Thursday, January 19, 2012

Alton Augustus Adams (1889-1987): First Black Bandmaster of United States Navy

[Alton Augustus Adams: Bandmaster, United States Navy]

A visitor to this week asked where Alton Augustus Adams was. We explained that the website is a one-person project which can present only a tiny fraction of the thousands of composers and musicians of African descent. The site was launched in 2000 to demonstrate to teachers, students, musicians and the general public that African Heritage in Classical Music has existed for centuries. We explained to the visitor that AfriClassical can post information on many more composers and musicians, and Alton Augustus Adams could be featured on the blog.

The papers and music manuscripts of Alton Augustus Adams are in the reference collection of the Center for Black Music Research of Columbia College Chicago. An online entry on him is the CBMR Research Project
Discovering Alton Augustus Adams. Here is an excerpt:

“Alton Augustus Adams (1889-1987) was the first black bandmaster in the United States Navy - an incredible fact since his service in that capacity began with an all-black band in 1917, when blacks could serve in the armed forces only in such positions as steward and mess attendant. He also organized three Navy bands that toured the U.S. mainland during 1924, and in 1942 he founded the first integrated band in the United States Navy.”

Professor Mark Wolbers is Conductor of the University Wind Ensemble at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He has kindly provided us with a copy of a program, picturing Alton Augustus Adams, from April 18, 2008:

“The University Wind Ensemble: Wade In Water
Work songs, dances, spirituals, marches and more. Original music for the wind band by Adolphus Hailstork, William Grant Still, Florence Price, Julian Work, Gary Powell Nash and Alton Adams.”

Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma, has contributed this biography from the manuscript of a major reference work. It is accompanied by a Bibliography and Works list which we will present at a later date:
“He was born a Danish citizen in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, and began music studies at age nine. He was apprentice to the shoemaker Albert Francis, who was also a bandmaster from whom Adams learned conducting and studied instruments. He joined the St. Thomas Municipal Band playing piccolo in 1906. In 1910 he organized the St. Thomas Juvenile Band which was engaged for social events and concerts at Emancipation Garden.

“He had been a student by correspondence of Hugh Clarke of the University of Pennsylvania, followed by work at the School of Music Theory at Carnegie Hall, then at the Royal College of Music, earning his B.M. degree from the University Extension of Chicago’s Conservatory of Music. He was appointed music editor in 1915 of The herald, a newspaper in St. Croix and in the next year he began writing a band column for Jacobs' band monthly which caught the notice of John Philip Sousa and Edwin Franco Goldman. He was also on the editorial staff of Metronome, and Army and Navy musician.
“When the United States purchased the Virgin Islands in 1917, his Juvenile Band became affiliated with the U.S. Navy with Adams as Chief Musician. He served in that capacity – the first Black bandmaster of the Navy -- from 1917 to 1947, with tours of the U.S. starting in 1924, when he studied the American music education system (he developed the music program for the Virgin Island schools, supervising it from 1918 to 1931) and found himself a welcome visitor at Hampton, Washington, Philadelphia, and New York, with particular success when his band marched in Harlem.

“His unit was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 1931, interrupting his social contacts. In 1932 a fire in St. Thomas destroyed his home and library, and killed his daughter, Hazel. He retired from the Navy in 1933, returning to St. Thomas to resume his work as an educator and newspaper columnist (now for The bulletin). With the start of World War Two, he was reactivated and sent again to Guantanmo Bay, conducting what then became briefly an integrated band until he was moved back to St. Thomas and then, in 1944, to Puerto Rico.

“He retired from the Navy in 1945. The remainder of his life was spent working with the Virgin Islands Hotel Association, opening his home as the Adams 1799 Guest House until he closed it... In 1963, the Virgin Islands march was designated the official anthem of the territory. In addition, he was an officer of the Red Cross and helped in the establishment of the Charlotte Amalie public library.”

Adams, Alton. The memoirs of Alton Augustus Adams, Sr., first Black bandmaster of the United States Navy, ed. by Mark Clague, with a foreword by Samuel Floyd, Jr. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. 2008).”

No comments: