Like many others of the baby boom generation, I grew up watching the Little Rascals/Our Gang comedies on TV. For years they were aired, sometimes daily, on Minnesota's locally produced kid shows. Our own neighborhood "gang" knew every episode by heart. We imitated a lot of the Rascals' activities with our clubhouses, soapbox racers, boxing matches, and shows. If we were lucky, our folks would let us go on an overnight camping trip to the woods just down the street where we'd parrot the line "Boy, it sure did get dark quick!" [from "The First Roundup" 1934]

When we watched the Rascals in the mid 60's, the shorts were already 30 years old and dated. But the themes were universal, funny, and they starred our own kind kids! The acting wasn't always believable but the ever-present background music always gave an emotional punch to the gang's predicaments. Being a fledgling musician at the time, I was intrigued by the unique music and remember scrutinizing the credits for the name of the music director. I never saw a name, so the identity of the composer would remain a mystery to me for another three decades.

The day came in 1998. I had been searching the web for Raymond Scott and found his music had been recorded by a group in Amsterdam called the "Beau Hunks". I was overjoyed to see that beside Raymond Scott's music, they had also recorded the music heard in the "Little Rascals" films. I immediately sent for their CD, "The Beau Hunks Play the Original Little Rascals Music." Listening to it was intoxicating. I could actually hear every note and not have it obscured by dialogue, sound effects or that crackling film noise. I became even more enamored with this music.

As I listened to the Beau Hunks' note-perfect recreations of the wonderful music that had lain dormant in my subconscious for so many years, I finally discovered the mystery composer's name in the liner notes Leroy Shield. But what really bowled me over was Shield's birthplace Waseca, Minnesota, a mere 30 miles from my home!

Before long, I took a trip to the Waseca Historical Society to look for whatever details I could find about Shield while he lived in Minnesota. At that time, information was scant but this has since changed with his recent "discovery" in Waseca. We found that Leroy was born in 1893 to Maude (Cady) and Patrick Shields. His father worked as a railroad conductor for the Chicago and Northwest Railroad Company. The census records of 1900 show that the Shields family lived in Waseca on Hill Street [now Fourth Street]. Records also indicate that they moved to Belle Plaine, Iowa sometime before 1905. At this time, the Shields had three children: Leroy (the oldest); Walter; and Ethel. The change of residence was most likely due to a railroad related transfer.

Birdseye View of Waseca, MN

Chicago & NW Depot Waseca, MN

Robert Crumb says he believes Shield's music is probably what first got him interested in old music. The same is true for me. I started searching out old music while in my twenties and concluded that a lot of my favorite tunes had been written between 1920 and 1940, with 1930 the apex. I started performing some of this music in coffeehouses. Sometimes someone would say, "So you're into nostalgia..." But for me, nostalgia would be Beatles music and other music popular during the seventies. But the music was not nostalgic to me- it was new. Then a friend introduced me to Fats Waller and Django Reinhardt, and I began to feel as if I had been born in the wrong era.

Although the music Shield wrote for Hal Roach was background to the films, it stands firmly on its own. I doubt that Roach had any grand requirements for Shield to fulfill other than that the music fit the mood of the scene. It was Shield who rose to the task and turned his assignments into art. Roach asked only for music, but what he got was a world-class film composer's creativity in the bargain.

I marvel at the range of Shield's music. It runs the gamut of styles and moods, but always retains its "catchiness". Two of Shield's minute-long string quartets, "Wishing" and "Dog Song", are achingly beautiful jewels and to my ears, reminiscent of Ravel. The instances where they are used can easily evoke a lump in the throat that is not attributable to any great acting or dialogue. I would go so far as to say that I believe Shield's inventive compositions were more than partially responsible for the Little Rascal's success and enduring popularity. The true impact of music used in a movie is easily overlooked until it is removed. Shield's talent for constructing the perfect atmosphere on demand is undeniable. It's even more admirable considering that he was a pioneer, breaking new trails in the pristine field of film composition.

Neither Little Rascals nor Laurel and Hardy films have been aired regularly on television for many years now. (locally anyway) The result is that Shield's music registers a pronounced spike of recognition for those in my age group. It's a bit surprising that a collection of tunes can be so familiar to so many with almost nothing known about its creator. The lack of screen credit as well as Shield himself can be blamed for his relative anonymity. He was a shy man and not the type to toot his own horn. However, he WAS someone of great talent and ability who believed in putting forth his best effort whether it was conducting a nationally broadcast concert or writing tunes for a bunch of short films starring children.

Luckily the Beau Hunks recognized and loved Shield's music enough to spend years of effort carefully piecing together old, noisy sound tracks to transcribe it note by note. And thank heaven they recorded the music. If they hadn't, Leroy Shield's name could very well have slipped into obscurity.

Many thanks to Piet Schrueders, whose knowledge, research, materials, and writings have made this site possible. Hopefully we have helped provide some belated recognition to Leroy Shield and have created a small tribute to the man and the wonderful music he left us. — Steve Cloutier

Footnote: "Miss Crabtree," another Minnesota connection

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