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United States Navy Band logo
The United States Navy Band official photograph
The United States Navy Band, based at the historic Washington Navy Yardmarker in Washington, D.C.marker, has served since 1925 as the official musical group of the United States Navy. The Band serves the ceremonial needs at the seat of government, performing at presidential inaugurals, diplomatic arrivals, and national holiday observances.

The Navy Band presents all styles of music — from ceremonial "ruffles and flourishes" to classical, rock, jazz and country favorites. The organization continues a proud tradition of professionalism and service long associated with the United States Navy.

Organization and personnel

Since its official designation in 1925, the Navy Band has grown into a diverse organization of multiple performing units. The organization features a concert-ceremonial unit and four distinct specialty units: the "Sea Chanters" chorus (1956), the "Commodores" jazz ensemble (1969), the "Country Current" country-bluegrass group (1973), and the "Cruisers" contemporary music ensemble (1999). There are also several chamber-music groups. The specialty units help to meet the public demand for different types of music as well as the needs of Navy recruiting.

The Band is composed of 172 enlisted musicians and four officers, under the direction of Capt. George N. Thompson, the 12th officer to serve as bandmaster.


Early music in the Navy

The earliest music of the United States Navy was the shantyman's song. These melodies of the sea helped soften the rigors of shipboard life. Next came trumpeters, drummers and fifersmarker who were carried on the early frigates to sound calls, give general orders, and perform at funerals and other ceremonies. Bands became a separate section of the crew on many Navy vessels.

The development of shore-based bands in the 1800s led to the creation of the Naval Academy Band, which grew in size and importance during the American Civil War. Other band units afloat and ashore played a major role in promoting the morale of sailors and civilians alike.

At the start of World War I many outstanding musicians left their famous orchestras and joined the Navy, using their talents to further the war effort.

Establishment of the U.S. Navy Band

In 1916, a 16-piece band from the battleship USS Kansas was ordered to the Washington Navy Yardmarker to augment a 17-piece band aboard the Presidential Yacht Mayflower. The new unit became known as the "Washington Navy Yard Band" and was given rehearsal space near the power plant's coal pile. The increasing tempo of the band's duties led the bandmaster to seek more suitable quarters in the yard's "Sail Loft," and sailmakers were soon cutting and stitching their canvas to the rhythms of the music. The Navy Band still occupies the Sail Loft as its headquarters and rehearsal hall.

In 1923, a 35-man contingent from the Navy Yard Band accompanied President Warren G. Harding on his trip to Alaskamarker. After the president's unexpected death in San Franciscomarker, the band performed the hymn "Nearer My God to Thee" as his body was placed aboard a train destined for Washington, D.C.

With the band growing in importance and prestige, President Calvin Coolidge signed into law a 1925 bill stating "hereafter the band now stationed at the Navy Yard, known as the Navy Yard Band, shall be designated as the United States Navy Band." The legislation also allowed the band to take its first national tour in 1925.

Among those praising the early U.S. Navy Band was the Boston Post newspaper, which printed on March 13, 1929: "...Some folks have an idea perhaps that Navy music is made up of a few chantey choruses, a jig, and The Star Spangled Banner. To the average American Citizen the performance last night must have been a truly startling eye-opener. They performed like a company of first-rank virtuosi..."

Under the baton of Lt. Charles Benter, the Band's first leader, the Navy Band was featured at many historic occasions, including the 1927 return of Charles Lindbergh following his trans-Atlantic flight. Two years later, the band performed for the return of Adm. Richard E. Byrd from his famous South Polemarker flight.

The need for qualified musicians led Lt. Benter to found the Navy School of Musicmarker under his charge in 1935. Many of the faculty were bandsmen who taught in addition to their performance duties.

Radio performances

From 1929 to 1939, the Navy Band took to the air waves with Arthur Godfrey on NBC's "Hour of Memories" radio program. During World War II, the Navy Band supported the sale of war bonds and assisted in national recruiting efforts, although the majority of the band's time was spent performing at the daily funerals at Arlington National Cemeterymarker.

At the close of the war in 1945, the radio program "The Navy Hour" was born. It featured such entertainers as Lt. Robert Taylor and Lt.(j.g.) Gene Kelly, with whom the band had appeared in the Anchors Aweigh . When it went off the air in 1968, "The Navy Hour" had set a record for one of the longest tenures in radio.

Other notable performances

The Navy Band has performed at the following ceremonies and events:

See also


This article incorporates public domain text from a U.S. federal government website.

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