Sousa and Pryor Bands: Original Recordings
Liner Notes   Cat. No. 80282     Release Date: 1977-01-01

The Sousa and Pryor Bands
by James R. Smart

From the Civil War to the 1920s band concerts formed one of the most important aspects of musical life in the United States. While very few communities could afford an orchestra, many could afford a band. In addition to these civic groups there were employee bands sponsored by business, police bands, school and military bands, and others. Foremost were the large privately run professional bands, made up of the finest players and directed by leaders of national and even international fame. These organizations obtained the most lucrative engagements in large resort parks and at least once a year undertook long city-to-city tours of one-night stands. By 1900 these fine ensembles were attracting immense audiences and through their skilled playing were setting new performance standards.

During this period bands achieved great popularity chiefly because they offered one of the few ways for the general public to hear large instrumental ensembles. With limited transportation, few people could journey to large cities to attend music performances. There was no radio and no sound movies, and the phonograph industry was in its infancy. A band of brass and woodwind instruments plus a variety of percussion could ably fill the gap. These instruments are more easily transported than the more fragile string instruments of a symphony orchestra, are capable of the large volume of sound necessary for outdoor performance, and are adaptable to all sorts of musical expression.

Although the band had its roots in the military – even today most school bands wear military like uniforms – the bands’ repertoire during their golden age went far beyond the march, quickstep, and other martial music. The bands played arrangements of popular songs of the day (frequently featuring a solo cornet), all kinds of dance music from the waltz to the ragtime cakewalk, medleys of opera and operetta tunes, descriptive and novelty pieces, and transcriptions from the standard orchestral literature. Of necessity bands built up large libraries of music. The professional bands were proud of their special arrangements, often unpublished, which were theirs exclusively (the huge library of the Sousa Band, for instance contained hundreds of special arrangements by Sousa or members of the band, and most were never published). In short, the band was ready to play any type of music the public wanted to hear. Besides giving concerts, bands played for civic functions, fairs and expositions, and, of course, parades. The professional bands, however, avoided this last duty, and the Sousa Band is believed to have marched on only about seven occasions during its forty-year history.

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Federal March (John Philip Sousa)
The Sousa Band, conducted by Edwin G. Clarke. Recorded December 20, 1910. Originally issued on Victor 5824

This composition was completed in December, 1910, and was recorded only four days before Sousa led the band on its world tour. The band probably played from manuscript parts, since the march could hardly have been printed by that time. Clarke was a fluegelhorn player turned band manager. He conducted several recordings just before and just after the world tour.

Creole Belles (J. Bodewalt Lampe)
The Sousa Band, conducted by Arthur Pryor. Recorded December 13, 1912. Originally issued on Victor 17252.

The emergence of ragtime coincided with the great era of the band. The similarity between the march, the two-step, and the ragtime cakewalk resulted in an intermingling of these forms. Of the many syncopated pieces that could be either danced to or marched to, Creole Belles (1900) was a great favorite. It was recorded by the Sousa Band five times between 1902 and 1912.

At a Georgia Camp Meeting (Frederick A. “Kerry” Mills)

The Sousa Band, conducted by Walter B. Rogers. Recorded October 23, 1908. Originally issued on Victor 16402.

This phenomenally successful piece was published in 1899. Two years earlier, Mills had published a piece called A Georgia Camp Meeting, and the present work is a major revision of it. In fact, the versions have only one section in common. The 1899 work has practically become synonymous with the cakewalk. Mills called it a “characteristic march that can be used effectively as a two-step, polka, or cakewalk.” Rogers was a former cornet soloist with Sousa who became a staff conductor for Victor. He conducted a number of the band’s recordings as well as many of Victor’s Red Seal opera releases.

The Patriot (Arthur Pryor)

The Sousa Band. Conductor unknown. Arthur Pryor, trombone. Recorded June 17, 1902. Originally issued on Victor 3252.

This excellent recording gives us a glimpse of a great virtuoso. Unfortunately, because of the limited playing time of the single-sided 78 rmp record, it was necessary to eliminate the introductory part of the work as well a the trombone cadenza at its close. Enough is recorded, however, to demonstrate that Pryor’s reputation was built on solid accomplishment. In the very early days of Victor’s recordings, it was fashionable to announce the selection.

Pasquinade (Louis Moreau Gottschalk)

The Sousa Band, conducted by Arthur Pryor.

Originally issued on Victor 3438.Typical of the many transcriptions of classical music played by bands of the period is this one of a highly popular piano piece by Gottschalk, the first American musician to achieve international prominence (a heretofore unrecorded piano piece, as well as a discussion of his life and music, is on New World Records NW 257, The Wind Demon, and Other Mid-nineteenth-century Piano Music). Its lively rhythmic accents are well suited for band performance. The two takes the Sousa Band made in 1901 were their only recordings of this work. This is one of the band’s earliest records in which it’s virtuosity is evident.

Glory of the Yankee Navy (John Philip Sousa)

The Sousa Band, conducted by Walter B. Rogers. Recorded December 30, 1909.

Originally issued on Victor 17299. Here is the Sousa Band in full cry, playing with its famous verve and precision. Sousa completed this march on April 7, 1909, and this was its first recording.

Trombone Sneeze (Arthur Pryor)

The Sousa Band, conducted by Arthur Pryor. Recorded June 16, 1902. Originally issued on Victor 1223.

Pryor wrote this amusing novelty around 1901 as a showpiece for the band’s trombone section. Its main interest is the use of the trombone glissando. The origin of this technique in the United States is obscure, but it perhaps arose in the improvised music of Southern street bands during the 1890s. Pryor was one of the first composers to use the trombone glissando, which may indicate his awareness of the jazz music those bands were developing. We should mention, however, that Rimsky-Korsakov, one of the greatest masters of orchestration, made a limited use of the trombone glissando in his 1892 opera Mlada (for instance in Act I, Scene2). One can be quite confident that American popular musicians of the turn of the century were unaware of this, and Rimsky does not seem to have used the technique again. This is one of the earliest recordings known of the trombone glissando, and it is one of the rarest of all the Sousa Band’s Victor records. Judging by the band members’ vocal interjections, when the piece was performed in concert it was probably accompanied by some sort of pantomime.

A Musical Joke on “Bedelia” (Herman Bellstedt)

The Sousa Band, conducted by Herbert L. Clarke. Recorded December 8, 1904.Originally issued on Victor 31335.

The “Bedelia” of the title if Jean Schwartz’s 1903 song hit, and the “joke” is provided by amusing variations on the song by the cornet soloist, composer, and conductor Herman Bellstedt. He uses the complete song, verse and chorus. Unusual in the recording are the English horn and two French hors. These instruments seldom appear in early band records, and their use here points out the wide scope of Sousa’s instrumentation. This record is about as close as we can get to hearing what the “original” Sousa concert band sounded like. After Pryor’s departure, the great cornet soloist Herbert L. Clarke became the band’s assistant conductor. He led the band in most of it’s recordings from1904 to 1906.

The Ben-Hur Chariot Race March (Edward T. Paull)

The Sousa Band, conducted by Arthur Pryor. Recorded May 16, 1912.

Originally issued on Victor 17110. General Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur enjoyed renewed popularity during the 1890s through a spectacular stage adaptation, which was extensively toured. The play inspired several musical works based on incidents in the story. Paull’s march, of course, concerns the climactic chariot race (which was one of the highspots of the stage version where “real, live” horsed racing on treadmills offered audiences of those days as many thrills as today’s “Sensurround” and Cinerama tricks in motion pictures). Although written in march idiom, the work ends in the style of an old concert overture. The piece had great audience appeal, and the Sousa Band plays it with immense enthusiasm.

The Pryor Band (All conducted by Arthur Pryor) 

Repasz Band March (Charles C. Sweeley)

One of the oldest bands in the country was founded in 1831 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. It is usually called the Repasz band after one of its early leaders, Daniel Repasz. Sweely wrote this brilliant march in the band’s honor in 1901. The Pryor band gives it a stunning performance.

General Pershing March (Carl D. Vandersloot)

Recorded October 5, 1926. Originally issued on Victor 20303. 

This early electric recording and that of the Repasz Band March illustrate what this great band must have sounded like. The earlier acoustic recordings do not give us this fidelity. The dedicatee of the 1918 march, John J. Pershing, was then Commander of the American Expeditionary Force in France. The march is preceded by the army bugle call known as “The General’s March.” 

General Mixup, U.S.A. Recorded April 10, 1912.

Originally issued on victor 17142. 
In this amusing novelty, the unknown arranger has interwoven eight patriotic airs ranging from Dixie to The Star-Spangled Banner. (At the time this was recorded, the latter had not yet become the National Anthem.) This kind of work was quite popular during the band era, a period noted for its spontaneous and sincere displays of patriotism. 

March Sannon (arranged by Alvin [?] Willis) Recorded April 9, 1912.Originally issued on Victor 17110.

Another popular novelty was the fantasy on tunes associated with foreign nationalities, particularly German and Irish. In this work we hear a number of Irish tunes arranged and combined into an attractive march. 


Connecticut March (James E. Fulton) Recorded September 22, 19808. Originally issued on Victor 16113. In 1907

President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the American “Great White Fleet” on its first around-the-world cruse. The flagship, carrying Admiral Robley D. (“Fighting Bob”) Evans, was the Connecticut. Fulton wrote this fine march while the fleet was under way. For many years it enjoyed great popularity, but in recent years it has been unjustifiably neglected. 

Alagazam March Recorded December 11, 1903. Originally issued on Victor 2645.

This recording is notable as one of the first records made by the new Pryor band, less than a month after the band’s first public performance, and because it offers an obscure march by the once popular composer Abe Holzman, who is known today for his march Blaze Away. “Alagazam” was a nonsense word in vogue in 1903, when he wrote this march, and is still heard today. 

Yankee Shuffle (Fred L. Moreland) Recorded September 17, 1908. Originally issued on Victor 16795.

This is one of many turn-of-the-century marches that seem to have been conceived more as cakewalks or two-steps. It could be marched to, of course, but its infectious rhythm and bounce call for dancing. The use of “Auld Lang Syne” may have had some meaning not clear today.

The Teddy Bear’s Picnic (John W. Bratton) Recorded September 14, 1908. Originally issued on Victor 16001.

Bratton’s little intermezzo was only a year old when the Pryor Band recorded it. This performance includes “bear growls,” but it is not known how they were produced. This recording was included on the Victor Talking Machine Company’s second double-sided release in October, 1908. 

Down the Field March (Stanleigh P. Friedman) Recorded September 13, 1912. Originally issued on Victor 17289. Friedman, a lawyer, had been a member of the Yale class of 1905. While a student he wrote a song, “Down the Field,” extolling Yale’s prowess on the gridiron. Later it was turned into a march, with the song as the trio. Both the song and the trio are introduced by a phrase from another Yale song, “Bright College Years,” to the tune of “Die Wacht am Rhein.” 

Falcon March (W. Paris Chambers) Recorded June 13, 1910. Originally issued on Victor 5798. Besides being a fine march, this recording was chosen because it illustrates the Pryor band’s virtuosity. Perhaps one reason Falcon is seldom heard today is that it requires a first-class band to do it justice. The clean playing of chromatic passages running from the top to the bottom register of the band shows why the Pryor Band had such a high reputation.

Various Artists

Sousa and Pryor Bands: Original Recordings

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Federal March
John Philip Sousa
Creole Belles
J. Bodewalt Lampe
At a Georgia Camp Meeting
The Patriot
A. Pryor
Glory of the Yankee Navy
John Phillip Sousa
Trombone Sneeze
A. Pryor
A Musical Joke on "Bedelia"
The Ben-Hur Chariot Race March
General Pershing March
General Mixup, U.S.A.
March Sannon
arr. Alvin [?] Willis
Battleship Connecticut March
James E. Fulton
Alagazam March
Yankee Shuffle
The Teddy Bear's Picnic
Down the Field March
Falcon March
W. Paris Chambers
Repasz Band March

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