Little shop of history

Little shop of history

Walk into Stacy’s Music Shop in Rio Hill Shopping Center and you will see a shop full of guitars and drums, and hear the tapping of an aspiring drummer getting a lesson in the back. But you will also see many photos on the wall of a Charlottesville era long past.

Shep Stacy’s grandfather, Carl Stacy, loved music and played many instruments. Shep says that he was good at repairing instruments as well. He was also the sax player and bandleader of Stacy’s Dance Orchestra that played around the area, including the still existing Fry’s Spring Beach Club. One of the photos of his band is dated 1925. The musicians in the sextet played music for their living, and Shep says that they were hugely popular.

Third time’s a charm: Shep Stacy is the latest Stacy to run Stacy’s Music Shop. The store is now in its 62nd year of business.

But reality has a way of kicking in, and Carl moved to Norfolk during WWII and worked as a ship builder. In 1945, he realized his dream of coming back to Charlottesville and opening a record store. That shop was Downtown in the Vinegar Hill neighborhood, where the Omni hotel stands today. It was the only store in town selling records, until Back Alley and Sam Goody appeared, at which point Stacy diversified into musical instruments.

The shop stayed Downtown on Main Street until 1991. Carl’s son, Carl Stacy Jr., ran the shop until he handed over the reins to Shep. The store is now in its 62nd year of business. For the 50th anniversary celebration, Shep Stacy had many of the old photos bound in a leather book.

You can also see photos of Bus Smith’s band from the 1930s. Smith bears a striking resemblance to Django Reinhart. There are also pictures of Charlie Page, who played the mandolin and was a member of the Batesville Page family. Shep says that the shop used to be as much a place for the boys to get together and jam in the mornings.

While he pays tribute to the musicians in his family’s past, Shep’s own musical leanings are totally contemporary. He played for many years in My Dog Lucy and is currently in the band Sick Shot. That band has been on hiatus though, because two of the members are out on the road with “American Idol” contestants. Drummer Kevin Murphy is touring with Josh Gracin, and Brian Craddock is out with Chris Daughtry, whose band plays at Starr Hill on April 14. [For more on Chris Daughtry, see feature story] Shep remembers the singer well, because Daughtry took lessons in the store, and his band Cadence used to open for My Dog Lucy.

Carl Stacy Jr. (center) and has band Stacy’s Dance Orchestra played regularly at Fry’s Spring Beach Club and other places around town in the 1920s.

Stacy’s also added a recording studio four years ago, which has produced projects by Navel, This Means You and Under The Flood. Shep Stacy says that the shop’s motto of learn, play and create has been “based on the old store where musicians would meet and play together, help out an aspiring musician, and walk out with some picks or a new set of strings. That still happens today. Many of the musicians in Charlottesville are willing to help out a beginner…even if it’s just showing them a chord on the way out the door.”


Longtime resident Drewary Brown remembers another kind of big band from the old days. The Sweethearts of Rhythm formed in Mississippi, but relocated to Virginia in 1941. Led by Anna Mae Winburn, the band was made up of women, which was maybe not so unusual during the war years. What is more interesting is that the band was racially integrated. Because of this fact, the group booked very few engagements in the deep South. And when they did, the white players often tried to pass themselves off as black to avoid trouble with the law. They were good enough to play the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and it is said that Louis Armstrong tried to steal their trumpet player Tiny Davis. Davis said no to Satchmo, citing her attachment to the women in the band. 

The Sweethearts entertained locals at Washington Park in town during the 1940s, and according to Brown, they were “good looking too.”


For those of you who have never been to an event in the Fry’s Spring clubhouse, you should check out the most nostalgic room in town. The room is the enclosed remains of the outdoor dance pavilion from The Jefferson Park Hotel. It holds about 500 people, hosted the likes of Glenn Miller, and during the 1950s, Charlottesvillers could go dancing there every night of the week. New GM Cristina Webster would like to see the clubhouse put to better use in line with its purpose, beginning with country and swing dancing every Wednesday night starting in April. There will be two open house events in May.

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