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 Citizens Band

18 September 2015

Every band needs the rhythm of a snare drum; 

with alto horns and tenor trombones for the harmony;
clarinets for the melody;
and a piccolo E-flat clarinet for the descant line;

tubas and sousaphones to handle the bass;
and cornets to carry the tune;

and a bass drum with cymbals to keep a steady beat.

A Citizens Band of 21 unnamed musicians
posed on the steps of an unmarked building,
in an unknown town, on May 29, 1915,
as noted by an anonymous photographer on the bass drum.
It was the Saturday before Decoration Day,
now known as Memorial Day.
Dressed in white trousers, shirts, and floppy hats,
the bandsmen seem ready to start the summer season
with a concert in the park.

But where are they?

Hidden in the lettering
on a bench behind the band is a small clue.


So they are not entirely lost,
at least they are a West Virginia Citi
zens Band.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every story unfolds in black & white.

UPDATE: 20 SEP 2015

Thanks to a very helpful link from anyjazz in the comments,
I think there is a possible identity for the band. 

Bluefield WV Daily Telegraph
February 21, 1915

The clue he found was a report in the Bluefield West Virginia Daily Telegraph from February 21, 1915 of the Graham Citizens Concert Band, which was to give a concert at the Gem Theater of Graham in order to raise funds for the band. 

Town bands from this era often shortened or lengthened their name, so it is always a challenge to try searching with different phrase styles like concert band, citizens band, or cornet band. The band of Graham probably took the formal name of Citizens Concert Band to indicate that they were local amateur musicians who performed concerts, rather than a professional touring ensemble of the vaudeville circuit.  

* * *


The interesting part is that Graham is actually in Virginia, not West Virginia. And it is not called Graham anymore but Bluefield, Virginia. If the band on this postcard is really the Graham Citizens Band, they are part of an older story that is more about the division of North and South rather than east and west. The state of West Virginia dates to 1861 when it rejected the Virginia State legislature's vote to secede from the union. The line that divided the Union and Confederate states also splits the small community of Bluefield into two parts. Bluefield is the larger town, and in 1910 it had a population of about 11,000 while Graham had only 2,000 citizens.  

Graham VA Citizens Concert Band
Bluefield WV Daily Telegraph
March 28, 1915
In the spring of 1915, the Bluefield, WV newspaper published a long feature of several pages on the history of Graham, its sister city across the railroad tracks. There were photos and stories on all the prominent Graham businessmen and civic leaders. There were photos of factories, churches, and stores, and one large photo (though coarse grained in reproduction) of the Graham Citizens Concert Band. It shows 17 musicians dressed in dark military style uniforms, with the band's name clearly marked on the bass drum. In the top right corner is an inset of the band leader, whose name was Prof. Skaggs. The faces are too unclear to make any useful comparison with my band postcard, except standing on the right end of the line is a young drummer. Could he be the same boy who struck the gallant pose in May, 1915?  It's a possibility.

Bluefield WV Daily Telegraph
August 25, 1915
According to another history of Tazewell County, VA, the Graham Citizens Concert Band was formed in 1912 and quickly demonstrated musical talent that got them engaged for concerts throughout Virginia and West Virginia too. They played for political rallies, fraternal societies, and school events. They had their own rehearsal space and raised enough money to buy new instruments valued at $1,400. In August of 1915 the Bluefield Daily Telegraph reported that they had ordered new uniforms in a gray color. Professor Skaggs was writing a new piece of music dedicated to the Graham Grays.

Bluefield WV Daily Telegraph
December 24, 1915

Evidently the uniforms were pretty sharp, as a report from December 24, 1915 announced the wedding of a Graham bandsman, Wade Crockett, who played bass horn. Earlier that year, he met his mighty good looking bride when she was attracted to his new uniform.

I've been unable to find any musical event for May 29, 1915 in the Bluefield WV newspaper. However there was the Graham high school commencement on May 28. And the band also played on Saturdays for Graham's Gem Theater. In the summer of 1915, the newspaper reported that the band numbered 20 musicians, which, when the band leader is added, equals the same number of bandsmen as in the postcard photo. Of course this is only circumstantial and coincidental evidence, but I think the possibility of a match will improve if I can find a match for the building behind the band. It's hard to remove or disguise stone columns, so they may still be standing.    

And what about the white trousers, white shirts, white hats? Bluefield and Graham are towns built from the industry of coal mining and railroad traffic. Maybe by the end of the summer, those bright whites had turned into the Graham Grays!

Thanks for that clue, anyjazz. Even if not 100% certain, it makes for a better photo story,


Anonymous said...

And Mum/wife at home would be responsible for keeping all those lovely white uniforms in tip top condition. I was told that my grandmother used to press her husband's band uniform and polish the buttons and the shoes before laying it out on the bed for him. But the W.VA band looks as though they would be comfortable in their whites compared to the usual wool band uniforms.

Postcardy said...

I like the way you broke up the photo. I especially like the first snippet because I used to play the snare drum in my school band.

Deb Gould said...

And I keep thinking of how much work it must have been to wash all those shirts and pants...keep that band spotlessly clean! Great shot, Mike!

Karen S. said...

I did catch (in the blow up) W. VA. they are a smart looking bunch (I like those hats) and I just adore that expression on the boy's face in the first photo.

Wendy said...

I like their attempt to dress uniform without a real uniform. The variety of brims and ties is interesting. But really, the date 1915 surprises me -- their style seems later than that.

Alex Daw said...

You have the most amazing collection of photos and keep my musical ignorance at bay. Thank you.

Helen Bauch McHargue said...

The writing on the drum was added to the photo right? Looks like something my father would have done. The dazzling white uniforms are a testament to all the laundresses in that town.

Little Nell said...

The young man in the first image has a very self-assured stance; I wonder if that’s his little sister behind him. Somebody certainly had to do a lot of laundry!

anyjazz said...

I sent you an email about the Citizen's Concert Band of Bluefield, West Virginia. Maybe that's them.

Jo Featherston said...

Funny how several comments relate your post to our weekly theme, even though you don't mention it at all. Plenty of bleach would no doubt have been required to keep those trousers sparkling white and spotless

Tattered and Lost said...

I bet the people who saw the band the weekend before were a bit miffed when they read that "the one next Saturday promises to be better than that one." What did they get? Chopped liver?

And when you get to the Graham Daily News you have to wonder if the typesetter just like making life difficult for himself by hyphenating the word "Music" in the secondary head. I've seen this done so often and always wonder WHY? Why would you choose to hyphenate a word in hot metal when you could just as easily move the word down to the next line?

And are you sure they ordered new gray uniforms and weren't just sold the dirty whites by Professor Harrols Hill?


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