Connellsville’s “Mr. Trombone,” Harold Betters, is being remembered as a gentlemen to the very end.
“I can only tell you, and this sounds contrite, but it’s true, but he was the best father anyone could ask for,” said his daughter, Cheryl Betters Kelly.
Her father died Sunday at the age of 92 in his home.
Kelly said she has never had a cross word with her father, and saw firsthand his generosity at home and around Connellsville.
Betters would always give $20 to a gentleman who used a wheelchair to get around whenever he saw him in town, Kelly said, buy turkeys for less fortunate families around the holidays, and send checks to funeral homes after someone he knew had passed away.
“He was humble,” she said. “He would bring people up on stage if they wanted to sing at his show.”
Betters had performed locally and regionally over the years with the Harold Betters Quartet.
Betters was born and raised in Connellsville and graduated from Connellsville High School in 1947. He attended Ithaca College upon graduation, but the following year, he decided to enroll in the Conservatory of Music in Brooklyn.
He said he wanted to play the trombone to emulate the sound of jazz great Tommy Dorsey, the man who inspired him to play.
The Harold Betters Quartet played for the first time at the Suburban Room in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. The band became a staple at the Pink Cloud and The Encore, which was fondly known as “The House that Betters Built.”
He played at The Encore seven nights a week for 16 years. It was at The Encore where Betters earned the nickname, “Mr. Trombone.”
Betters was known around the world for his musical performances on the trombone, which opened up a myriad of opportunities. He shared the stage with Louis Armstrong, Ramsey Lewis, Al Hirt and Slide Hampton during his career. He also toured with Ray Charles, frequented the “Merv Griffin” and “Mike Douglas” television shows and appeared on the “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson.
While his talent took him everywhere, Connellsville remained his home.
“The city has lost an icon,” said Connellsville Mayor Greg Lincoln. “Harold was world renowned, but he never forgot Connellsville.”
Lincoln said one of the first things he was honored to do as mayor was give Betters the key to the city as well as having a concert in Betters’ honor at the Edwin S. Porter Theater.
“Then, two years ago, we renamed the band shell at East Park after Harold,” Lincoln said.
The Fayette County Cultural Trust raised funds to erect a metal plaque in Betters’ honor at the shell and also dedicated a wall to Betters at the Connellsville Canteen.
“On display in the canteen we have his many record albums, photos and achievements,” said Daniel Cocks, the executive director of the trust. “Every time Harold would come into the Canteen, he would bring something else to hang on his wall, and you can see the glow in his face and how proud he was of all his accomplishments. We were proud of him, too.”
Cocks added that they have been working with Veteran’s Voices of Pittsburgh to film and gather stories from World War II veterans, one of them being Betters, an Army veteran.
“We saw it fitting to get Harold’s story told in this manner and invited Veterans Voices to come back and film him,” Cocks said. “They came to Connellsville and videotaped Harold and put together a program, ‘Harold Betters – In his own words’.”
The program can be viewed at veteranvoicesofpittsburgh.com/harold-betters-army/.
Cocks said, throughout his time knowing Betters, the man was always filled with love and excitement.
“I remember when I first met him, I extended my hand to shake his, and he gave me a hug,” Cocks said. “That really tells something about a person’s character.”
Reaction to Betters’ passing has certainly reached Kelly, who said the outpouring of love on Facebook has been wonderful, many gifts have been delivered to her house, and everyone she has spoken with has been great with sharing stories of her dad.
“I was very fortunate to spend his last day with him,” Kelly said.
She said the day was spent with her playing him CDs, telling him he had been a great father. She left briefly to go to the store, and her father passed away.
“He didn’t want it to happen when I was there,” Kelly said. “He was a gentleman to the end.”
Following Betters’ wishes, Kelly said there will not be a viewing or memorial service. Betters will be cremated and taken to the cemetery to be with his wife, Marjorie, who died in 2012 after the two had been married for 54 years.
After his passing, Kelly said she sat with her two brothers and talked about their father.
“I can’t say enough,” Kelly said. “Honestly, he was the best father anyone could ask for.”
The family is asking that anyone who wants to send a remembrance in Betters’ name direct it to his son, Kevin Betters, at 407 E. Francis Avenue, Connellsville, PA 15425.