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Navy Bands

There were many other changes taking place in the early era of the Navy. While it is impossible to determine exactly when the first Navy band was formed, one of the early recollections of a band was back in 1802 in the Italian port of Messina. A local group of musicians was invited to play aboard a visiting Navy ship. This turned out to be the last they saw of the shore line for some time. The sailors liked their music so well that they forgot to tell the musicians the ship was getting underway.

In 1812 the American frigate United States acquired an eight-piece band of French-Italian musicians who had enlisted aboard a French ship, but were captured by the Portugese and taken to Lisbon. Here they signed on the British warship Macedonian which was captured by the Americans. The band ended up playing on the decks of the famous ship United States.

Later, many ships, such as the warship Cyane, organized various types of musical units as early as 1820. The crew of Constitution formed a 20-piece band in 1825. By 1827 this unit became the first known Navy band to be formally shipped aboard an American warship.

William Raymond enlisted as a Musician in 1820 at Norfolk, Virginia and received 10 dollars a month for his efforts. Musician James F. Draper signed aboard the frigate Brandywine in July 1825, and had the notation "$10 a month" entered next to his name in the ship's log. On 31 August 1826, John Page had his rating changed from Seaman to Master of the Band, and in September Ordinary Seaman William Tuton became a Musician, both aboard Constellation.

Navy bandsmen were first recognized officially in 1838, when the pay tables of the Navy Register listed the grades of Bandmaster, First and Second Class Musicians. The number of Navy bands fluctuated but gradually increased in succeeding years through the Civil War until the turn of the century, although it appears that no particular method of procurement or training of musicians was practiced.

The first of a series of fleet musician schools was established in 1903 at St. Helena, Virginia in an effort to improve the training and performance of bands in the Navy. In 1935 Lt. Charles Benter, Leader of the Navy Band, Washington, D.C., established a Band School. In 1941 the school was detached from the Navy Band, and became the United States Navy School of Music with Boatswain (later Lieutenant) James Thurmond as the first officer in charge. The Navy School of Music remained at the Naval Receiving Station, Anacostia, Washington, D.C. until 1964 when the school was redesignated as the School of Music, with a Commanding Officer, and moved to its present quarters on the Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Norfolk, Virginia. The School of Music is now a multi-service command which provides training for Army, Navy and Marine Corps Musicians. Today some 50 bands and 1,500 enlisted and officer musician personnel serve in Navy bands throughout the world.


Information Courtesy of Naval Historical Center

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