Tuesday, June 19, 2018

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.
1867 - Herman Conrad is born on April 21 in Danzig, West Prussia
1879 - J. W. Pepper publishes the first of eleven Sousa marches
1883 - Sousa visits Pepper's first factory, supervised by Henry Distin
1888 - Conrad is recruited by Gilmore after emigrating to Detroit
1890 - Factory where the first Sousaphone will be created is built
1892 - Sousa gives Pepper the idea for the Sousaphone
1893-5 - 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
1896 - More detailed report on Pepper's new horn in The Dominant
1897 - C. G. Conn builds giant tubas for both Brooke and Innes
1898 - 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
1999 - TUBA Journal article says Sousaphone's "Origins a Mystery"
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

Friday, June 8, 2018

Tea for tuba - my favorite tea pot!

We were out for a special tea experience with my family recently, and it turns out they had a tea pot that got me really excited! The only thing that could have made it better, or course, is if that bass horn was a Sousaphone!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Finally met Lloyd Farrar in person

I mentioned in a post back in 2015 that music scholar Lloyd Farrar had been connected with the J. W. Pepper company in the early 1990s and had begun the process of clarifying the history of the first Sousaphone (click here to see that post). He wasn't able to get to the bottom of the story, but he definitely got the ball rolling.

After reading about him in the archives at Pepper, and hearing about him from the folks there, I was able to track him down and connect with him over many phone conversations over the past number of years. He has taken great interest in my work, and has been cheering me on in it - both as it relates to Sousaphone history, and even more so in discovering the story of Herman Conrad.

Well, I was finally able to meet Lloyd in person the other day, as he was at the AMIS conference that was being hosted about an hour from my home. His passion for music history is as strong as ever!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Sousa's Band (and us!) at Longwood

My wife and I become members of Longwood Gardens this year, enabling us to enjoy its vast beauty throughout the next 12 months. Here is Kim, along with my son and mother-in-law, down toward the Italian gardens this past week:

What was fun to discover is that there is a bit of history for Sousa and his Band at this wonderful place. While it was long after Herman Conrad, Sousa's first star bass player, had left the band, I thought I'd post about it anyway. Here's the brief mention of the Sousa connection in the museum on the grounds:

And here are a few more shots of the grounds, as they looked this past week:

(That's me on the left)

Friday, April 20, 2018

Conrad: A giant nearly 7 feet tall!

A good friend of mine just sent me the image below, which is the only known photograph of Herman Conrad that I didn't yet possess. It is from the November 1903 edition of C. G. Conn's Truth (vol. 5, no. 7, p. 3), and above the photo it says, "The Long and Short of It."

The accompanying article has this to say:
It is claimed  that if the [Sousa] band was formed up in line with men and instruments classified, commencing with the Piccolo on the right and the Sousaphone on the left, that the stature of the men would conform so perfectly to the size of the instruments, that the shoulder line would make an even upward incline from right to left. 
For instance Mr. Marshall Lufsky, the Flute player is 5 feet 4 inches in height, while Mr. Herman Conrad with the Wonder Monster Sousaphone is a giant nearly 7 feet tall. . . . While Mr. Conrad is a fairly good Flute player, Mr. Lufsky does not claim to be a great artist on the Bass.
Sources are not in agreement as to Conrad's height - one says he was 6 feet 4 inches, another 6 feet 6 inches, and yet another 6 feet 8 inches. But he was truly a giant, and in more ways than one!

Monday, March 5, 2018

When Conrad joined Gilmore's Band

As I continue my research on Herman Conrad, the forgotten giant of the tuba, there remain a few gaps in the story of his illustrious career. But one of those has now been closed, and it has to do with exactly when he joined Gilmore's Band after emigrating from West Prussia in the fall of 1887.

My working assumption was that Gilmore had summoned him from Europe to join his band, as he was in need of a new bass player and had heard that young Herman (just 20 years old when he left for America), was already viewed as one of the best tubists in the world.

And while that may perhaps still be the case, here's what we know from the records that I have been able to track down:
  • Conrad sailed on board the S. S. Rhein, from Bremen, around September 20, 1887, and arrived in Baltimore on either October 3 or 6 (there is a discrepancy in the records).
  • He is listed in the Detroit directory for 1888 as living with his parents, who had emigrated to America on June 8, 1886. The listing says, "Wonderland, bds e s Clark av 5 n of Dix av." and identifies him as a "musician."
  • Wonderland, as it turns out, was a theater in the heart of Detroit's entertainment district (80 Woodward Ave.) that opened on Christmas Day, 1886. Here it is a few years later, on the far right, when it was called the Avenue Theater:

And here is the location of Wonderland in center city Detroit (refer to the yellow dot on this 1897 map):

And here is one notice in the Detroit Free Press, dated June 11, 1887, that reveals what all was going on at the Wonderland at that time:

It appears that Conrad started playing at the Wonderland shortly after he arrived in Detroit, and it was while he was working there that he was recruited by Gilmore, according to the June 16, 1888 edition of The New York Clipper:

The Gilmore Band tour that was in progress was heading toward the Midwest at that time (June), having been in the South the previous month, so perhaps Conrad jumped right in when they were nearby. Or maybe he joined them for their time in Manhattan Beach later that summer. But either way, he was now part of the best band in the world - and he had just turned 21 that Spring!

Friday, February 2, 2018

The prelude to Conn's Sousaphone?

When C. G. Conn introduced his first Sousaphone to the world in January 1898, which shows up in Sousa's Band almost immediately, it wasn't the first big bass horn that he had created for a famous bandleader. A year or more earlier, T. P. Brooke had requested that Conn build him a giant tuba to be featured in his band.

From a newspaper ad in early 1897

In the February 7, 1897 edition of the Logansport [Indiana] Pharos-Tribune, we find this curious notice:

While I have yet to locate a drawing or photograph of this "monster tuba," we do know that it appeared in Brooke's band later that year. Here's what was reported in the September 29, 1897 edition of the Pittsburgh Daily Post:

But, as it turns out, this was not the only "immense tuba" to be seen in a big-time touring band at that time. Sousa, of course, already had his "Sousaphone," built by J. W. Pepper in 1895, and which toured with his band in 1896. But Frederick Innes also had Conn build him a giant bass horn for his band in 1897! (Did Brooke and Innes know of each other's dealings with Conn?!) Check out what appeared in the July 18, 1897 edition of The Tennessean:

So now we have a new "largest horn ever made" - although we don't yet know how it compared to Brooke's "monster tuba," as there are no specifications provided in the article. But there is a drawing of this beast of a helicon bass:

A week later, in the July 25, 1897 edition of The Tennessean, there is another drawing, this time of the entire band, featuring Innes' spectacular "giant tuba":

We learn a bit more about both of these giant tubas in  H. W. Schwartz's wonderful work, Bands of America, published in 1957 (and, according to the dust cover back flap, Schwartz "was for many years an executive of C. G. Conn, Ltd." - how interesting!). He contends that Innes got wind of Brooke's plan to have Conn build for him the world's largest tuba, but "before it was finished, Innes placed his order for a bigger one - bigger by one inch in bell diameter!" (p. 181).

Schwartz also suggests that the reporter who wrote the article above, about "Innes' Giant Tuba," either
had an uninhibited imagination or (what is more probable) . . . was a young and gullible reporter who had the misfortune to fall into the hands of William Grett, the tuba player. Grett, with his tongue in his cheek, no doubt enjoyed talking about his big tuba and facetiously advanced the hypothesis that this one bass would take the place of four other basses, and that the reason for this was to save Innes money by requiring fewer players. The reporter thought Grett was leveling with him and wrote it up as the truth. (pp. 182-83).
Further, Schwartz wrote that "the facts about [Innes'] tuba came out in the Dominant, a musical magazine of relatively small circulation, edited primarily for professional musicians by Arthur A. Clappe" (p. 183). But I looked through issues of the Dominant from around that time, and couldn't locate what he found, which was this:
Clappe gave the relatively prosaic but accurate specifications of the tuba as weighing sixty-three pounds and as having three piston valves and a bell thirty-three inches in diameter. Its range was the same as any other tuba of the time, going down to the Bb which was in the third octave below middle C. Its principal distinction was its wide bore and sonorous tone quality. (p. 183).
So there you have it - according to Schwartz's research.

The interesting question for my purposes, of course, is whether Conn's work on these two giant tubas of Brooke and Innes had something to do with him building a Sousaphone for Sousa. In less than a year, such a horn shows up in Sousa's band. But did Sousa request it, or did Conn take the initiative? Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Origins still a mystery as late as 1999

Today, I was finally able to see the last time someone weighed in on the origins of the Sousaphone in the ITEA Journal prior to the publication of my articles (the great folks at ITEA have been slowly making past editions of the journal available to members for browsing online).

In the Spring 1999 edition of what was then called the TUBA Journal, Mike Knaack published this:

The subtitle was, "Origins a Mystery, but Its Inspiration Clear," and the content is engagingly written.  The cover of the Journal, as well as the first page of the article features a Conn Sousaphone from 1904:

Toward the end of the first page, Mike wrote, "At this point we get into one of the enduring controversies of the sousaphone: Who made the first sousaphone? Or, more exactly, who made the first one that Sousa really used?"

Mike then shares what he had unearthed at that time about the Pepper claims, as well as the Conn claims, but concluded with this: "Don't look for a resolution any time soon."

Well, the resolution finally came 16 years later, so I guess he was right!

He does, however, pass along some interesting "facts" that are almost surely incorrect. For example, he references Dan Shideler (of UMI) as saying that "the first Conn sousaphone was called 'The Monster' and was a BB-flat model [correct], gold-plated [never heard that before], with a 32- to 34-inch bell [probably not that big] and had four valves [correct]. It had the name 'Sousa' prominently engraved on its bell [correct again], and guesses it could have weighed as much as 75 pounds [yikes! I seriously doubt that!].

Mike goes on to suggest, via a comment by Paul Bierley, that Conn's first horn probably weighed somewhere around 45 pounds, and then adds this: "Regardless, it was large enough that it required a hefty player like [Herman] Conrad (who was about 6 feel 6 inches tall and weighed 275 pounds) to handle it."

Conrad's height is probably accurate, as it is right around the multiple sources that list him as anywhere from 6 feet 4 inches to almost seven feet tall! But 275 pounds? I'm not sure where Mike got that information. Conrad was not overweight in any of the photographs I have seen of him throughout his career (including when we see him with Conn's first Sousaphone in 1898), and 215 pounds is listed as the high end of the normal weight range for a 6 foot 6 inch male. That is, 275 pounds would put him well into the obese range, and he just doesn't look overweight at all.

But those inaccuracies aside, it was great to finally read this article. Thanks, Mike!

Oh, and toward the end of the article, there is a great photograph featuring the two historically significant Conn Sousaphones in the Greenleaf Collection up at the Interlochen Center for the Arts:

The one on the left is the so-called "Original Sousaphone," which dates from around 1905. The one on the right is the richly engraved oversized horn built in 1924 for Conn's 50th anniversary (and that one is indeed burnished in gold, and has at least a 34 inch diameter bell!).

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Sousa's early visit to Pepper's factory

In 1882, Henry John Distin, along with his son, William Henry Diston, moved from New York to Philadelphia to work with J. W. Pepper in producing band instruments.

Henry Distin, and his son, William (image courtesy of Ray Farr)
Starting in mid-April, they oversaw the construction of a new factory connected to the existing Pepper building on 8th and Locust streets.

If the above image is accurate, the left side of the building, once it was finished, stated, "J. W. Pepper, American Distin Band Instrument Factory, Supervised by the Original Henry Distin from London, Eng." And here's what it looked like on the factory floor:

Shortly before it was opened on June 1, 1883, John Philip Sousa, who had been leading the U. S. Marine Band in Washington, D.C. for the past three years, paid a visit to the new facility. Afterward, Distin asked Sousa for his opinion on the instruments he would be producing there. Here is his response (reproduced in a brand new resource, A Sousa Reader, ed. Bryan Proksch):

Washington, D.C., May 8, 1883

Mr. Henry Distin

Dear Sir:- I will endeavor to reply briefly to your request for my opinion of your celebrated band instruments.
       The name of Henry Distin was always familiar to me as being synonymous with superiority in the manufacture of brass band instruments, and my association with bands and bandsmen assures me of the universal estimation they are held in by discriminating performers.
       On my recent visit to Philadelphia when I inspected the new steam factory erected for you by Mr. J. W. Pepper, I was greatly surprised at the magnitude and completeness of it. It is apparent that there is nothing lacking in its appointments for the production of the very best instruments. I was particularly pleased with your recent inventions for improving the tone and register of brass instruments. I have no doubt your thorough knowledge, both theoretically and practically, of the entire range of brass instruments enables you to produce a class of instruments which are unrivalled.
       With the earnest with that your endeavors will meet with complete success for yourself and Mr. Pepper,

I am, yours sincerely,
John Philip Sousa

While Distin's partnership with Pepper lasted only until early 1886, it is interesting to see Sousa connected with Pepper at this time - now as an instrument maker and not just a music publisher. Could it be that this contributed to Sousa giving Pepper the nod, in 1892, to start playing around with his idea for a modified helicon bass?

We can only speculate, of course, but it was Pepper who produced that first "Sousaphone" in 1895.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Long forgotten poem about the tuba

In the April 1896 edition of The Dominant, an obscure music journal published in Philadelphia way back when, I stumbled upon this rather cheesy poem about the tuba:

Harry Coleman helicon bass - 1897

While slogging through an old microfilm of the obscure music journal The Dominant (published in Philadelphia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries), I came across an ad for Harry Coleman band instruments in the February 1897 edition:

The helicon bass featured is pretty cool looking (as is the uniform of the player!), so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share it. Here's a close up. Enjoy!