He was not an evangelist, preacher or disciple; but John Angle, aka "John the Baptist," was a legendary fixture for many years in Jefferson City's downtown parades.
The good-natured Black street musician is fondly remembered by many Jefferson City residents from his appearances in city parades and festivities from the 1920s into the early 1950s. He enlivened many public ceremonies with his music and dancing.
Angle was a hired hand, never having learned to read or write, but he was musically proficient on the accordion, drum and the roller organ. He was not part of any school, city or private organization, but he found his place in the city's celebrations.
Angle was inspired by a painting of John the Baptist and thereafter gave himself that name. Few people knew his real name.
He marched, danced and played music much to the delight of parade bystanders. At times, he wore a Confederate uniform, sometimes a band uniform adorned with flashy medals, sashes and ribbons. He had a hat with plumes of feathers and a baton he proudly waved as he marched and danced. He was a showman and a crowd-pleaser.
Carolyn McDowell was a student at the Jefferson City Public School on East Miller Street and recalled: "The high school marching band would assemble in front to prepare to play in parades. The parade did not start until John the Baptist got there."
The first mention in a local paper of a performance by Angle was in 1920. The Daily Capital News covered a statewide Chamber of Commerce event at the Central Hotel. "The home folks produced the original jazz band in which 'John the Baptist' led with his bass drum. The solo by John on the drum was greatly enjoyed."
A May 1924 Daily Capital newspaper reported that after the wedding ceremony of Claud Owens and Edith Synder, the newlyweds rode in a procession "through the streets of the city while 'John the Baptist' marched in front."
Angle remained a much-anticipated fixture in city parades, and as the years went by he was routinely covered in the media. He reportedly led the motorcade of President Truman and Winston Churchill in 1946 when they toured Jefferson City. In January 1949, a Jefferson City Post Tribune story on the inauguration of Lt. Gov. James Blair included this: "The one who drew the cheers and smiles from the crowd was listed on none of the official programs, had no title or uniform, 'John the Baptist,' Jefferson City's ancient Negro street musician followed the dignitaries."
No one seems to know how Angle came to insert himself in these city celebrations or when he began his street shows. Jefferson City fans recall seeing him in parades up to the early 1950s, even after a leg injury in the 1940s. His marching was curtailed some, but he continued to entertain High Street pedestrians as he sat on a wooden box playing his accordion and organ for passersby. He had a toy monkey and cup for coins, but he only wanted pennies in his cup.
John Angle was born in 1875 in Clarksville, Missouri, in Pike County. A profile of him in the Lincoln Clarion in 1948 reported he was raised from a young age by a white couple, Addison and Sally Ogden. It is likely he was born to former slaves belonging to the Angle family in Pike County. There are no records who his parents were or why he went to live with the Ogden family. Some accounts suggest he was a live-in servant of the family.
Addison Ogden was born in 1860, also in Clarksville. His family was from Virginia and had come to Pike County with slaves. After Addison and Sally were married in 1883, they moved to Virginia, where she was from. The 1900 census shows Angle living with them, but there are no records prior to that to verify where he was since his birth, only hearsay.
Ogden moved his family, including Angle, to Jefferson City after 1915. Ogden and his wife had a son, Arnold, and a daughter, Ethelyn. Arnold continued to live in his parents' household at 224 E. Dunklin St. even after getting married to Bessie Luce in 1927. Addison died in 1938 and Sally in 1943, leaving Angle to live with Arnold and Bessie. By this time, they were living at 611 E. Capitol Ave. When Arnold died in 1957, Angle was 82 years old and infirm after fracturing his hip in a fall. He moved into a Fulton nursing home soon after.
When John Angle died in 1967, it was Bessie who arranged to have him interred in the Ogden family plot in Clarksville. He is surely wearing "Those Golden Slippers" that he sang about on his High Street bandstand.
In 1972, a bust of Angle was donated and is on display at Lincoln University's Paige Library.
Deborah Goldammer and Jenny Smith are former board members of the Historic City of Jefferson.