Fran Freeman played the washboard for the Hyperion Outfall Serenaders

Fran Freeman with husband Jack and Bob White during the unveiling of the Hyperion Outfall Serenaders mural at Shellback Tavern in 2002. Photo by Patrick Fallon

Fran Freeman, a 57 year resident of Manhattan Beach, passed from Alzheimer’s disease on October 24, 2020 at the age of 87. She is survived by her children Laura and Mark; nephews Michael and Shawn; and niece Donna Fuhrman. Born in 1933 and raised in Yonkers, New York, Fran graduated from Albany State University with a degree in English. She moved to Seneca Falls in upstate New York where she became an English teacher at a junior high school. There she met and fell in love with another teacher, John D Freeman (Jack) and they married soon thereafter. 

Fran soon insisted they move west to escape the snow and cold. They landed in Manhattan Beach, here they raised their two children. Fran and Jack loved the area and remained living in the same house for the rest of their lives. 

Fran became involved in community book clubs and worked as a librarian in local libraries. When her young children began school, Fran returned to teaching K-8 at Jane Addams School in Lawndale, where she worked as the librarian while teaching Library Science and then Special Education. She taught for 23 years, until retirement.

Fran was fun-loving, enjoyed music, dancing, and socializing. In 1975 she combined those joys after joining her husband and brother-in-law in the Hyperion Outfall Serenaders Dixieland band. She played the washboard and tambourine in the band, while occasionally dancing the Charleston, for the next 40 years.

Fran Freeman was a 57-year resident of Manhattan Beach. Photo courtesy of the Freeman family

“Her smile is a Hyperion trademark,” Hyperion bandleader Bob White said in a 2002 interview. “We all have fun playing, but Fran seems to show it the most. She gives the washboard dignity – but not too much.”

Fran loved the theatre, always holding season tickets to the Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center and regularly attending theatrical events around the South Bay. Throughout her years she loved being involved with many plays at the Manhattan Beach Community Church; acting, singing in the chorus, and costuming. She and her husband made some very memorable Halloween costumes for themselves, as well

Fran spent her free time reading books, being very active with Friends of the Library, traveling across country with her family while camping and backpacking, later traveling with her husband abroad, and relaxing at home.  ER

Fran Freeman was the only female member of the Hyperion Outfall Dixieland Band. Photo by Patrick Fallon

Washboard player Freeman is Dixieland band’s only female player

by Jerry Roberts

[Editor’s note: Following is an article about the Hyperion Outfall Serenaders only female member, reprinted from Easy Reader July 4, 2002.

The phrase “the only woman there” can conjure a wide variety of connotations, from romantic to frightening, heroic to exasperated, the worst possible scenario to ideal. Fran Freeman has been a teacher and librarian, mother and wife, experiencing ebbs and flows, but when it comes to her adventures as the only woman in the idiosyncratic Manhattan Beach band known as the Hyperion Outfall Serenaders, nearly everything has been a blast.

“Her smile is a Hyperion trademark,” says bandleader Bob White. “We all have fun playing, but Fran seems to show it the most. She gives the washboard dignity – but not too much. She sometimes brings a calming influence to boisterous rehearsals. Fran and her washboard draw attention and she makes skillful use of that as an ambassador for the band.”

For 27 years, Freeman has noodled, banged, blared, bonked and what-have-you on a variety of instruments, some of which weren’t made to be instruments. She has learned that melodic noise can be made from a variety of things.

“She started quietly,” says her husband, Jack Freeman. “She had her tambourine and whistles. Pretty soon, we discovered the washboard. Then pretty son, we decided we could use crash symbols, and a cowbell and the woodblock. Fran graduated to full-time percussionist with the band. We don’t use drums, so she’s our percussion section.”

And the agent of spirited performing. “One of the reasons that people hire us and re-hire us is because they say, ‘You guys always look as if you’re having so much fun,’” Fran Freeman says. “’And you make it fun for the audience.’ That’s the secret of our success.”

Jack and Fran joined the band in 1975 in its sixth year of existence. The Serenaders began in 1969 as a three-piece group with a cornet, clarinet and trombone after three Manhattan Beach friends discovered each had had a past with music and wanted to see if a future together was possible. They added a banjo player in 1972. When the trombone player left town in 1974, Jack was the replacement. Jack brought his brother, Dave, into the band on tuba, and Fran, too.

Jack and Dave’s father, Elvin Freeman, was a music teacher in New York who played tuba in the John Philip Sousa band, and a more auspicious connection to American musical heritage may never again be made to the Hyperion Outfall Serenaders. With the addition of the Freemans, “Suddenly, we were a full-fledged Dixieland band,” White says, “and have continued to enjoy that status for many years.” In all, the serenaders have been playing for 33 years.

“Jack would sometimes sit in with the band and play tuba,” Fran remembers. “One day he said, ‘You know that funny little band? Well, they lost a trombone player and asked us to join.’ I said, ‘That’s a wonderful idea.’ And Jack said, ‘You know, it’ll just be a now and then kind of thing.’ But, no, it wasn’t. We found out it was a way of life.”

On one occasion of giving, Jack told her to open up her present. “It was round and it rattled,” she said. “I opened it up and there was a tambourine. I said, ‘What do you want me to do with this?’ Well you know what they say about not giving them what they think they want. I really wanted to play with them then. Then came the washboard. I’ve become so obstreperous now. I’ve really come a long way, baby.” But the librarian is constant. We pause for this:

The American College Dictionary states: “obstreperousadj. 1. resisting control in a noisy manner; unruly. 2. noisy or clamorous; boisterous.”

Being a librarian, Fran looked up “Hyperion,” too. “I did that a long time ago, when I looked up Hyperion Boulevard in Los Angeles,” she said. “It means the god that was the Sun God of the Greeks before the Greeks we read about in history.”

White liked the sound of it. The “Outfall” part related just naturally to the City of Los Angeles’  Hyperion Treatment Plant, which treats sewage at 12000 Vista Del Mar in Playa del Rey adjacent to El Segundo, and discharges the outfall into Santa Monica Bay.

So far, Fran hasn’t encountered any trouble by being the only woman in the group. As for her and Jack’s 47th anniversary in June, she says it gave her some hope. “I think it’s going to work,” she says. They both were born and raised in New York state and married in 1955 after they were hired to the same school, she as an English teacher out of the State University of New York at Albany and he as a woodshop instructor. Living upstate in the Finger Lakes district, they were going to build a house because their $21.56 monthly rent, plus water, allowed them to save money.

But the local chamber of commerce told them that their home, a former temporary Army barracks, was going to be torn down. “Jack said, ‘You always wanted to live in a warm climate,’” she recalls. “It took me until the next day for it to sink in. We began writing letters of application to school districts. He got a job teaching at La Cresenta, and two years later at North American. “He loved the fact that for five years they paid him to build model airplanes,” she says.

Jack went back to teaching in Centinela Valley. Fran took night courses in library studies at USC and got a job in the public library in Glendale. Their daughter, Laura, was born in 1959 and son, Mark, in 1961, about the time they moved into their Manhattan Beach home, which they have expanded several times. Fran went back to teaching after the children grew some and she became a half-time librarian, half-time teacher in the Lawndale.

One of the few obstreperous librarians around, Fran enjoys the best of both worlds. A local minister once introduced this self-described “least talented member of the band” as “the only sanity in the whole group.”

Don’t tell that to kids. “It takes several songs,” Fran says. “Then there’ll be several little girls dancing, and then more and more daddies with babies on their arms will start to move with the music. I get going and encourage them. One time I counted 50 children out there, dancing like crazy.” She helps out when the group gets crazy.

“A problem will come up and the guys will be yelling at each other in rehearsal,” she says. “Then finally, Fran says, ‘Hold it, guys. Let’s do this …’ I can be a calming effect, I guess. This is an unbelievable group of guys. When I joined, I felt out all of their wives on the subject, and they said, ‘Go! Go! Have a good time with it.’ And that’s what I’ve been doing.”

The Hyperion Outfall Serenaders, which opened up the City of Manhattan Beach’s annual Concerts in the Park series last month at Polliwog Park, play up to 50 gigs a year, many of them annual events, and they will be all over the place this summer, locality-wise and musically speaking, playing weddings, private parties, watering holes, yacht clubs and Manhattan Beach events. When former Mayor Joan (St. Joan as the band dubbed her) Dontanville unofficially named them the city’s official group, they believed him. And no one in the city seems to have thought any differently since. ER

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Written by: Kevin Cody

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