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 Band Reunion

28 October 2017

It's a worry all right.
Seems like I'm forgetting somethin'.
I think I got my music in order.
My baton is polished
and so's my shoes long as I don't step into nothin'.
I wish mama hadn't fussed
with these pants of Uncle Joe's.
They feel kind of scratchy.

It's a fine day
and looks like we got a good turnout.
That boy looks a bit skittish
but then it's his first time leading at the front.
He'll be okay once we get under way.
I remember my first parade back before the war.
Got so turned about
I went left down Main
while the band went right.

Startled Mr. Nixon's horse with my baton
and nearly got run over.

Say Henry, when you think they's gonna start playing?
It sure took 'em long enough to get lined up.
Hold on, is that fellow up there on the roof
gonna take our picture?

Now the first tune up is the Thunderer
and I'm playing the second part. I think.
Then we flip to the Yankee Girl,
then the Marceline, then when we stop
Victor plays his Euphonium solo,
then we do that new song, and then...?
Guess I'll just follow Mr. Charles.

Oh, Betsy don't they look swell?
Did you ever see such shiny instruments?
Isn't that your cousin over there?
He plays the clarionet don't he?
I don't know if I can see James and Will.
What do you suppose they're late again?

You fellas remember two years ago?
Rained the night before
and turned Main Street into a frog pond.
I was soaked through
from my hat to my socks.
My drum head was so limp
it sounded like I was beating on an ol' rug.

The parade was about to start.
The photographer steadied his camera and clicked the shutter.

AUG. 28, 1908

Albany is a village in Green County, Wisconsin. It's population in 2010 was a touch over 1,000 and a century earlier in 1910 it could boast of 669 citizens. Like many small towns in America at this time Albany had a town band. At one time it had two bands and an orchestra. Music was part of every civic activity. Bands accompanied fairs, dances, games, and often produced their own special concerts to raise money for new instruments or uniforms..

A few days later.the Albany Band Reunion got a mention in the Janesville Daily Gazette. 

Janesville WI Daily Gazette
2 September 1908

Fully three thousand people attended the band reunion here last Friday. Six bands were present and rendered some fine music. J. Jacob Figl of New Glarus was again chosen president, Henry Schwartz of Brodhead was elected vice president, and E. E. Atherton of Albany was elected secretary. The next reunion will be held at Brodhead. A ball game was played between Footville and Monroe in which Monroe was defeated.

The band is in formation in front of the G. W. Roberts & Son Drugstore which also sold paint, glass,school books, and stationary. George W. Roberts was a physician and with his son ran a business that dealt in a wide variety of useful household products. I suspect the younger Roberts might have been the photographer too, as both pharmaceuticals and photography required a knowledge of chemistry, and a drugstore would be a typical place to sell photo postcards.

In 1908 a small town like Albany probably did not have many large stores, so I decided to see if I could find it using Google Street View. The town is divided by the Sugar River and the east and west side are linked by a single main street. The business district on the east side is on Water St. parallel to the river, and on its corner with Main St. is the remains of G. W. Roberts & Son Drugstore. The building has been remuddled over the decades since 1908 but if you look close three brickwork arches survive as does the door step block. The second floor windows also match in number and position.



Hidden among the 78 musicians
of the Albany Band Reunion
is one musician who stands out.
Towards the center behind the drum rank
is an African-American cornet player.

He might be a member of the band
from Monroe, or Footville,
or New Glarus, or Brodhead, or even Albany.
All the towns were within 15-20 miles from each other,
so it's likely that all the bandsmen knew each other.
Most were farmers, tradesmen, mechanics, or students
in their daily occupation and every so often
gathered together to play band music.
The inclusion of this man in the photo is a rare example
of a black musician playing with white musicians
during an era when segregation was the rule,
even in a northern state like Wisconsin.

In an old Wisconsin state digest
I found a brief mention of Albany's Saxhorn Band
which served in a Wisconsin regiment of the Union Army in 1863.
As this was only 45 years later, it seems probable
that in Albany there was still a strong sentiment
of support for the Union and a condemnation of slavery.
But how this black musician came to be in Wisconsin
is a question whose answer will have to remain an enigma.


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone loves a parade.


Jo Featherston said...

Everyone looks pretty serious -
perhaps they are apprehensive about the upcoming reunion. I love how you pick out all the different angles of what I assume is a small postcard photograph.

L. D. said...

Your parade of photos is so wonderful. The time was so evident in the photos and bands really were special for people to watch and they marched down the street. I had fun visiting you blog today.

Barbara Rogers said...

I love the gentleman in far left background with his foot raised against some invisible perch, perhaps a wire for hitching horses that didn't show on the photo. He looks as if he's about to fall on his face except for whatever his foot was propped on. What a crowd, 3,000 people in such a small town. You raise very interesting questions about the one black man in the band.

La Nightingail said...

As always, a fun post the way you make a puzzle of the picture along with a story about it and pull it all together at the end. I do believe, however, you missed an interesting opportunity in that final photo of the bands together in the two gals looking on in white dresses off to the right in the background. For instance - wherever is the head of the gal on the right??? :)

Kristin said...

I knew several black people, even a relative or two who went to Wisconsin back in the early days, but they were in the city. Although one had a father who was a cook in the lumber camps and the family would go there with him. If I wasn't in the middle of some other research, I'd try and find the black person/family living in that area in 1910.

Mollys Canopy said...

Excellent photos and social history of this band. So great that Google street view has a photo of the old building where they assembled. A turnout of 3,000 to hear the band is pretty amazing, given the smaller population of Albany. The followup research Kristin suggests might yield the story of the African-American band member. Also enjoyed your opening photo of the young man preparing to march.

tony said...

Striking a Blow for Equality.Literally!


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP