Orchestra leader Orville Knapp became interested in show business at a young age and learned to play saxophone in high school while growing up in his native Kansas City. In the early 1920s both he and sister Evelyn moved to New York, where they worked as a dance team in vaudeville. Knapp also pursued employment as a musician, appearing with the Coon-Sanders Original Nighthawks in 1923 and the orchestras of Paul Specht, Leo Reisman, and Vincent Lopez.
In the late 1920s Evelyn moved to Hollywood to begin a successful career as a film actress, appearing in dozens of ''B'' movies and serials up through the early 1940s. In 1933 Orville followed her to the West Coast. Once in California he found work with a jazz combo before forming his own band for a short engagement at the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel in 1934. The group was an instant hit.
Featuring an organ and an electric guitar, Knapp's orchestra created its own unique sound with sudden, exaggerated brass segments and unison saxes. The band initially recorded on the Decca label, later switching to Brunswick. Styled as the ''Music of Tomorrow,'' arrangements were provided by Chick Floyd. Original vocalists were Virginia Verrill and Don Raymond. When Verrill's mother wouldn't allow her to tour with the band, thinking her too young, Edith Caldwell was brought in as a replacement. Raymond also soon left, to be followed by Ray Hendricks, Dave Marshall, and Norman Ruvell. It wasn't until the following year that a stable male vocalist was found in Leighton Noble.
Knapp's orchestra had just begun to hit its stride when he was tragically killed in an airplane accident in 1936. An avid pilot, he misjudged a landing maneuver and stalled in mid-air. Noble temporarily took over the band after Knapp's death, however Knapp's widow chose George Olsen, who had operated a popular orchestra in the 1920s, as permanent leader under Knapp's name. Morale problems plagued the group, and in 1937 both Noble and Floyd quit to form their own band under Noble's name, taking Caldwell and many of Olsen's musicians with them. Olsen continued to lead the Knapp orchestra until 1938, when it finally disbanded.