Ted Weems was born Wilfred Theodore Wemyes on September 26, 1901, in Pitcairn, Pennsylvania. Weems’ start in music came when he won a violin in a contest (he had hoped to win a pony) and he began music lessons. When his family moved from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, young joined the West Philadelphia High School band and became its director.
At the University of Pennsylvania, Ted and his brother Art organized a small dance band for which the brothers sought the most talented college musicians. Weems abandoned his original plan to become a civil engineer and opted for a career in music instead.
In 1923, Ted Weems began a long association with Victor Records. His initial session on November 20 produced a breakout hit, “Somebody Stole My Gal.” The band had a solid, hot-dance feel, its excellent arrangements buoyed by the engaging vocals of Parker Gibbs. Gibbs’ voice is as distinctive as that of Cliff Edwards, Nick Lucas, or any of the other great stars of the Jazz Age. His vocal on Weems’ 1929 recording of “Piccolo Pete” is well known, though there are many others of equal merit.
After ten years and many hits with Victor, Weems briefly signed with Columbia and then more notably with Decca. In the mid-1930s, Weems’ band was featured on the Fibber McGee and Molly radio program, and he introduced a young singer named Perry Como.
In November 1942, Ted Weems and his entire band enlisted in the United States Merchant Marine. After the war, Weems reorganized his civilian band to modest success. Surprisingly, his earlier recording of “Heartaches,” made in 1938 for Decca and featuring whistling by Elmo Tanner, became a major hit in 1947. Chance airplay had listeners clamoring for it, and the 1933 Victor version sold briskly also. Unfortunately, Weems did not retain royalty rights to either recording, though the band enjoyed a brief burst of popularity.
There were no more hits. Weems toured until 1953, after which he played only occasional gigs. Ted Weems was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a band engagement where he fell ill and died on May 6, 1963.