Friday, October 6, 2017

A Timeline of Sousaphone History


When I stumbled upon this hobby of digging into Sousaphone history during the summer of 2012, I only intended to see if I could uncover the truth about the so-called "Original Sousaphone" up at the Interlochen Center for the Arts (see this post). But I soon discovered that there was more to clear up, as websites and print resources - and even the best Sousa biographies - were seldom saying the same thing about the early history of the Sousaphone.

It's been a lot of fun, and I have ended up exploring far beyond those earliest years of the instrument that bears the name of the greatest band leader the world has ever known. The results of my research are posted below, although there are many other posts that are not linked here. You'll have to scroll through the blog to catch those.

I'll keep this timeline at the top as a matter of convenience. But I'll keep posting things below it, as I find them, that are interesting and relevant to the unfolding story of Sousaphone history. Enjoy!

1845 - Helicon (forerunner to Sousaphone) first produced in Vienna
1853 - James Welsh Pepper is born on March 8 in Philadelphia, PA
1854 - John Philip Sousa is born on November 6 in Washington, D.C.
1879 - J. W. Pepper publishes the first of eleven Sousa marches
1890 - Factory where the first Sousaphone will be created is built
1892 - Sousa gives Pepper the idea for the Sousaphone
1892-5 - Sousa tolerates one or possibly two helicons in his band
1895 - Pepper builds and names the first Sousaphone
1896 - Pepper's new horn goes on tour with the Sousa Band
1896 - Earliest known reference to a "Sousaphone" in a newspaper
1898 - C. G. Conn produces his first Sousaphone, called a "Monster"
1899 - Conn company builds its second Sousaphone; sells for $250
1899 - This very early Conn Sousaphone can still be seen today
1899 - Sousaphone seen on the march for the first time
1900 - By April, there are 10 Conn Sousaphones in use
1900 - Sousaphone seen in Europe for the first time (France, Germany)
1901 - Sousaphone seen in England and Scotland for the first time
1902 - Conn introduces its smaller, three-valve Sousaphone
1903 - Conn further modifies its "Monster" four-valve Sousaphone
1905 - Pepper finally begins selling Sousaphones - but only briefly
1907 - Conn introduces its first Eb Sousaphone
1908 - Conn unveils a bell-front design, the "Wonderphone Helicon"
1909 - Other companies begin making Sousaphones around this time
1920s - Heyday of the Sousaphone; shows up in all kinds of bands
1920s - Women Sousaphonists begin getting much-deserved publicity
1921 - Warren G. Harding, Sousaphonist, elected President
1922 - Sousa tells story (for the first time?) of the first Sousaphone
1924 - Conn builds the world's largest playable Sousaphone
1926 - Conn discontinues upright bell Sousaphones
1928 - Sousa mentions the Sousaphone in his autobiography
1932 - Sousa dies in Reading, PA, after conducting Ringgold Band
1935 - Holton builds its historic mammoth Holtonphone
1936 - Sousaphonist dots the "i" in the script Ohio for the first time
1942-6 - Conn stops making horns for the public due to the war
1948 - Harry Wenger markets his "Sousaphone Chair-Stand"
1957 - Conn briefly brings back upright bell Sousaphone (21K)
1961 - Conn introduces the first fiberglass Sousaphone
1970 - I start playing the Sousaphone (hey, it's my blog!) More here
1970 - The mislabeled "Original Sousaphone" arrives at Interlochen
1973 - John Bailey finds and buys the Pepper horn at a flea market
1991 - Bailey returns the historic horn to its maker, J. W. Pepper
1994 - A "good-natured debate" about who built the first Sousaphone
2014 - What I found in the United States Marine Band Library
2015 - I play the first Sousaphone with my community concert band
2015 - My article in the ITEA Journal (reprinted in The Brass Herald)
2015 - J. W. Pepper produces documentary on the first Sousaphone
2016 - My second article in the ITEA Journal (and The Brass Herald)
2016 - J. W. Pepper produces documentary for its 140th anniversary

Click here for detailed photos of the first Sousaphone

Author during his heyday as a Sousaphonist at the Swimming Venue of the 1984 Olympics

More Blue Band highlights (Sept 30)

Me, our son, Jonathan, and my wife, Kim
The parade from the band building to the stadium
"Snailing" along the way!
Pregame, during the "floating LION"
Halftime, playing "Star Wars"!

Friday, September 8, 2017

My all-time favorite Onion post!

This was posted by The Onion ten years ago, but I ran across it again today and figured I had to post it here for posterity. Click here for the full article!




Sunday, September 3, 2017

The college tradition continues!

Yesterday was my son's first game in the Penn State Blue Band - almost exactly thirty-eight years after my first game in the USC Trojan Marching Band (although, frankly, he's a much better player than I was at his age). I still bleed cardinal and gold, but you can already see a blue tinge starting to appear! I love it!

Here are a few shots of him in action on a rather rainy, but wonderful day:





And here's a photo of my favorite tailgate flag on gameday!


Finally, if you'd like to watch the pregame show from yesterday, here it is:


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Okay, so it's really in my blood!

According to my parents, I became fascinated with the tuba back in 1965-66, when I was 4-5 years old and our family was living in Germany while my Dad taught there.

When we returned to America, and a few years later I reached the age where I could choose an instrument to play in the school band, I was adamant about the tuba. But my elementary school didn't have a small horn for a little guy like me to play, so I was set up with a Sousaphone that was sitting on a special chair in which I crawled into in order to play.

What I don't recall ever hearing back then, although he probably told me, is that my Dad played the Sousaphone when he was in high school. I remember hearing about that later, when I played in high school, and then in college, but I had never seen a photo of my Dad with a horn. That is, until now.

Here's what he discovered a few days ago in the 1947 Tucson High School yearbook, which he then enlarged the best he could and documented for me:


How cool is that?! And here's my son, his grandson, who also played the Sousaphone in high school - and just this week made it into the Penn State Blue Band (stay tuned for more on that)!


Add me in the middle, and that is three generations of Detwiler men holding down the bass line in marching band!



Saturday, August 5, 2017

Band books and Sousaphone facts

As a follow up to my previous post, it turns out that the year the first Sousaphone was built is equally all over the place in general books about the history of bands in America.

For example, in 1951 Alberta Powell Graham, in Great Bands of America, wrote, "While he was with the Great Lakes Band, Sousa designed a new band instrument - a mellow-toned horn to replace the Helicon tuba with its harsh sound. This Sousaphone is in use in all large bands today" (p. 67) That would be, let's see, 1917!

Six years later (1957), in his wonderfully engaging book, Bands of America, H. W. Schwartz revealed that a number of bandmasters (Brooke and Innes) had a giant tuba constructed at one time as a spectacle for their bands, and then adds that
Even Sousa became infected with the "bigger" virus, for in 1898 he placed an order with an instrument maker to build for his band a bass tuba, large in bore and surmounted with a big bell opening upward. Sousa did not claim that his instrument was bigger than others, but it was a spectacular instrument, both in performance and in appearance, especially when held and played by the military giant Herman Conrad. In time this instrument proved its merit as a musical instrument and became known as the sousaphone (p. 183).
Schwartz, as it turns out, worked as an executive for C. G. Conn, Ltd, so he appears to be perpetuating the claim that Conn built the first Sousaphone in 1898 (although, strangely, he doesn't name Conn!). But what was built in 1898 (or early 1897) was Conn's first Sousaphone. Pepper built the original Sousaphone 2-3 years earlier - and it was called a "Sousaphone" from the start, even when Conn created his version.

But hey, Schwartz mentions Conrad, and he does so four different times in his book, and that got me excited! Conrad wasn't yet a "forgotten giant" in the late 1950s. But he is now, and I am hoping to rectify that with my upcoming article.

Finally, Richard Hansen, in his 2005 book, The American Wind Band: A Cultural History, mentions on his timeline that in 1899 "The sousaphone is developed and named for John Philip Sousa" (p. 241). Nope - not 1899, not 1898, and certainly not 1917!

Once again, it seems that over the decades no one knew, or remembered, that J. W. Pepper built the first Sousaphone in 1895. That fact had somehow gotten lost early on.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sousa books and Sousaphone facts

In preparation for writing on Herman Conrad's life and career, I immersed myself once again in the history of the Sousa Band. But in so doing, I realized that the truth about the first Sousaphone really has been a long time coming.

For example, in Ann Lingg's biography of Sousa, published in 1954, she writes the following on page 135:
To improve the sound of his band he even turned inventor. He found that the Helicon Tuba (that brass giant curling around the marcher's body, with the weight resting on his shoulders and a large bell blaring music far ahead) was not well suited for the indoors; its frontal attack was too powerful. So Sousa suggested a new type whose bell could be turned up, so that, as he said, "the sound would diffuse over the entire band like the frosting on a cake." The firm of Wurlitzer & Company made the instrument to his specifications and called it the Sousaphone.
She's on the right track, although the helicon was used as a concert instrument by Conrad - both in Gilmore's Band, and for the first few years in Sousa's Band, until Sousa came up with the modified helicon dubbed the "Sousaphone." But Wurlitzer & Company?

Let's move on to Kenneth Berger's work on Sousa, which came out three years later (1957). On page 29, he writes this:
To many who are not musicians, the name Sousa is remembered primarily in connection with the sousaphone. He is often is credited with inventing this instrument; however, the transformation from the old circular helicon (bass) to the sousaphone is more of a slightly evolutionary change than a stroke of inventive genius. Actually Sousa did not claim to have invented the new musical instrument (for which no patents were taken out, which should prove it to be a modest development), and he did not take any credit for this project. in 1898, he made some suggestions regarding the improvement of the helicon, and the first Sousaphone - called the Sousaphone Grand - was built by Ted Pounder, an instrument make with the C. G. Conn Company, of Elkhart, Indiana.
Okay, so it wasn't Wurlitzer, but Conn who made the first Sousaphone - and in 1898? Actually, Ted Pounder did make Conn's first Sousaphone that year (or more likely in late 1897), but it was not the very first Sousaphone to appear. And it wasn't called a "Sousaphone Grand" (that name wasn't used until 1918, ten years after Conn pointed the bell forward); it was called a "Monster Sousaphone"!

And did Sousa really "not take any credit for this project"? I think not - see this post, and this post!

Moving to 1971, we encounter Sousa's greatest biographer - Paul E. Bierley. In the 2001 revised edition of his treatment of Sousa, he writes this on page 16:
The musical instrument know as the sousaphone was, of course, named after Sousa. The first one was built to his specifications, but who actually constructed it is debatable. According to one of Sousa's few references to it [again, see this post], it was built by J. W. Pepper, a Philadelphia instrument manufacturer and music publisher. Another story comes from the Conn Corporation, whose instruments Sousa endorsed for many years. They claim credit for building the first sousaphone. The Pepper sousaphone, allegedly built around 1892, was evidently used very little and was not widely publicized. Conn's first sousaphone was built in 1898 and was widely promoted.
Now we're really close! Not Wurlitzer, and not Conn, but Pepper - but "around 1892" is actually 1895, as I've clarified in my research. And that Sousaphone, while it didn't last long in Sousa's Band, was played on tour in the early months of 1896.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Possible Conrad sighting at Victor!

I came across this photo of a recording session at the Victor Talking Machine Company. It's apparently from 1910 (I'm seeking confirmation on that presently).


Featured, I presume, are members of the Victor Orchestra doing their thing. But if you look at the far right, next to and behind the tall chair upon which the cellist is sitting, you can see a tuba player. Here's a close-up of that portion of the photo:


Compare that with the photo below, which shows Conrad in a Victor poster that was produced in 1918 for use in schools. It appears to be the exact type of chair that we see being used in the studio. And is it just me, or does that look like the same shoes in the photos as well?!




Thursday, July 27, 2017

Is a Sousaphone really that strange?

In the October 12, 1902 edition of The Sunday Call (San Francisco, CA), there is a full page article, written by John Philip Sousa himself, titled . . .


Just what Sousa is doing hanging out with those curvy gals is a fair question, but such is the life of the celebrated bandmaster!

Among "the strange instruments of the military band" is, of course, the Sousaphone. But here's the whole paragraph that talks about the Sousaphone as a member of the tuba family . . .


Later in the article, Sousa reveals that a Sousaphone, in 1902, cost from $300-350. Hows that for a deal?!


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Is that his real hair, or is it a toupee?!

While searching The New York Times archives this morning, I came across this unusual fact about Sousa's Band in the November 14, 1901 edition:


Whether Sousa held to this throughout his career is unknown. But I'm pretty sure that Conrad had a full head of hair - and it was his own - so no problem there for the famous Sousaphonist!


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

An early three-valve Conn Monster

I dropped in on Dillon Music this afternoon to chat with Steve Dillon and to check out a vintage Conn Sousaphone that they have on consignment. Matt Walters, the world-class tuba technician at Dillon, graciously let me spend some quality time with this enormous old beast:


The first thing I noticed about this horn was how much bigger the bell and bell throat appeared in comparison to the original Sousaphone built by J. W. Pepper. And then I picked it up - yikes! I asked Matt if we could weigh it, and the scale put it right at 33 pounds - the exact weight of Conn's first Sousaphone (which had four valves), according to one newspaper report from 1901.


The serial number - 91790 - suggests that this Monster was built in 1905, or perhaps 1906 - about three years after Conn first created and started selling a three-valve Sousaphone. But this one seems larger than the standard model (compare where my head is in relation to the bell vs. what can be seen in the ad from 1902 in the link above).

Here are more photos of this great old Sousaphone. If it had a model number, I'm not sure what it would have been at this early stage. There was nothing on the horn itself that suggested anything.






The bell diameter is 24 inches; the bell throat is 7 1/8 inches; and the bore is .773 inches. And as I mentioned earlier, the weight is a shoulder-crushing 33 pounds - which is what Conrad had to deal with during his time with the Sousa Band. I can't imagine shouldering a horn of that size and weight for an entire concert!

Sadly, and quite surprisingly, this particular Sousaphone didn't sound all that great. I was expecting a much clearer and deeper sound, but it felt stuffy, and not nearly as boomy as my 1927 Pan American 64K Sousaphone (= Conn 14K), which is considerably smaller and lighter.

But it would be fun to learn where this old Conn raincatcher has been over the past 112 years!