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Claude Trenier, 84; Part of Singing and Dancing Act

November 21, 2003|Claudia Luther | Times Staff Writer

Claude Trenier of the Trenier Brothers, an exuberant singing and dancing ensemble that had one of the longest-running lounge acts in Las Vegas, died Monday. He was 84.

Trenier died of cancer at a Las Vegas hospice, said his brother Milton, who was part of the Treniers in the 1950s.

Trenier and his identical twin, Cliff, who died in 1983, formed their first band in college in the 1930s in Alabama, where they were born. Both worked for a time with Jimmie Lunceford's band before the Treniers was formed in 1947.

The band, which included Don Hill on the alto saxophone, had a moderate hit in 1951 with "Go, Go, Go" for the Okeh label and was considered by many to be on the frontier of rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll.

The Treniers first appeared in Las Vegas in the late 1940s at the Flamingo at a time when there weren't even such things as "lounge acts."

"There was just mud and dirt," Claude Trenier told CNN's "Showbiz Today" in 1997. "The main line was two lanes, one going this way, one going that way."

Once established, the Treniers were popular not only with the fans but with other Vegas acts, including Sammy Davis Jr., Bill Cosby, Wayne Newton and Frank Sinatra; after their own acts, these performers would go and hang out onstage with the Treniers.

"They just had fun, and the people would be jamming," Claude Trenier told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

But the early days in Las Vegas were tough for African American acts. Trenier called the city "the Mississippi of the West."

"We do our show, then had to go out by the pool," Trenier told Associated Press in 2001. "They didn't allow no blacks in the main showroom." He added, "You just had to take it."

The Treniers appeared many times on TV on a variety of shows, including Ed Sullivan's, Perry Como's, Red Skelton's, Dinah Shore's and Jackie Gleason's.

They were also in several 1950s movies, including "The Girl Can't Help It" and "Don't Knock the Rock." During the 1940s and '50s, they played at Central Avenue clubs in Los Angeles, according to Tom Reed's "Black Music History of Los Angeles -- Its Roots."

Trenier's last Las Vegas gig was a one-night show a year ago, and he last performed in August at the Sands in Atlantic City. He had gone into semi-retirement a couple of years ago, but found it hard to stay away.

"What am I going to do?" he asked when the question of retirement came up. "I enjoy it. People enjoy it."

Trenier had maintained a home in Los Angeles until earlier this year. Besides Milton, he is survived by another brother, Harold, of Los Angeles; and two sisters, Antoinette Burnette of Tacoma, Wash., and Tina Trenier of Los Angeles.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Harrison-Ross Mortuary, 4601 S. Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles.

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