The Fate of Bill Hegamin, Jazz Pianist and Bandleader in Shanghai from 1925-1945

While other African American jazz musicians like Buck Clayton and Teddy Weatherford earned a great deal of notoriety in Shanghai and beyond, William "Bill" Hegamin seems to have taken a more low-key approach to his career (pun intended). While earning his jazz chops in America in the 1910s and early 1920s, he was completely overshadowed by his wife Lucille Hegamin, a well-known blues singer, whom he left in 1923 to build his career in Asia. After arriving in Shanghai in 1925, he continued to perform steadily in the city's jazz/dance club scene through the 1930s, where according to the article below he "amassed a small fortune" only to have it confiscated during WWII by the Japanese. These two articles below answer the question that has been in my mind for some time about what happened to this low-key jazz artist, who it turns out shared a similar fate to that of jazz bandleader Whitey Smith and so many other Americans who remained in Asia during the war years. It's good to know that he eventually returned safely to the USA with his family. Other than these articles I found online, the best source on Bill Hegamin's career I've seen is Canadian journalist and writer Mark Miller's 2005 book Some Hustling This: Taking Jazz to the World 1914-1929.

Four Entertainers in China Seek Escape

(The Baltimore Afro-American Mar 13, 1943)

SHANGHAI, China.—Four colored American entertainers are among those here hoping to leave for their homeland on the next exchange ship, if one. Two men and two girls make up the foursome. They are the Dixie Sisters, song and dance act; Bill Hegamin, pianist, and Ray Reynolds, bandleader. At present, the girls are band thrushes; Hegamin has a studio and is teaching piano and voice, while Reynolds, who lost his band, is dancing nightly.

 GLAD TO BE IN THE GOOD OLD U. S. A. are Mr. and Mrs. William (Bill) Hegamin and their two sons, Jerome 16, (left), and Robert 17, (right) after two years and seven months of privation and cruelty In a Japanese concentration camp in Shanghai, China. Hegamin, a well-known New York pianist and composer, went to Shanghai 20 years ago where he amassed a small fortune in the music business only to have it ruthlessly confiscated by the Japs. Homeless, the family, some of the last of the repatriated Americans, left Shanghai on the hospital ship USS Refuge to Okinawa, then by the CSS Santuary to San Francisco, arriving in New York City last week, where they plan to live and educate their sons. According to their blood curdling story of death, destruction and atrocities in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation they are indeed fortunate to be alive and together.

GLAD TO BE IN THE GOOD OLD U. S. A. are Mr. and Mrs. William (Bill) Hegamin and their two sons, Jerome 16, (left), and Robert 17, (right) after two years and seven months of privation and cruelty In a Japanese concentration camp in Shanghai, China. Hegamin, a well-known New York pianist and composer, went to Shanghai 20 years ago where he amassed a small fortune in the music business only to have it ruthlessly confiscated by the Japs. Homeless, the family, some of the last of the repatriated Americans, left Shanghai on the hospital ship USS Refuge to Okinawa, then by the CSS Santuary to San Francisco, arriving in New York City last week, where they plan to live and educate their sons. According to their blood curdling story of death, destruction and atrocities in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation they are indeed fortunate to be alive and together.

 

Bill Hegamin, Two Sons, Wife, Finally Liberated; Tell Story of Atrocities

By NORA HOLT

New York Amsterdam News Nov. 17 1945

TWO YEARS AND SEVEN MONTHS In a concentration camp in Shanghai, China, was the late of William (Bill) Hegamin and his two sons, Jerome, 16, and Robert, 17, during which time they suffered privation, hunger, and cruelty at the hands of the sadistic Japanese, and were permitted to see Mrs. Bessie Hegamin, wife and mother of the boys but five minutes, at one time, and two hours another, during the entire time of their incarceration. Mrs. Hegamin. an adopted daughter of a Portuguese family from Macau was considered a neutral and escaped going to camp.

Bill Hegamin, born in Camden, N. J.. will be remembered by many musicians as a top flight pianist, composer and arranger who worked with major dance bands and shows in Chicago and New York in the 1920s. Artie Shaw recently made a new platter of "Jazz Me Blues" made famous by his former wife, Lucille Hegamin. He also played with the Miller Brothers show and Wilbur Sweatman before going to Manila.

In 1925 he went to Shanghai, one of the first to work In that far eastern city. Later Darnell Howard, Jack Carter and other bandmen worked with him in a large orchestra at the Plaza Hotel. After a short stay at the Little Club he spent seven years as pianist with the orchestra at Sir Victor Sassoon's Cathay Hotel and the short-lived but palatial Ciros, that closed when Jap hostilities broke out.

Ironically, the greatest catastrophe of the war In Shanghai was unwittingly caused by the Chinese themselves, and "Bloody Saturday" August 10, 1937, stands out as a…. [the article seems to end here, at least the one I found online--"Bloody Saturday" refers to the events of August 14 1937 when Chinese bomber planes accidentally dropped their payloads on some of the busiest streets of Shanghai while aiming for Japanese warships in the harbor]