The Klaberheads will celebrate the band’s 90th anniversary this year. Fans can celebrate the milestone at several upcoming concerts, including “An Evening of Big Band” at Parrish Auditorium on Friday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m. CONTRIBUTED

The Klaberheads are turning 90, and they’re celebrating with ‘An Evening of Big Band’

Band to celebrates its anniversary with several upcoming concerts

The Klaberheads (also known as The Franz Klaber Orchestra) will celebrate the band’s 90th anniversary this year. Fans can join in the celebration at several upcoming concerts, including “An Evening of Big Band” on Friday, Feb. 21 at Parrish Auditorium and “Klaberheads Oktoberfest Celebration: 90 years of Gemutlichkeit” on Friday, May 15 at The Redmoor in Cincinnati.

“2020 is our 90th anniversary. I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve been able to perform, and make a niche for ourselves for 90 years. We also have every decade represented in the band. We have a seven-year-old, who is starting to play, my son, Franz, my teenage daughter, Emily sings, and we go all the way up to my dad, Franz Jr., who just turned 80,” said Erika Klaber, the band’s leader.

She said the group is “A jewel in Hamilton’s crown.” The Hamilton-based band was started by Franz Klaber Sr. in 1930 as a five-piece act. Klaber, a German immigrant from the Saxony region of Germany, taught himself to play stringed instruments even before he owned an instrument.

“My grandfather came to Hamilton, settled in 1930, and started the band right away. His vision was to do traditional German, because there was a lot of German clubs in the area, but also to do popular music of the day,” Klaber said.

Franz Sr.’s sons, Bill and Franz Klaber Jr., both joined the band while they were in junior high school. Franz Jr. took over the band in his early 20s after Franz Sr.’s untimely passing in 1963. Under his leadership, the band affectionately became known as The Klaberheads. Bill Franz retired from the group in 2016 after 50 years with the group, but he occasionally makes special appearances. Franz Jr. and Angie D’Ercole are still core members of the group, along with Erika’s husband, Robb Horton.

Erika has continued to build upon the long-lasting vision and timeless tradition that was started by her father and grandfather. Serving as the band’s current leader and business manager since 2006, Erika also plays steel drum in the band. The group’s lineup also includes multiple vocalists, trombones, trumpets, saxophones and a full rhythm section.

Four generations strong, Erika’s daughter, Emily Muench, 19, performs regularly with the group. Her younger sons, Franz Horton, 7, enjoys singing and percussion, and John Horton, 9, has taken up the accordion. Erika’s older son, Thomas Muench, 16, is musical as well, but he is passionate about taking pictures at their performances. Several of Franz Jr.’s and Bill’s children and grandchildren have also been apprentices and active members of the group.

Reflecting on 90 years, Klaber said younger generations continue to get involved in the group, and the band continues to have more opportunities to perform, nationally.

“I think the other thing that sets us apart is our ability to connect with the audience. We’ve really tried to put on a show and entertain,” Klaber said.

She said the Friday, Feb. 21 concert will focus on the big band era with songs from The Great American Songbook featuring the music by greats like Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. Audiences can expect to hear iconic classics like “In The Mood,” “Moonlight Serenade,” and “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

The second half of the concert will follow the evolution of big band music from the big, band era up to today. Audiences will also hear newer arrangements like Michael Buble’s “Save the Last Dance for Me,” and Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” done in a big band style, which was also arranged by Buble. Additionally, there will be a multi-media presentation highlighting the big band era.

Along with the 90-year tradition, the group is best known for keeping the German heritage alive in Southwest Ohio. They also host their own New Year’s Eve dance, a popular event in Hamilton that draws a sell-out crowd.

With an extensive touring schedule, the group performs locally, regionally and nationally at Oktoberfest celebrations in Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Lexington, Nashville, and St. Charles, among many others. They have also performed at Disney’s Epcot Center and Yuenglings Oktoberfest in Bethlehem, Pa., as well as at Wurstfest in New Braunfels, Texas, one of the nation’s largest Oktoberfest celebrations.

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