The U.S. Marine Corps Band gave its first concert in Washington D.C. on August 21, 1800. The following article, published in the April 1923 issue of Proceedings, gives a brief history of the Marine Corps Band.
HOW THE MARINE BAND STARTED
BY MAJOR EDWIN N. McCLELLAN, U. S. MARINE CORPS MARINE CORPS HISTORIAN
So many and varying accounts have been given of the first organization of the Marine Band of Washington, that it is time that the real, and interesting, true story should be told.
The Marine Band did not just happen into being, nor were its beginnings in an Act of Congress. There always have been “Musics” in the Marine Corps-from its birthday on November 10, 1775, to date-but it was not until 18oo that the Marine Band had its inception; and like every one of the Marine bands playing today, it was first composed of volunteer musicians from the line.
At the end of the Revolution in 1783, the American people looked upon the soldier, sailor, or Marine, as a man out of a job. He was; and until July 11, 1798–when Congress authorized the Marine Corps-the only Marines were those serving in the State Navies, and a few serving on board the frigates of the “New Navy” in 1797·
William Ward Burrows, a native of South Carolina, but a Philadelphian by adoption, was the first Commandant of the Marine Corps. He was a lawyer, an organizer, and according to Washington Irving, “a gentleman of accomplished mind and polished manner.” Of him the editor of Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, wrote in 1805, “his services in nursing the infant corps over which he presided, so useful to our naval enterprizes, ought to be particularly commended by a grateful country.” At first “Major Commandant,” and later “LieutenantColonel Commandant,” it was he who fathered the Marine Band.
The first Headquarters of the Corps was under canvas a short distance from the heart of the City of Philadelphia, which at that time-July, 1798-was the capital of the United States. The capital moved to Washington in 18oo, and with it went the Marine Corps. Shortly after Headquarters arrived in Washington from Philadelphia, Major Burrows proposed to Secretary of the Navy Stoddert, that the Marines organize a band of music to be stationed “at the seat of the Government,” where Headquarters must always be, for the President’s as well as for other officials’ use. He told him that the law had authorized “thirty-two drums and fifes,” as the Marine “Musics” were called, and that the “Drum and Fife Major” could act as leader of the proposed Marine Band. The Secretary quickly approved the suggestion, and Major Burrows started at once to gather together the members of the band and to secure the necessary instruments.
Orders were issued for the recruiting officers to send to Headquarters all recruits who could play musical instruments, as well as any likely youngsters who might learn quickly. It was not long before there was a sufficient number of fifers, drummers, and privates gathered in Washington to form the band. Then the instruments had to be secured. But these cost money and there was no appropriation from which expenditures could be made to purchase them. However, there was the “Music Fund” formed by personal subscriptions by the officers for the purpose of paying bounties for the enlistment of “Musics.” Instruments were paid for from this fund for several years, then from the appropriations for “Contingent Expenses” and “Music,” until, in 18o5, Congress appropriated for “Musical Instruments.”
So far as the records show, the first purchase of instruments was made on an order issued August 31, 18oo, by the Commandant to First Lieutenant Edward Hall, who was in Philadelphia, to procure two French horns, two C clarinets, one bassoon, one bass drum, and reeds for the clarinets and the bassoon. Lieutenant Hall was specially advised to have a “judge of musical instruments” select them. But the bass drum could not be obtained in Philadelphia, so the Commandant tried to have the drum made in Baltimore. The anxiety of the Commandant to have the instruments arrive in Washington is shown by his frequent letters to Lieutenant Hall in Philadelphia, trying to hurry them up.
At last, about November 1, the instruments did arrive. More instruments were secured from New York. Then came the Commandant’s gleeful announcement to Captain Franklin Wharton in Philadelphia on the first of December, 18oo, that “each boy who is learning, can already play a tune.” The problem of securing a bass drum, however, remained a difficult one to solve, and in the meantime, the band did the best it could without it.
Probably the first important appearance of the Marine Band was at the inauguration of President Thomas Jefferson, March 4, 1801. The next was in Washington on the Fourth of July in the same year. The National lntelligencer published a glowing account of that celebration. “About twelve o’clock the President was waited upon by the heads of Departments, and other officials civil and military, foreign diplomatic characters, strangers of distinction, the Cherokee Chiefs at present on a mission to the seat of Government, and most of the respectable citizens of Washington and Georgetown.”
“Sometime after the company had assembled,” it continues, “Lieutenant Colonel Burrows, at the head of the Marine Corps, saluted the President” while the Marine Band played “with great precision and with inspiring animation the President’s March,” as the Marines “went through the usual evolutions in a masterly manner, fired sixteen rounds in platoons, and concluded with a general feu de joie. The Band at intervals during the morning played martial and patriotic airs.”
“At four o’clock a numerous and respectable company” assembled. Among them were the Heads of the Departments, other high officials; “and most, if not all, of the civil officers attached to the general government, the officers of the Marine Corps, and those of the frigates, with a number of military gentlemen at present at the seat of government.”
“During the dinner, and until the company separated, a full Band of Music, detached from Lieutenant-Colonel Burrows’s Corps, played patriotic and festive airs, and each toast was announced by a discharge of artillery, returned from one of the frigates.”
But the band played without a bass drum, despite the earnest efforts that had been made to secure one. Late in July of the same year Captain Wharton in Philadelphia wrote his Commandant that “after many researches” he had “met with Frayley, Drum-maker,” who “was to show him a Bass Drum, which, if not suitable” he would not accept, but that Mr. Frayley had promised “to make one of any quality required.” There is no further mention of the drum, so this last attempt seems to have been successful.
July 4, 18o2, was a fete day at the Navy Yard, and the Marine Band was one of the attractions. “The arrangements at the Navy Yard were made, under the superintendence of Captain Tingey and Lieutenant-Colonel Burrows, with a very happy regard to elegance and accommodation,” reported the National Intelligcncer. “The ladies were received under a handsome markee, until dinner time, when the company was arranged at an extensive table in the form of a hollow square, under a lofty tent covered with the colors of the frigates, which lay within view, ornamented with flags of all Nations.”
The fame of the band spread, and it was in frequent demand for private as well as official occasions. The Marines of the band early learned that a little spare cash could be picked up. The “customary price” of the band for playing outside its duties was fifty dollars in addition to expenses. It played on many occasions in Washington, Alexandria, Georgetown, and other places. That it also played at official functions, both at the White House and elsewhere, goes without saying.
Lieutenant-Colonel Wharton succeeded Lieutenant-Colonel Burrows as Commandant in 1804. A full year later he was amazed to receive a letter dated February 28, 18o5, from Captain John Hall, on the Congress, at Palermo, Italy, stating that he had regularly enlisted as Marines a “Band of Music” for the Corps, and had supplied them with instruments at the expense of the Corps. One month later, Captain Hall wrote to the Commandant from Messina, that under orders of Commodore Barron he had visited Catania “for the purpose of procuring a Band”; that he had “been fortunate enough to enlist fourteen good musicians for the Marine Corps” ; that he had secured instruments at Messina, and as soon as they were received he would “render an account of all expenses” to the Commandant, according to to his orders. Captain Hall further explained that he had enlisted this Band in accordance with orders received from Lieutenant Colonel Burrows before leaving, “and having engaged them at the same rate as the rest of our Musick,” he would bring them back with him on the Congress, and that he hoped the Commandant would be “pleased with them.”
Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant Wharton, of course, was unaware of the orders Captain Hall had received, from his predecessor, and was anything but “pleased” to have a second “Band of Music” on his hands. On June 29, he wrote Captain Hall that he had “never given any order for the collection of a band in the Mediterranean,” and informed the Captain that it could “not be mentioned as belonging to the Corps”; also that “the Secretary of the Navy can never consent to allow two Military Bands for one Corps, and the Private Fund, hitherto used, has been done away with.”
When Captain Hall arrived in Washington, he was given an opportunity to explain his band-making proclivities. On May 13, the Secretary of the Navy, the Commandant and Captain Hall “went into conference” on the “subject of the Italian Musicians.” As a result of this conference the Secretary wrote Commodore Rodgers in the Mediterranean, on May 15, 18o6, that “Captain Hall of the Marine Corps, having while in the Mediterranean without competent authority but under” direction of Commodore Barron, “enlisted a number of musicians,” and caused considerable inconvenience, this letter was being written with the hope that he would not fall “into a similar error.”
The last heard of “Captain Hall’s Band of Italians” was on July 31, 18o6, when the Commandant ordered that the “Italian Band” live in “quarters within the garrison” and be “under the same regulations as the Old Band is and has been.”
And so the Marine Band, highly appreciated and warmly commended, continued its informal existence for many years.
In 1845 the Brigadier-General Commandant made a strong plea for the Marine Band to the Secretary of the Navy, George Bancroft. But in spite of this, and subsequent recommendations, it was not until eleven years later that Congress took any specific notice of the Marine Band. On August 18, 1856, President Pierce approved legislation giving four dollars additional monthly pay to the members of the “Corps of Musicians known as the Marine Band, stationed at the Navy Yard in Washington City,” to begin May 1, 1856. This law provided that the pay was “to continue as long as they shall perform, by order of the Secretary of the Navy or other superior officer, on the Capitol Grounds or the President’s Grounds.” Finally on July 25, 1861, President Lincoln approved an Act of Congress that authorized the enlisting of One Principal Musician and “thirty Musicians for Band,” in addition to the Drum Major, who had been authorized from the beginning of the Corps.
Thus, after an informal existence of more than sixty years, had recognition finally been accorded by Congress to the Marine Band-the famous “President’s Own”-that has played for every president except George Washington.