Even before the U.S. Army was created in 1775, musicians were an integral part of the military. From the Signal Corps drummers in the Revolutionary War, to the full brass bands of WWII, music has been a critical part of the Army’s success. Whether it’s a ceremonial performance or a concert to boost the morale of Soldiers, U.S. Army Music members have the opportunity to serve their country while making music.
1756 – FIRST AMERICAN MILITARY BAND IN THE COLONIES
The Artillery Regiment commanded by COL Benjamin Franklin, marched with more than 1,000 men accompanied by fife-players and other musicians. This marks the first recorded appearance of an American military band in the colonies.
Bands that performed during ceremonies and other special occasions were attached to some Colonial Regiments. These bands were separate from the field music units that sounded signals, and were comprised of six to eight musicians performing on oboes, clarinets, horns, and bassoons.
1775 – BANDS OF THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR
Musicians in the Minuteman Companies provided the steady rhythms needed to drill the new militia against the British in the Revolutionary War. Support for independence grew and spread throughout the colonies as the war in New England intensified. The colonists held rallies with patriotic speeches and banners. Militia Companies drilled while bands played patriotic melodies. GEN George Washington, the first General of the U.S. Army and an accomplished flutist, ordered his musicians to attend regular training sessions with the regimental drum and fife majors.
Music played an important role in military victories. In the Battle of Bennington, the American Commander had his fifes and drummers play well into enemy positions. His troops, inspired by the music, proceeded to defeat enemy forces so decisively that this battle became an important turning point in the war.
1777 – TRUMPETS AND DRUMS CALL OUT SIGNALS
Trumpets were added to the Army to control mounted maneuvers of Cavalry Regiments. Drum calls regulated the Soldiers’ day, since regulations did not allow verbal commands, and each man had to learn to respond instantly to the drum.
1781 – THE FIRST SOLDIER-MUSICIANS
Up to this point, musicians enlisted solely as musicians and were exempt from Soldierly duties. In 1781, Congress approved the plan for drummers and fifers to be picked from the ranks of enlisted personnel.
1830 – BRASS INSTRUMENTS ARE ADDED TO BANDS
With the perfection of valved brass instruments in the 1830s, the size and sound of the bands changed drastically. Brass instruments now played the melodies once reserved for woodwinds. The pay for enlisted Bandsmen was now $17 per month for the Chief Musician and $8 per month for each Bandsman.
1861-1865 – BANDS IN THE CIVIL WAR
During the Civil War, military leaders with the Union and the Confederacy relied on military musicians to entertain troops, position troops in battle, and stir them on to victory – some actually performing concerts in forward positions during the fighting.
1920 – PERSHING EXPANDS THE ROLE OF ARMY BANDS
GEN John J. Pershing, Commander of all Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe, discovered that the band music of France and Great Britain was greatly superior to that of the United States. Since GEN Pershing believed bands were essential to troop morale, he implemented a training program to improve the Army’s Band Program. One of the most prestigious Army bands today is the United States Army Band known as “Pershing’s Own.”
GEN Pershing increased Regimental Band strengths from 28 to 48 pieces. This provided Army Bands with their first full instrumentation which still exists today. Additionally, the conductor of the New York Symphony, also a leading composer of the day, designed the Band Program’s new course of study.
1940 – BANDS IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR
In order to meet the musical requirements of a large Army, the War Department established an emergency Army Music School. In June 1941, the Department of the Army established a school for Bandmasters at the Army War College. Soon after, the school was relocated to Fort Myer, Virginia.
The nearly 500 bands serving the Army during World War II were categorized into three types: Special Bands, Separate Bands, and Organization Bands. The United States Army Band (Pershing’s Own), the U.S. Military Academy Band, and the U.S. Army Air Corps Band were designated Special Bands; they performed at special ceremonies, concerts, parades and recruiting drives.
1950 – BANDS PLAY A PART IN KOREA
As in World War II, Bands accompanied combat units into action. Bands traveled many miles to perform several concerts a day for units close to the front line. One report read, “The closer we play to the front line, and recently we have been within a half-mile of it, the more enthusiastic has been the response to our music.”
1960 and 1970 – BRINGING MUSIC TO VIETNAM
By 1969, eight bands were stationed in Vietnam. Bands in Vietnam, like those in Korea, often performed in forward areas. They flew into combat areas with instruments and performed pop concerts or military ceremonies when needed.
1990 – BAND MEMBERS PERFORM MANY ROLES IN DESERT SHIELD / STORM
Army bands played a part in these conflicts by increasing morale for Soldiers and providing music for military ceremonies. Band duties were varied. For example, the 3rd Armored Division Band performed on the enemy side of a berm while the 24th Infantry Division advanced into Iraqi territory; and many bandsmen spent countless hours guarding the perimeter.
2000 to Present – BANDS REMAIN AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE U.S. ARMY
Throughout the country and the world, Army Bands continue to play a vital role in the Army, whether providing musical support for deployed troops, entertaining civilians around the world, or serving as musical ambassadors of the Army.