Sweet Music: Early Cranbrook City Bands
One of the earliest records of the various Cranbrook City Bands was the fundraising undertaken in May of 1908 to support that august body. Times were tough and uniforms, instruments and music was needed. The solution, hold a community entertainment combining the wide appeal of baseball with the equally wide appeal of slapstick comedy. The Fats vs. Slims Challenge was organized and played in downtown Cranbrook. The Slims, of course, won the game 18 to 9. The real winners however were the City Band. In the photo on the right (0226.0023) a great cross-section of Cranbrook’s boosters are shown, including Sheriff Morris, Mayor Fink and Police Chief Dow.
Dave Kay, a member of Cranbrook’s press and a dedicated historian, recalls being associated with the City Band in 1916, with watchmaker Dick Russell as bandmaster.
“Our organization consisted of some 15 or 16 players, mostly brass, and quite a number strictly amateur. I started on the E flat bass, gradually working up to the baritone, then the slide trombone. I don’t suppose we were an extra good band, but we did work hard at it, and enjoyed ourselves immensely at the same time.”
Mr. Kay recalled that bands came and went, some of them really good and some mediocre, but all enthusiastic and well-received by the populace. Everyone appreciated the musical accompaniment in the never-ending list of parades. The various bands marked most of the city’s triumphal achievements, usually without much support from the various city councils. Mr. Kay recalled that
“there was not a great deal of outside assistance from City Councils or other organizations. The members played purely for the love of it - and enjoyed it at that. Concerts and dances would be organized to raise money for uniforms and instruments, although many of the players owned their own horns. The Elks Lodge did sponsor them for a time, but that did not last for long.”
Mr. Lee Edwards is credited with having a lasting impact on the Cranbrook music scene. First he organized a thirty-five piece concert orchestra, then a choral group, then a glee club and eventually took over the City band as well. All of the groups were combined under the management of the Cranbrook Musical Society. Dave Kay credited Mr. Edwards as “probably the most capable musician and conductor ever to come to town.” Following Mr. Edwards, George Bower conducted for about a year, then Bill Burton took over the City Band. In the 1930’s William Raven organized a symphony orchestra in Cranbrook and conducted the City Band for a time.
Mr. Kay remembers Jack York taking over and conducting the band, and also organizing a Boy’s Band in Cranbrook. Then when Mr. York departed Bill Blinston took over the Boy’s Band and sustained it for a number of years. Later still the local Army Cadet Corps had a good band for several years.
As near as can be remembered, here is a list of different Cranbrook band leaders, from 1913. Again, this information is from Mr. Kay, but we would be more than happy to add more names if others remember them:
- James Austin, around 1913
- Dick Russell, 1915-1916
- Percy Parker, 1916-1917
- Bill Burton, 1917 on for years
- Lee Edwards, 1920-1921
- Sam DeLuca, from 1930 on
- Bill Raven, in the 1930’s
- Harry Ratledge, later in the 1930’s
- then Jack York, Bill Blinston, Doug Flowers, Ron Atkinson, Ed Delamont, Maurice MacKay and Walter Delamont.
All these musicians gave their time freely to the community, and added a great deal to events as wide-ranging as the departure of the troops for both wars, the death of King George the Fifth, summer serenades and tremendous parades. The town would have been much more dreary without them.