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
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Navy Band of the USS Minneapolis

12 December 2014

A bass drum makes an excellent billboard to advertise the name of a band. It is the first thing I look for in an old photograph and this drum made it easy to identify the US Navy Band of the USS Minneapolis. The Nineteen musicians arranged on the ship's deck are wearing the older style US Navy blue uniforms and flat caps. Seated in the center behind the drum is their bandmaster wearing a bow tie. Note the small E-flat clarinet on the right which was the typical high piccolo instrument of military bands, while on the left is a bandsman with the standard B-flat clarinet..

USS Minneapolis C-13

The USS Minneapolis belonged to a class of battleship called a protected cruiser. She was 413 ft (126 m) long with a displacement of 7,375 long tons and had a crew of 477 officers and enlisted men. Built in Philadelphia and commissioned in 1894 the Minneapolis was part of a major expansion of the US Naval fleet in the 1880s. During the Spanish-American war of 1898 the ship initially was part of the North Atlantic squadron and later moved to duty in the Caribbean. Almost immediately after the war ended in August 1898, the Minneapolis was decommissioned. Like many battleships of this era that had coal fired steam engines, the ship was periodically removed from duty until needed. Prior to World War One her last service finished in 1906.

USS Minneapolis C-13 in 1898

In 1917 when the United States entered the war, the Minneapolis returned to active duty in July and made 4 voyages across the Atlantic escorting American convoys taking troops and military supplies to Europe. After the war in 1919, the Minneapolis was reassigned to San Diego, California as flagship of the Pacific fleet. In 1921 she was decommissioned for the last time and sold for scrap. Her mast and ship's bell were saved and are now displayed near Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis.

The postcard of the band was part of a collection of several photos from an estate sale. This postcard shows the Chief Petty Officers of the USS Minneapolis, and I believe the bandmaster may be in this photo too.  It is difficult to tell with certainty but I think he is the man standing third from the right.

The back of the card has a penciled note which might be from the dealer, but there is a nice rubber stamp from the navy photographer of USS Minneapolis C-13 that makes it an official navy photo. In July 1920, the navy reclassified the ship as the CA-17. Since such a change would surely have required the photographer to get a new stamp, any postcards with C-13 must be from before that date.

Also in the estate sale was this photo of the USS Minneapolis band on parade. Here they wear the familiar white sailors caps, blue uniforms and white leggings. The bandmaster leads them from the front with a long drum major's baton. 

The back of the postcard has the same rubber stamp mark of the ship's photographer and a note that the parade was in San Francisco. Though that is certainly possible, the buildings seem more like Southern California so I suspect it might be in San Diego where the ship was based. Since the Minneapolis as the C-13 did not get to the Pacific until 1919, all three photos are likely from that year, though the first two could be earlier from 1917-18.

What  makes the Minneapolis band's photo most interesting is a detail that could easily be overlooked. Standing on the left is a trombonist whose complexion is not the same as the other bandsmen. The US Navy, like most of the nation, was very segregated in this era, so it is very unusual to see a man of color in a band like this. I believe he is Filipino as the Philippines were acquired in 1898 by the United States in the settlement of the Spanish-American War. From 1900 to 1935 the islands had a troubled history under U.S. civil administration. In 1901 the US Navy was ordered to add 500 Filipinos to the force, most serving as ship stewards. But a few talented musicians were accepted into the navy bands as seen in my 2013 story on a Filipino Navy Band from 1912. 

If we look at a closeup we can see the same man marching in the parade too.

A few rows back is another bandsman with darker skin. Because his instrument is tucked under his arm we can't determine what he played. Could he be Filipino as well? He might be African-American but this would be very unusual for 1919. In any case the postcards show a rare element of diversity that was not common to American society at this time.

One last bit of history on the USS Minneapolis I found particularly unsettling especially when considering the date of these photos. In a very long list of non-combat casualties compiled by the Department of the Navy, a record of the ship appears for January 1918 when the USS Minneapolis reported 21 cases of influenza while it was in the Philadelphia navy yard. It was the first occurrence on a navy ship and it quickly spread throughout the fleet claiming the lives of over 5,000 sailors before it abated in 1920. Millions of people perished from the great influenza pandemic,  far more than were killed during the war years. The actual origin of this deadly virus is still debated in medical science though the source is now believed to be China. But certainly the transmission of this illness was exacerbated by the use of military ships for transporting hundreds of thousands servicemen back and forth across the Atlantic. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where sailors are often on parade.


La Nightingail said...

The fellow with the instrument under his arm in the parading band looks like he might be carrying a French horn? As you say, hard to tell - but maybe? As always, an interesting and informative post!

Wendy said...

Good eye, Mr. Mike. I am sure I would not have recognized that sailor as Filipino. You are the master of studying the background and getting the background on all your subjects.

Postcardy said...

I have probably seen the mast and bell of the ship in passing by Lake Calhoun, without knowing what it was. I'll have to go take a better look at it sometime.

Alex Daw said...

Fascinating stuff. Yes I am constantly amazed by how much illness people suffered as a consequence of all being crammed together on ships on their way over to fight in WW1. Chicken pox was rife too in Australian troops.

Bob Scotney said...

As soon as I saw the first shot, I just knew that you would break the picture down to show us some bandsmen. INteresting t see the ship and to learn about its history.

Barbara Rogers said...

Well, your post is fabulous, but I must comment on the Sepians connection between Postcardy's holiday decorations in Minneapolis and your details of the USS Minneapolis and its band. What next?

Sharon said...

I am always amazed that you can alway put a musical twist on all posits. So when did you first develop an interest in music?

Alan Burnett said...

Ever since you first started posting to Sepia Saturday all those years ago, you have always been the expert at photo-analysis. Another brilliant example of what is an art-form in itself.

Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

You are the guru of music :) I hadn't noticed the ethnic diversity -interesting that it was unusual. With no vaccinations and close proximity of troops on ship or land, all sorts of illnesses were rife.

Little Nell said...

Ah now I understand your comment on Bob’s post - very apt. You certainly have the an eye for spotting the detail. How sobering though to think of ll those lives lost through influenza.

Jennifer Anne said...

My grandpa was on that ship, May 1918. Going to France. He was in the 182nd Aero Squadron of the US army. He flew Curtiss Jenny's and then flew Sopwith Camels over in France (just like Snoopy). Airplanes couldn't fly across the ocean in those days. I have a magazine from 1918 that was published on the ship. I also have pictures of the Navy sailors and band as well. My grandpa took alot of pictures during WW1. I enjoyed seeing these photo's you have here.


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