Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Spotlight on Navy Band Archives

The rich history of the Navy Band spans over 85 years, from the early 20th century to today. Our archives, led by Chief Musician Michael Bayes, preserves our heritage for future generations.

Tell us about the Navy Band archives.

The idea for a Navy Band Archives began in 2004. At that time, band members started to look for historic photos, documents and artifacts to display during the opening ceremony of our newly renovated building. Unfortunately, much of what was needed could not be easily found. Some artifacts were water damaged and in tattered boxes, requiring a lot of restoration. A small group of individuals, including Master Chief Musicians Peggy Bair and Joe Brown, and Senior Chief Musicians Aaron Porter and James Armstrong, and I began a movement to save the items that were not yet damaged. Eventually, this led to an official archive team tasked with the responsibility of preserving our most important historical documents, photos, and artifacts.

The first archivist of the band was Senior Chief Porter. The main focus of Senior Chief Porter’s tenure was to stabilize our photo archive. During his time, we were able to collect and place most of our photo collection, numbering several thousand, in archival-quality storage containers that will save them from deterioration by heat, humidity and light.

What is your present role?

As the head archivist I am charged with maintaining, preserving and storing the band’s historic collection. I have a wonderful team that helps me with this task. They are Senior Chief Musician James Logan and Chief Musicians Stanley Curtis, Suzanne Tiedeman and Stephen Hassay.  For the past two years, the archive team has been busy sifting through thousands of items, photos, documents and artifacts. Most of what is contained in our collection has been stored haphazardly through the years and the archive team has been cleaning, stabilizing and organizing each individual piece in the collection. Through the team’s hard work, these items have been organized into eras delineated by the tenures of each of the band’s 13 leaders, and a database has been created to begin the process of cataloging each item.  This stage is going to take us well into the next decade. Additionally, we have reached out to alumni to locate and reclaim materials that have been lost to deterioration.  Talking to the alumni is one of my favorite things; the stories that accompany these documents have provided perspective and a wealth of information. It is their service that helped make our great organization and we will never forget that.

Any interesting stories to share?

My interest in military band history began long before I was a member of the Navy Band. My grandfather was a member of the United States Marine Band from 1927-1954. I grew up with his stories of that band, and as a child I attended summer military band concerts at the U.S. Capitol, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Navy Yard and the Sylvan Theater. As long as I can remember I have been part of the great tradition of military music. This interest lends itself very well to the position of archivist. When I became the head archivist two years ago, I felt honored that I was charged with preserving the history that I had witnessed for so long.

In a lot of ways the Navy Band archives, and those archives located at the other military bands in Washington, D.C., contain small pieces of American history. For instance, when the U.S. government argued in 1931 about whether the “Star Spangled Banner” should be our national anthem, it was the Navy Band who was called to the chambers of Congress to prove its suitability for singing. It must have been a good performance, because we all know the rest of the story.

The Navy Band traveled with President Warren Harding on the first presidential visit to Alaska in 1923. It was said that Harding, an amateur trombone player, enjoyed sitting in and playing with the band. During this trip, the president died from a sudden heart attack. In his honor, the Navy Band played “Nearer My God to Thee” while the body departed San Francisco for Washington, D.C. In 1927, the band performed an arrival ceremony on the Washington Navy Yard for Charles Lindbergh and one in 1929 for Rear Admiral Richard Byrd. Every day we uncover a new picture or document that adds to our heritage. Our archive tells the story of how the band entertained the country during 85 years of national concert tours, supported our troops during countless ceremonies and protocol performances, served as national and cultural diplomats in foreign lands, and honored the service of our shipmates in Arlington National Cemetery.

What are the archives team’s current projects?

While our research into the best storage and preservation methods for our archives is very important, I am most excited about our special projects. One is the Legacy Project, designed to capture the memories of our retiring band members and the band alumni through filmed interviews. Senior Chief Logan is capturing these memories through filmed interviews. Another is our research on diversity in Navy music. We have spent the last year creating a presentation entitled “Navy Music Pioneers: A History of African Americans in Navy Music.” It is a wonderful narrative of the complex relationships between the Navy, our music, and our society. We presented this to the Armed Forces School of Music and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities National Band Directors Association this year and produced a twenty minute movie on the topic that was shown at the National Naval Officers Association-Association of Naval Services Officer (NNOA-ANSO) Professional Development and Training Conference Symposium. We will present this topic in a lecture/recital at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in November.

What are the archives team’s future projects?

Our goal is to eventually display more of our items around our building, and to have an organized and easily accessible collection which can serve as a research vehicle. We are working hard to bring the archives out of boxes by establishing display areas around our building. Additionally, we are working with our new webmaster, Chief Musician Stacy Loggins, to have a bigger presence on the new Navy Band website. For example, we have written an article that describes our first leader, Lieutenant Charles Benter. While he is officially listed as our first leader, we have found there was one who came before him. Please check the Historic Moment section of the website to find the answer.

Chief Musician Juan Vasquez is principal percussionist in the Concert Band.

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