Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Richard I. Schwartz
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(b Frankfort, KY 19 Apr 1858; d Chicago 21 Sept 1923)
He studied music privately and also at the Dana Musical Institute when his family was in Warren, Ohio. Between 1875 and 1883, he performed cornet with the Original Oaks Show, Sprague’s Original Georgia Minstrels, Haverly’s Genuine Colored Minstrels, and Callender’s Consolidated Spectacular Minstrel Festival Show. In 1884, he conducted the French Band of Chippewa Falls. He then became associated as conductor of the bands with J. H. Holiday’s Minstrels, W. S. Cleveland’s Big Minstrels of Chicago, John W. Vogel’s "Darkest America" (The Freeman, 4 November 1897), and reputedly played cornet with Patrick S. Gilmore’s Band at the 1872 Peace Jubilee (Southern 1997, 257).
Called "America’s black Sousa" (Eileen Southern, "Smith, Henderson," in BDAAM), he spared no expense to secure the best talent for his bands. The band for John Vogel’s "Darkest America" played selections such as the overtures to William Tell, Poet and Peasant, and Ernani (The Freeman, 20 November 1897). In 1898, his "Silver Cornet Band" played with "John W. Vogel’s Afro-American Mastodon Minstrels combined with Frank Dumont’s new version of ‘Historical Darkest America’"(The Freeman, 20 August 1898). In 1901, he formed the company for the 14 Black Hussars, which toured the United States and Europe. See Frank Clermont and Etta Minor Clermont[o] in this chapter for information related to Henderson Smith. Frank and Etta Clermont were conductor and cornetist, respectively, with the 14 Black Hussars. After his retirement from the stage, Smith worked at the Atlas Theater in Chicago as the conductor of the band. Information for this entry comes from many issues of The Freeman from 4 November 1897 to 1 October 1898 and Eileen Southern, "Smith, Henderson," in BDAAM.
Walter F. Smith
(b Constantine, MI 3 Feb 1860; d Schoolcraft MI 12 May 1937)
His first instrument was the upright alto horn and at age ten he chose the cornet. After playing for years with many local bands, he performed in a summer band led by Walter Rogers in Goshen, Indiana in 1883. Learning of a vacancy in the U. S. Marine Band from a friend living across the street from John Philip Sousa, Walter auditioned for the Marine Band in 1885 and was accepted on 5 November 1885. He remained with the band as first chair and solo cornet until 1894. After he left the Marine Band, Sousa asked him immediately to play in his own band. It was, in fact, not young Kryl who was hired in 1892 for the Sousa Band, but Walter F. Smith (Bridges , 54, 79; Rehrig 1991, 702). Smith played in the Sousa Band until 1898 and went back to the Marine Band, retiring in 1921.
He was employed by the Holton Company as brass tester in 1921, shortly after Clarke had worked for the same company. He was heavily involved with experiments involving the effect of different materials in brass instrument manufacture and proportions of tubing on pitch and tone.
One experiment involved totally encasing a government bugle in "Plaster of Paris" to see what effect it might have on the instrument’s tone. The results of their experiment were that the solid block of material around the instrument had no noticeable effect on the tone. Apparently, the length of tubing and shape of bore had much more to do with the sound than any other mechanical factor.
Although he apparently made no solo recordings, he can be heard on many Marine Band recordings in the appropriate years. Information for this entry appears in Pioneers in Brass (Bridges , 54, 79) and The Heritage Encyclopedia of Band Music (Rehrig 1991, 702).
(b Dansville, NY 7 July 1876; d Chicago 12 May 1945)
When he was seven years of age, Sweet took his first lessons on the violin with his father, also a violinist. At age ten, he took lessons on the Eb cornet, and four years later he played in the band for the Stowe Brothers Circus, directed by the cornetist Monty Long, who recommended the Bb cornet to Sweet. After the circus, he traveled from one playing engagement to another on many trains, learning solos while walking up and down the small aisles. He would often stop in a town to play on its street corners earning money for food, and hitch a ride on another train to go to another destination.
In 1896, on a trip to New York City, Sweet was introduced to William Paris Chambers who offered to teach him free. His playing had improved so much that by the summers of 1897 and 1898, he played as special cornet soloist with many New York bands and in the winters played in theater orchestras. Between the years of 1899 and 1904, he was on the staff of the Edison Phonograph Company with John Hazel, making recordings of many solos, including Hartmann’s Arbucklenian Polka and Levy’s Russian Fantasie. At the turn of the century, Sweet also directed a band called the Singing Band which would interpose singing renditions of songs into their instrumental concerts (Schwartz 1957, 28). He also played cornet and conduct various bands, including Sweet’s Band and Orchestra. Between 1905 and 1911, he served as conductor of the famous Ringling Brothers Circus Band. Joe Basile became his assistant conductor and cornet soloist. Between 1912 and 1914, he served as conductor and solo cornetist of the Colorado Midland Band in Denver (Rehrig 1991, 743).
Just before WWI, he organized and played solo cornet with Al Sweet and His White Hussars (also called "Dunbar’s White Hussars", named after the Dunbar booking agency) which traveled the Chautauqua circuit, played in vaudeville, and later became a larger concert band. Dressed all in white, The White Hussars opened up the Chautauqua circuit, a new market for bands. He was actually known from coast to coast as Mr. Chautauqua (Schwartz 1957, 244-245). In 1933, the band, then called Al Sweet and His Military and Singing Band, played at the Chicago World’s Fair. Advertising the band as Al Sweet and His White Hussars, "direct from the Century of Progress," Sweet took the band on the road. Uniforms were no longer white. The band wore black suit coats and white pants as cleaning bills became a bit too much, and Sweet’s white outfit became worn (Schwartz 1957, 275-276).
Sweet wrote marches, arrangements, and other band compositions, including Bandolero, Bronco Busters, and Ringling’s Grand Entry. As a tribute to his career, he was posthumously elected to the Windjammers Unlimited Hall of Fame. Information for this entry appears in Pioneers in Brass (Bridges , 82-83), March Music Notes (Smith 1991, 403-404), The Heritage Encyclopedia of Band Music (Rehrig 1991, 743), and Bands of America (Schwartz 1957, 28, 275-276).
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