This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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US Navy Bandsmen 1914

01 August 2010

Six bandsmen from a US Navy band, stand in front of their barracks. Five wear similar collared uniform coats, while one wears the traditional open neck shirt and sailor cap. One is odd-man-out by being in long trousers without leggings. That should make three different ranks, I think. But two musicians stand out for other reasons. One holds a bassoon, a very uncommon instrument for a band. And the other stands out not because of his instrument but because of his race. This unique photo is from 1914 and it shows a black man playing a tuba with white musicians.

The US Navy did have some African-American musicians around this time but the history is sketchy. Certainly the history of segregation in the US before WWI, made life for any person of color difficult in the extreme, and musical ensembles were just as divided on gender and race as everything else in society. Could this tubist be not a native Black-American but a Cuban musician? Cuba became part of the US after the Spanish American War and certainly islanders would have been attracted to life in the navy.

The sober faced bassoonist is unusual because his instrument has never been a popular choice for woodwind players and it features very rarely in American bands. It also seems out of place because maintaining such a long wooden instrument and the double reeds too on board a navy ship must have been a real headache. And besides they had saxophones to substitute!  Note that he and the tuba and trombone players all wear a wedding band.

Here's a link to more US Navy Musician history with another postcard image showing similar uniforms. Navy Music History

The location of the photo is unknown but because it was used as a postcard we have more of a story. The postmark is from the navy port of Norfolk, Virginia, and dates SEP 23, 1914. Perhaps. The year is smudged but I don't see an 18, more 14, or maybe 13 , or 15.

It is addressed to Miss Mae Clark of Flaxon, Oklahoma from her dear friend F.A.C. He is the cornet player between the two ink marks. Is Mae a sweetheart? If she were a sister or cousin, F.A.C. might write the salutation different. But as romance letters this is pretty tame, it actually reads like something written to a pen-pal.

Faxon is a tiny town in Comanche County in southwest OK, just below Ft. Sill and near the Texas line. It probably had only 150 people in 1914 and only a bit more now. It seems about the most remote place in America to have a connection to a sailor. But Mae made an effort to save this card.

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