Alumnus shines light on 20th century show business with new book: ‘Entertaining Dubuque’

Written by Ruth Wendlandt on |
Paul Hemmer

University of Wisconsin-Platteville alumnus Paul Hemmer examines the show business era of the 20th century in his new book, titled Entertaining Dubuque: The Untold Story (1900-1999). Hemmer graduated in 1966 with a degree in instrumental and vocal music and has spent his career in the fields of broadcasting and live music. His 510-page book is filled with never before told stories and historic photos.

“Dubuque is rich in history. Live entertainment was an essential industry in the area,” said Hemmer. “On any night during the first half of the century, 50 to 100 local hotel rooms would be occupied by traveling musicians, actors or dancers.”

Hemmer was inspired to start writing the book after a conversation with his former drummer. They discussed swing era trombonist Jack Jenney, vocal arranger Jud Conlon, and John Graas, the first man to play jazz on the French horn, according to Hemmer.

“They all grew up in Dubuque and went on to great fame,” he said. “I decided they all needed to be remembered. I started researching newspaper files. As I uncovered more names, places and events, it became an addiction. Often, I would spend eight hours a day researching and writing.”

Hemmer credits his professional background in radio, running a dance band, and writing musicals with helping him start his four years of research.

“I had first-hand knowledge of where to look or who to contact for factual information,” he said. “Keeping [the book] to 510 pages was a challenge. I left out some people and places that deserve more attention. “[However] knowing that it is the only definitive documentation of local live entertainment is rewarding.”

Hemmer is now working on a novel about a young jazz musician in the early 1900s. “It is fiction mixed with facts based on real events I uncovered while researching my book,” he said.

For more information on Entertaining Dubuque: The Untold Story (1900-1999) or to purchase a copy, contact