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Sterling D. Weed, 104; Vt. bandleader active until end

ST. ALBANS, Vt. -- Sterling Dorwin Weed, the nation's oldest known active bandleader, whose Weed's Imperial Orchestra played dates from the early 1930s to this summer, has died. He was 104.

His stepdaughter, Judy Derby, said Mr. Weed died Sunday at his home in St. Albans. His friend and caretaker, Meredith Gillilan, 77, was at his side.

''It was age, and he was just worn out, really," Derby said.

Mr. Weed studied piano as a youth, but said in an Associated Press interview in 2001 that his public career began in 1912, when he was 11. His older brother Ora, a trombonist, said the city band's piccolo player was moving and the band needed a replacement.

Mr. Weed learned the piccolo fast, a feat he repeated a decade later with the saxophone. He was playing flute in a dance band, and the bandleader ''decided the saxophone was the newest thing and he ordered one," Weed said in the interview at his 100th birthday.

''It was delivered on a Wednesday. I had to play it that Friday night; we had a job at City Hall. We only had one saxophone part, so for the rest [of the tunes] I had to play trombone parts. It was OK. I knew how to read bass clef from playing piano."

It was typical of a life in which a constant effort to make do resulted in making music.

He was the first music director at several schools in northwestern Vermont's dairy country, at one point serving as band director in five different school districts -- one each day of the week.

The stories of Mr. Weed's travels around northern Vermont and southern Quebec -- where much of the region's nightclub business was focused during Prohibition in the United States -- were legion. There was the time he forgot to remove the hooked rugs he used to keep his car's engine warm while it sat in the parking lot during jobs on winter nights. The car caught fire as he drove home; Mr. Weed and his band members put it out with snow.

Weed's Imperial Orchestra -- a name he came up with after flipping through a dictionary and settling on the word imperial in about 1930 -- became an institution.

He played at inaugural balls for three governors.

His band was playing on the night in 1943 on the Lake Champlain cruise boat Ticonderoga when Edward and Ione Keenan of Essex Junction had their first date, and it played at their 50th wedding anniversary in 1994.

Perhaps the best exposition of early 20th century music making in Vermont can be found amid the photos, yearbooks, and other artifacts in the Sterling D. Weed Music Room at the Franklin County Historical Museum in St. Albans.

Mr. Weed was still spreading the swing gospels according to Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Paul Whiteman this summer, when his band played a sold out benefit for the Preservation Trust of Vermont Aug. 17 at the Grand Isle lake House.

Mr. Weed was too weak to play his sax that night -- a bladder infection had taken its toll -- but couples got to see him take his place on the stage in the middle of his nine-piece band.

''He loved his music," Derby said.

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