John Bromell Marshall played for Queen Victoria, left his native Cornwall in England to erect buildings in Topeka and to serve in public office, and – most important of all, considering its lasting fame – to establish one of the foremost civic bands in the country and one which has had the founder’s name on its rolls and boards for the ninety-four years of its history. Marshall’s Band has been the pride of Topeka for nearly a century and in 1984 it will celebrate its centennial.
Before the advent of John B. Marshall and the series of bands with which he was concerned, music for entertainment and celebrations, and even for funerals in Topeka, was supplied mainly by the Capital City Silver Cornet Band, which was composed almost entirely of habitués of the old Turner Hall. Marshall arrived in Topeka in 1871, having gone from the family home near Bude, Cornwall, to Canada. Born February 2, 1850, he had early become a member of the Queen’s Own Guard Band in England and had joined the Royal Canadian Grenadier Band upon his arrival on this continent. He then moved to Topeka to become a contractor and builder. He entered civic affairs as a councilman for the First Ward (1886), and later served as Register of Deeds for Shawnee County. His love of music was strong and by 1881 he was connected with The First Regiment Band and a letter dated April 18 of that year indicates that John Ripley, W. H. Bannister, and others successfully sought to arrange a benefit concert for the band with Charlotte Thompson, a leading actress of the day, who was soon to appear in Topeka.
Marshall’s second venture in Topeka music came in 1884, when he was asked to organize a band to aid in the campaign of James G. Blaine and John A. Logan, Republican candidates for president and vice-president. A stalwart Republican, Marshall organized the First Ward Republican Flambeau Club Band. At that time the citizens of Topeka organized flambeau clubs to lead nighttime political parades; Topekan J. H. McCall is given credit for having invented the torches (flambeaus) used for the purpose. This twelve-member band was outfitted in white canvas uniforms and oilcloth capes and caps. It was planned to dissolve the band after the presidential election. When Grover Cleveland and Thomas Hendricks won for the Democratic Party, Marshall is quoted as saying, "Boys, it’s all over and Marshall’s band dies with the election."
But the band, already known by the name of its organizer, did not die. A committee of Democrats asked Marshall to have his band lead a jubilee procession for Cleveland. The ardent Republican thought he would solve the problem by naming a high figure for the services of the band, but the winning party agreed and the band was in business. It was formally organized on November 12, 1884, in the office of the J. M. Smith marble works, which was situated just north of the Kansas River bridge, and its first recorded job was in Lukens’ Opera House in North Topeka on December 19 in support of a church which was holding a fair. On New Years Day, 1885, the band, then calling itself Marshall’s Military Band, reputedly over the objection of the founder and director, played a concert, and thereafter was in great demand. Usually the band played gratuitously, and even when there was pay for engagements, the charges were frequently remitted through the generosity of the members, many of whom were prominent North Topeka businessmen, such as Frank Fieger, Harry Tew, Julius Moser, and M. C. Holman.
As the band’s fortunes grew, those of a competitor, the Capital City Band, waned, and eventually the new band absorbed the other, instruments and all. The band aided and supported the activities and causes of a number of civic and religious organizations.
At the second annual benefit concert of the band, in which Will F. Ripley took part as a soloist, Director Marshall was presented with a huge replica of a bass drum made of flowers with a floral inscription, "Marshall’s Band, 1884-86." That year, 1886, the band was able to discard its old instruments, having imported a full complement of silver-plated instruments from Germany.
Marshall’s Band early became a touring organization. It first entered the national spotlight in 1886 when it traveled to San Francisco for the encampment of the G.A.R. and there received recognition in the local press as "that famous Topeka Band." Funds for the trip were secured through a concert at Lukens Opera House, and Topekans poured in to support the band, now 33 members strong. Ralph Brigham, a Topeka sign painter, decorated the railroad car used by the band for its western trip. The band gave a concert in the court of the Palace Hotel, "where music never sounded to better advantage, or received more hearty applause," according to a report in the Topeka Daily Capital.
The following year the Grand Army encampment was held at St. Louis, and Marshall’s 60-piece band was there. The band won the honor of being the best marching band among the 159 participating in the encampment.
Civic pride was indeed an element in the band’s program. By 1887 the band had built a stand on Capitol Square for its concerts, and Manager Swayze had constructed a swinging frame which held cards giving the numbers as they were being played.
Two years later the band undertook its third major trip, this time to lead the presidential escort from Indianapolis to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of President Benjamin Harrison. The band took the honor easily, and found Pennsylvania Avenue not at all awesome. That same year a writer in the Arkansas City Traveler urged the planners of a G.A.R. reunion to secure the services of Marshall’s Military Band. Said the writer, "Nothing adds so much to the enjoyment of a parade or a ‘camp-fire’ as the presence of a first class band, one that is capable of giving a first class out-door concert, as well as head a procession properly. This band can turn out any number of men from sixteen to forty-four and has won an enviable reputation by their musical excellence." Also that year, the band’s fifth, the concerts were highlighted by the American premier of a number called "A Voyage on a Troop Ship," a new piece which had been brought from England by Director Marshall. A description of this production in the Daily Journal for November 13, 1889, shows how elaborate the production numbers were in the Marshall Band concerts. Wrote a reviewer: "It combines every style of music from the sentimental to the heroic, from the entrancing serenade to the imitation of a storm at sea, with the roar of thunder and the lightning’s flash. At the height of the storm scene the scenery was shifted and a very pretty tableau, a little child in prayer, was revealed, heightening the solemn and stirring effect. The applause at the conclusion of the piece was tremendous and long continued."
Other trips taken by the band during this period included one to Denver, where it was the official band of Topeka Commandery No. 5 Knights Templar. Fifty musicians made this trip in 1892. That same year the band played for the G.A.R. encampment in Boston, and the next year it represented the state as the official band of Kansas Week at the Chicago World’s Fair. By that time the band had achieved a prominence which rivaled that of John Philip Sousa’s, a personal friend of John Marshall.
By 1891 the membership of the band included Marshall’s two sons, John Bromell, Jr. and Albert H. John, later a Topeka druggist, played cornet and Albert, later a local physician, the saxophone. Both had begun their musical careers as founders and members of the Sunflower Band, a juvenile group they organized in North Topeka. The band was composed of fourteen youngsters, ranging in age from eight to 17, and all evinced a surprising degree of ability. D. G. Kline of Marshall’s Military Band was employed as teacher. Following is the personnel of the first juvenile band in Topeka: John Marshall, Jr., Harry Pence, Robert Morton, George Allen, Fred Danvers, Ulysses Seal, Wm. Johnson, Robt. McMasters, Wm. Ekel, Albert Marshall, Ben. Perking, David Gregg, Del. Metsker, and George Carey. The band met twice each week for rehearsal. John, Jr. became successively secretary, assistant director, and director of Marshall’s Band.
Marshall’s Military Band, fifty members strong – its band drafts of the period proudly portray the director and contain the legends "50 Men 50" – continued to devote itself to civic events in Topeka and surrounding towns but it found its financial fortunes waning as its popularity grew. Director Marshall conceived the idea of a municipal tax levy to cover the fixed expenses which the members had been meeting from their own purses, but the city was slow to take up the idea. So a plan was developed, through the aid of John R. Mulvane, president of the Bank of Topeka, to have the band purchase and operate Garfield Park, a North Topeka amusement area, which had recently been acquired by the bank on a mortgage default. The band received the deed to the property at a reduced price, improved the amusement area, added a natatorium, and planned to use its revenue to support the band. Ten-cent concerts were given for a time. Then came the flood of 1903, which wiped out the amusement area and ruined the hope of financial support from the park. The bank took over the park again, and eventually North Topeka businessmen purchased the land and donated it to the city. Meanwhile, members of the band, with money from their own pockets, built a band stand at Eighth and Harrison and gave free concerts through the 1903 season. In despair over the recent financial reverses, Marshall tendered his resignation on November 9, 1904, but it was not accepted. He remained director until his death in 1910.
Marshall was succeeded as director by D. G. Kline, a piano tuner and repairer and euphonium and trombone player with the band. In 1915, the assistant director, John B. Marshall, Jr., took the top post and led the band until his death in 1932. The band’s archives for this later period of its history contain thousands of clippings about concerts in city parks, opera houses, and auditoriums of Topeka and numerous Kansas towns. A typical year for Topeka was 1926, with 19 concerts scheduled for city parks – Garfield, Edgewood, Chesney, Ripley and Gage, between June 2 and August 4. Garfield Park, during its advertising campaigns to lure pleasure seekers, stressed the presence of Marshall’s Military Band for Sunday concerts. At Vinewood Park the band was an institution from 1903 until its closing in 1910. A contract in the archives indicates that band members had the privilege of boarding the first trolley car to Topeka after the conclusion of the concerts.
On December 14, 1925, when John Philip Sousa brought his band to Topeka for a farewell visit, he was met at the Union Pacific station by the mayor and Albert and John Marshall, Jr. who hosted a dinner in his honor before he directed a concert in the city auditorium. For the concluding number of that program he directed the combined Sousa and Marshall’s bands, with Dr. Albert Marshall assisting him, in "The Stars and Stripes Forever." Next day the reporter for the Journal wrote, "Marshall’s Band is our premier musical organization and the complement paid it by Sousa struck a responsive chord with all present, the proof of it was the vigorous applause given the scarlet-unformed men of Marshall’s Band as they marched on the platform."
The band became a fixture at Senator Arthur Capper’s annual birthday party at Garfield Park and for many years the band played three times daily for the Kansas Free Fair. About 25 members would travel over the city in a streetcar trailer in the mornings to advertise the event. The full band would give an afternoon concert on the second-floor south porch of the Agricultural Building.
A new dimension in the band’s activities during the 1920s and later years was radio broadcasting. Marshall’s regularly aired programs through the WIBW studios in the National Reserve Building by remote control from their rehearsal hall at Third and Kansas Avenue. Beginning in 1923 the band concerts included singing by Miss Julia Marshall, daughter of the director. At the peak of her long career with the band Julia sang fifty-two concerts in one season. A younger daughter, Jean, now Mrs. F. L. Bergmann of Greencastle, Indiana, danced with the band during several concert seasons. Dr. Albert Marshall retained an active interest in the band until his death in 1943, and his son, Dr. Bromell Marshall, still a member of the board of the band, was a frequent clarinet soloist under the baton of his uncle.
A highlight of the 1920s came on June 1, 1928, when Senator Charles Curtis returned triumphantly to Topeka, following his nomination as Republican candidate for the vice-presidency. Ten thousand gathered on the State House grounds that night, and Marshall’s Civic Band played a triumphal march. John Marshall, who had as a boy delivered milk to the Curtis household, was affectionately greeted by the Senator, "I hoped you’d be here, Cookie" – the nickname having resulted from the fact that Mrs. Curtis regularly supplied a treat of cookies to her milk-boy. When Curtis was officially notified of his nomination at the Capital in Topeka on August 18, Marshall’s was the "Official Band" and was joined at the end of the program by seven other bands, including three from Topeka, to accompany the audience in singing "America." The band again appeared on the south steps of the Capitol Building on July 23, 1936, for the acceptance speech of presidential nominee, Gov. Alfred M. Landon.
When John Bromell Marshall, Jr., died in 1932 there was no question of the band’s continuation. In spite of the vicissitudes experienced by all musical organizations, the director left the band with loyal players and an appreciative public. Dr. W. R. Pedigo took the directorship of the band and continued in that capacity until 1938, when he was followed successively by Gerald Anderson, Edward Tonar, and John W. Lewis, the founder’s grandson-in-law and a prominent Topeka attorney and public official. Howard Morrison, Sr., was director from 1940 to 1965; Julius Martell, then a music teacher at Wanamaker School, conducted in 1966 and 1967; Jess Lykins, a guidance counselor at Boswell Junior High School, led the band for the next two years; and Gilbert Anderson, a music instructor at Boswell, directed in 1970. George Neaderhiser, music consultant for the Kansas State Department of Education and formerly band director at Topeka High School, is presently leading the band toward its second century. John Bush, president of Marshall’s Band Corporation, has been indefatigable in helping to keep the band a viable part of civic life.
And so Marshall’s Band continues, on to 1984 and its second century, a remarkable musical organization – remarkable for its continuing excellence in music, remarkable for its having been able to adapt to the times and to bring both the old and the new music to a public with changing and varying musical tastes, remarkable for the loyalty of its members to its director and to the perpetuation of band music, and remarkable for the fact that the Marshal name has been connected with the organization without break throughout its long and respected history.
The author, Julia Marshall Lewis, was the granddaughter of John B. Marshall, founder and leader of the band bearing his name. Her Father, John B. Marshall, Jr., was also the leader of the band for many years.
This history appeared in A Century of Music, published by the Shawnee County Historical Society, Bulletin 54, December 1977.
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