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History of the Phoenix Pioneer Band

Origins

The Phoenix Brass Band (later the Phoenix Pioneer Band),  the longest organized band in Phoenix, was assembled in 1880. The band had connections to the Knights of Pythias and the Methodist Episcopal Church, with prominent organizing members being associated with these two organizations. Although the original membership was entirely of white men, none were professional full time musicians, and they hailed from different strata of society of the day, from merchants and politicians to painters and bootblacks.

The Phoenix Brass Band has been organized four months and in this time learned forty pieces. An average of ten pieces [a month]. This speaks volumes for the proficiency of professor Kelly as a teacher and the intelligence of the members of the band, a majority of whom knew nothing of the use of the instruments on joining. The instruments cost $325, music $15, caps $33 and stand and lights $18, or a total of $391. They still owe a balance of $78 in San Francisco but have $50 in the treasury leaving $213 required to free them from debt. As four times that amount is due on their subscription last we hope some of the delinquents will ante and free this institution from debt.

- Phoenix Herald, July 20, 1880 p. 2 c. 2.

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The band was characterized as being composed of “young men of its own city." It was organized with 14 known charter members, who included:

  • Prof. G. H. Kelly, a house and sign painter

  • C. Bessey, a bootblack

  • J. W. Blankenship, Phoenix city Marshal

  • P. C. Broknell

  • George E. Brown

  • C. E. Cotton

  • W. D. Frazee

  • E. B. Kirkland, Governor’s Private Secretary

  • R. Frank Kirkland, bookkeeper for Goldman & Co.

  • J. M. Lively

  • W. F. McNulty, proprietor of McNulty & Chapman Bros. grocers, and a trustee of the M.E. Church

  • William O. O’Neill, of the H. H. O’Neill Co.

  • J. D. Reed, proprietor of Reed’s Baggage Transfer

  • G. H. Rothrock, Democratic candidate for County Treasurer, 1882

The Pioneer Band was strongly associated for many years with the Phoenix Fire Department through the involvement of volunteer firemen and band incorporators James Monroe Shott (Secretary-Treasurer, and alto hornist) from 1890 until his death in 1928 and Frank Coyle, (Business Manager and tuba soloist), from 1890 until his death in 1905.  The band's regular practice space for many years was the Fire Station, which was on the same block as City Hall, where they generally played weekly concerts from the bandstand.

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Activities

The band was ubiquitous in the various events and happenings around early Phoenix. They played parties, weddings, and funerals, and were in virtually every one of the parades that occurred throughout the year in Phoenix.

Initially, the band hosted open-air concerts on the plaza of Phoenix City Hall, located on Block 23 of the original townsite every Wednesday evening. Through the years, the day of the concert changed; for a while it was Sunday afternoons, much the the consternation of the religious establishment. 

 

In 1918, Berr Smith described the band concerts at the bandstand: 

“At night the City Hall took on a fairyland aura, and became the most beautiful spot you could imagine. Occasionally we would stay in town to hear the band concerts, and believe me, they were something! The members of the band wore the most beautiful uniforms, all resplendent with red and gold. Everybody lolled on the grass, or squeezed into the few benches that were around under the trees… the band would swing (into) The Star-Spangled Banner as a finale. Everybody would get up, of course, and when the musicians finished, the audience was already on its feet and moving toward the streetcar stop.”

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By  1922 a new bandshell was constructed in Carnegie Library Park, just south of the library building, with its back to Jefferson Street. 

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Programs

The programs for concerts were frequently listed in the newspapers (mostly the Arizona Republican), so we have a pretty good idea of what the Pioneer Band played.  Just one example, from Sunday, July 27, 1902:

PIONEER BAND CONCERT.

    The Pioneer band will render the following programme at the city hall plaza Sunday evening at 3 p.m.:

    March, "The Matinee Girl," J. T. Hall.

    Selection, " The Burgomaster," from Gustav Luder's musical comedy, Mackle.

    Serenade, "La Paloma," Spanish serenade, Yradier.

    "Bundy's Dream," Ethiopian characteristique, Gus. W. Bernard.

    Waltz, "The Charlatan Waltzes," Sousa.

    "The Birds and the Brook," R. M. Stultz.

    Medley overture, "Blaze Away." M. F. Smith. Descriptive, introducing "Flora, I Am your Adorer." "In the Valley of Kentucky." "My Honolulu Lu." "In the Sweet Summer Time." "If Time Was Money I'd Be a Millionaire." "A Rose With a Broken Stem." "Blaze Away March."

    March, "Dress Parade," Charles Wood.

    George E. Golze, musical director. 

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Controversies & Stories

There are quite a few interesting stories about the band and its members that appear in newspapers through the years. When I get around to it, I will add some of them here. 

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Sunset

The Phoenix Pioneer Band apparently lasted on into the 1930s. It was still a going concern when J.M. Shott passed away in 1928. 

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Hall of Fame

  • James Monroe Shott, Secretary-Treasurer and alto hornist; served for many years in the volunteer Fire Department and also served as a Phoenix City Councilman (1902) and Precinct Constable (1927) and was a Trustee of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He married Nellie Rosson, daughter of Dr. & Mrs. Rosson of Rosson House fame.

  • Frances (Frank) J. Coyle, Business Manager 1891-1905. Volunteer fireman, member Knights of Pythias and at least three other fraternal organizations. 

  • Otto Eberhardt, bandleader and Cornet Soloist. Controversial traitor during the Spanish-American War.

  • Emil Cassi, Cornet Soloist 1897-8.  Joined Roosevelt's Rough Riders and fought in Cuba. After seeing action in  Santiago, in 1899 went to Havana and while serving as First Lieutenant of Police, was convicted of killing major Martinez, a Cuban military officer.  Although according to the newspaper, martinez "needed killing," Cassi was sentenced to 28 months in military prison and was fined $1,000. 

  • The Fulwilers: Clarence Eldredge, John, and Dave. All members of the extended family of W. D. Fulwiler, son-in-law of J.R. Murphy, one of the most important of Phoenix's founders. Fulwiler was Secretary of the Arizona Improvement Company and essentially ran the business.

  • George E. Golze, long time band leader from 1898.

  • Prof. G. H. Kelly, original bandleader and organizer, 1880-82. Kelly was a house and sign painter when not leading the band.

  • Prof. J. A. Lambertz, Cornet soloist and bandleader by 1914.

  • Prof. G. M. Peralta, Cornet soloist and bandleader 1897.

  • Jack Swilling Jr.  - Son of the prominent Phoenix founder, played Alto horn in 1898 and for years afterward.

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