,” said Nick Scales, who’s dad Carlton owned the club.

Carlton was an outstanding musician and bandleader in his own right, who created a black tie venue that could seat 400-to-500 people. At the time, it was right across the street from English Field Airport, where a grocery store now sits.

“Supposedly, Amelia Earhart had landed there,” Nick said.

Nick and his sister Maggie Scales Peacock, and their three siblings, grew up in a house right next to the ballroom.

“I still remember when they had some of the jam sessions and they would play at the club, and then come over to the house. I was really small, but i would sit in there, and listen, and i can remember waking up at all hours of the night, and hearing big band music, and it was amazing,” Maggie said.

“I don’t think most of us knew really what had gone on there, just what an amazing place it was, the stories of my mom walking in on Louis Armstrong in his boxer shorts, and these amazing stories that carried through,” Nick said.

The original building was destroyed by a lightning fire in ‘53, and rebuilt the next year, and stayed in their family until the late ‘80s.

Nick is now an Associate Professor of Music at WT and plays jazz. Maggie plays several instruments, was part of the Amarillo Symphony for decades, and still performs with the local band, Young Country, allowing them to keep their father’s legacy alive.

“Every time someone says, ‘I know your Dad, Carlton Scales,’ I just get so proud. He was an amazing man,” Maggie said.

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