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U.S. Navy Band Great Lakes celebrates 100 years of "Pride in Service" in 2011. From its first performance in July 1911, to Lieutenant Commander John Philip Sousa's 300-piece Bluejacket Band, to today's continuing mission of representing Commander, Naval Service Training Command, the band enjoys a rich history of serving the Sailors and citizens of the Midwest with pride and distinction.
Beginning in 1911, U. S. Navy Band Great Lakes provided ceremonial support for boot camp graduations, as well as patriotic performances for the community on behalf of the base Commandant, Captain Albert F. Ross. The band, with bugle squad, quickly grew to 45 Musicians. Later, the bugle squad separated from the band to form its own group at the Bugle School, performing as a drum and bugle corps.
By 1917, under Bandmaster Musician First Class Michaux Tennant, the band's strength grew to 241 members. Because the base had grown from 1500 to over 15,000 Sailors, Commandant William A. Moffett appointed Lieutenant John Philip Sousa, USNR, as Director of Music, Great Lakes Naval Training Station. Sousa was tasked to increase the size and scope of Navy music by creating a Music School to provide only the finest musicians for the fleet, managing Naval Station choirs, and the Great Lakes Naval Station Symphony Orchestra. The 321-member professional Great Lakes "Bluejacket Band" was the pride of the Navy and the United States. Additionally, in this same year, Alton Augustus Adams, Sr. was appointed as the first African-American Bandmaster in the Navy, at the Rank of Chief Petty Officer, leading the U. S. Navy's new St. Thomas, Virgin Island Band. Adams's marches were so good that even Lt. Sousa performed them with the Sousa Band.
During WWI, over 1,500 musicians trained at Great Lakes, creating 15 Regimental Bands, the 300 member Bluejacket Band, plus over a dozen Navy Bands to service the fleet. An important duty of the band was to support the Liberty War Bond drives, during which they raised thousands of dollars for the war effort. The Bluejacket Band commonly traveled in eight railroad cars reaching 26 cities to perform more than 40 concerts in 20 days. During this period they were considered the "Official Band of the Navy Department". President Wilson, while attending a concert in New York City's "Hippodrome", declared U.S. Great Lakes Navy Band as "the greatest demonstration of American spirit that is possible to conceive and certainly is the greatest band in the world", "It is America's Band".
In 1942, the Navy enlisted 5,000 African American musicians, such as trumpeter Clark Terry, saxophonist Von Freeman, and composer Gerald Wilson, successfully creating some of the best jazz bands in the country, helping to end segregation in the Navy. Also of note, Musician First Class James Parsons, trumpeter, was later appointed by President John F. Kennedy as the first African American Federal Judge with permanent tenure.
From the "Golden Age of Bands" to today's technology-driven entertainment, U.S. Navy Band Great Lakes continues "Pride in Service" as a force for global good through community outreach, diversity, recruitment, and honoring those who serve.
**Compiled by MU1 Steve Carmichael