There’s no record that Frank Zappa was a student at Claremont High School, but in an interview he once listed Claremont as the first of four high schools he attended.
Many from the Claremont High Class of 1958 remember him.
“Yep, he was there,” said Karl Hertz, who sat three rows ahead of Zappa in Eleanor Galloway’s English class.
“We all knew Frank,” concurred Jerry Peairs. “He may not have stayed a year or ended a year, but he was there.”
When we think of Zappa, which we do now and then (we can’t help ourselves), we tend to think of Cucamonga, where he owned a recording studio for a spell, or Pomona, where he formed the Mothers of Invention before departing in 1965 for L.A. and fame.
The peripatetic Zappa family moved frequently, and while over the years I’ve heard the lore that Zappa attended Claremont High briefly, the school district checked for me years ago and couldn’t turn up anything. Besides, it’s well-documented that Zappa graduated from Antelope Valley High in 1958.
But then along came Murray Gilkeson. A retired Baldwin Park High teacher, the La Verne man, 65, has spent an impressive, if unsettling, amount of time investigating the link.
Gilkeson told me his work began in 2013 when he found the Claremont High alumni website and was surprised that Zappa wasn’t listed. He was told Zappa was never a student.
This shocked him, because he’d heard otherwise way back in 1970. In a conversation at a Claremont record shop about the then-famous Zappa, the clerk, Doug Galloway, said his mother had taught Zappa. The English teacher remembered him, Galloway told Gilkeson, because his vocabulary was so large, she had to look up some of the words he used in essays.
All these years, Gilkeson assumed Zappa’s status as a Claremont High student was a given. Now it wasn’t?
He made a personal crusade of proving Zappa was there, attending a Class of ’58 reunion and following up with phone calls and emails to alumni to plumb their memories. He also goes to monthly breakfasts at the Village Grille with students from that era, now in their 70s.
I went to the one last Saturday, where Claremont stories bounced back and forth across the table among a half-dozen alumni.
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