DUMAS, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – If a person claims to be a clean-cut fella from Hohner’s Corner or a ping pong papa from Pitchfork Prairie, they’re very likely altogether a ding dong daddy from Dumas; and when they do their stuff, it won’t be something to miss.
Phil Baxter seemed to believe so, anyhow.
While the High Plains remains a home and inspiration for many of its natives, such as musician Terry Stafford, Phil Baxter’s 1928 “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas” offers a testament to how deeply the region can impact those who pass through on a larger journey, and how deeply those travelers can ultimately impact the region.
Baxter was born in Navarro County, Texas, in 1896, according to William Lee’s 2005 book “American Big Bands”, and was noted as being raised in Marshall, Texas, by the town’s local newspaper in 1925.
At 14, according to a 1932 newspaper biography, Baxter began his music career by playing piano at a Dallas roller skating rink. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War I, where he and fellow sailor Paul Whiteman would play the piano and violin to entertain their fellow servicemen. After leaving the navy, Baxter formed an orchestra that was featured in Kansas City and broadcasted over its local KMBC radio station.
Baxter fronted his six-piece band through the ’20s and ’30s and created his first record in 1925. After gaining notoriety in Kansas City, noted Lee, Baxter recorded a second album in 1929. Although he later fell ill with what Lee phrased as a “severe arthritic condition” that ended his active music career in the mid-’30s, Baxter left behind a range of notable compositions that would continue to be familiar titles among lovers of big band music and would be covered by a number of iconic musicians.
According to the Dumas Chamber of Commerce, Baxter spent a few weeks in the area in the late ’20s and “had a steak” before continuing his journey. A year after his visit, according to the chamber, Baxter composed “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas.” While the song is only about two-and-a-half minutes in length and serves more as a jaunty introduction to the singer, putting their best foot forward in a big city, its high-energy strings and confident lyrics echoed across Dumas for years to come.
Although there were no music charts at the time, the Dumas chamber noted that “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas” gained national recognition after Phil Harris, band leader for the Jack Benny Radio Show, recorded the song. In the wake of WWII, Dumas residents began the radio station KDDD – each “D” coming from the title of Baxter’s much-loved song.
The radio station used the song as its theme, according to the chamber, and later commissioned a caricature based on the song that was referred to as the titular “Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas.” KDDD copyrighted the caricature to use as a trademark, which became popular in the early ’50s. The station loaned out the logo to the chamber for use in promoting the city, which later created its associated “Ding Dong Dolly from Dumas” caricature.
According to the chamber, the Moore County Historical Museum not only has the original artwork of the “Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas” on display but also an autographed copy of the song’s sheet music by Phil Baxter. Further, the museum hosts a copy on tape of part of a radio broadcast interview with Phil Baxter from KDDD that was made during the Dumas Dogie Days celebration in 1957.
Although not strictly related, the Dumas Dogie Days celebration is a similarly long-standing point of pride for the community. As described by the Dumas Noon Lions, the event first started in 1946 to meet commitments made to aid the Don Harrington Ranch Home for Scouting in Amarillo. After decades of evolving to a days-long event including a carnival and parade, the Dogie Days celebration has enveloped the Dumas community in food and celebration for 75 years. Recently, proceeds from the event have gone towards club causes such as Leader Dogs for the Blind.
In 2022, the Dogie Days celebration is scheduled for Wednesday, June 8 through Sunday, June 12 at McDade Park in Dumas.
Altogether, both the iconic Dumas song and celebration call back to the dynamic the High Plains shares with travelers.
Whether a person is passing through the High Plains while following a dream, as Baxter was at the height of his music career, or stopping in for an afternoon at a carnival, there’s a gift for each person that the region holds ready to offer. From its beginning the Dogie Days festival has operated as a way to offer assistance and goodwill to those outside the bounds of Dumas by way of charitable donation; and with a steak and a name easy to jive to, Dumas offered itself to music lovers across the nation.
Not everybody can be born and raised in the High Plains. However, from Phil Baxter to the Osmond Brothers, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and anyone willing to open their hearts to a tune – anybody can be a ding dong daddy from Dumas. Or, at least, they can sing it that way.