They're Playing Our Song - Part 1
Community Bands in Kansas
Most early American bands had their roots in the military. For over 200 years, military bands have entertained troops and raised the morale of war-weary soldiers.
Civil War Bands
The number of military bands grew tremendously during the first years of the Civil War (1861-1865) when expenses were assumed by the federal government. In 1862 Congress consolidated over 200 regimental bands into about 60 brigade bands and limited the number of musicians in military bands to sixteen.
Some military bands had a less-than-professional appearance. The band pictured at top, right was under the command of General James A. Blunt in Kansas in 1863.
Brigade bands performed concerts for the officers, provided music for marching troops, and aided in kitchen and medical duties at hospitals and in the field.
This over-the-shoulder, or backfire, cornet (top, left) was played by George Bind of Company C, Seventh Kansas Cavalry during the Civil War. These horns were designed to point backwards over the musician's shoulder so that troops marching behind the band could better hear the music. This horn was manufactured by Gilmore, Graves & Co. of Boston around 1861.
Military Bands on the Frontier
After the Civil War bands continued to play an important role in the military. Army regulations required bands to be stationed only at those posts serving as regimental headquarters. In Kansas, that meant Fort Leavenworth, Fort Riley, Fort Harker, and Fort Hays.
The regulations also allowed bands to travel around the region to posts occupied by companies of the regiment. Frontier military bands often performed concerts at nearby communities. People traveled great distances to hear military bands play.
"An event that has long been premeditated . . . came to a successful issue last Wednesday evening: simply the grand ball given by "C" Company, Sixth Cavalry. The intent was to make it stupendous and so it was. Probably no similar event has ever transpired in Western Kansas that can equal it . . . . There was an aggregate of two hundred couples--parties from Wallace, Ellis, Dodge, Victoria, Russell, and Ellsworth graced the fete with their presence. Hays City turned out en masse, and, in fact, the crowd was immense, and good will pervaded the entire affair."
--Junction City Union, April 4, 1874
Commanding officers had a wide latitude in the uniforms and outfits worn by band members, as is apparent with the band at Fort Hays in 1886 (center, right).
Regimental bands accompanied American troops to Cuba and the Philippines for "The Splendid Little War."
The 20th Kansas Volunteers were commanded by Frederick Funston of Iola. Members of the 20th Kansas Band distinguished themselves in the Philippines, often taking part as stretcher bearers and sometimes in combat. After the war a number of musical compositions, like Funston's Fighting 20th March (center, left) were written in tribute to Funston and his men.
"The War to End All Wars"
Over 200 American military bands were stationed in Europe during World War I. Because the quality of these bands was fairly low, military bandmasters' schools were established. Many Americans got a musical education while serving in the military, and after the war pursued careers in music education in the public schools.
Corporal Martin G. Miller used this tenor saxophone (bottom, right) while in the band of the 130th Field Artillery, 35th Division, from 1917 to 1919. It was manufactured by Frank Holton & Co. of Chicago around 1903.
World War II and Beyond
In 1941, the War Department authorized the organization of over 400 bands for the American military. Smaller ensembles often formed out of the larger concert bands, and popular music (such as jazz and big-band music) was reflected in the selections performed by these military bands.
Members of the First Infantry Division Band from Fort Riley, Kansas (bottom, left), formed a rock 'n roll band to entertain the troops while stationed in Saudi Arabia in 1991.
They're Playing Our Song: Community Bands in Kansas is an online exhibit developed by the Kansas Museum of History.
- Military Bands
- Town Bands
- Music in the Schools
- Fraternal Bands
- Railroad Bands
- Cowboy Bands
- Ethnic Folk Bands
- Circus Bands
- Bandwagons and Bandstands
Contact us at KansasMuseum@kshs.org