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Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Richard I. Schwartz

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Well-known Soloists from All Walks of Life

William Northcott

(b Devonshire, England 13 May 1841; d Philadelphia 30 Apr 1920)

He began study of the cornet at the age of nine with Robert Norton, the conductor of the Marine Band in Plymouth, England. At the age of fourteen, the captain of the battleship, St. Jean D’Arc, asked him to join the band on board his ship, shortly before it left for the Black Sea. The St. Jean D’Arc left before he had a chance to board. He left instead with the band on the Princess Royal, upon which served his brother, and headed for the same battle arena in the Crimean War as the St. Jean D’Arc. After seeing battle action on the Black Sea, he joined the crew of the Conqueror in Plymouth, England and sailed for the Mediterranean where he played for Italian nobility including the King. He remained on board with the band until 1859, after which joined the band on the Nile as special cornet soloist and performed for the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).

In 1864, after ten years of service in the Royal Navy, he organized the Northcott Brass Band in Victoria, Australia, and in 1868, he organized his own Concert Company in New Zealand. In 1870, he set sail for America on the City of Melbourne and upon his arrival in Hawaii, he organized a band on board and stayed in Hawaii for over a year directing a government sponsored band. In 1871, he completed his trip to America and stopped in San Francisco. His first performing obligation there was as soloist to benefit the survivors of the Chicago Fire. He then traveled to New York to play as special cornet soloist with the Grand Opera House Orchestra. In 1872 he toured the States as recitalist and played with the Carncross Minstrels as cornet soloist. In the summers of 1873 and 1874 he played with Simon Hassler’s Orchestra in Cape May, New Jersey, and during the winter of 1873, he played with the San Francisco Minstrels. In the winter of 1874, he played at the Chestnut Street Theater in Philadelphia.

At the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, he played for the Hook & Hastings Company and the Kimball Piano Company in the main building. In the summers of 1877 and 1878, he played at the main Exposition Hall (which remained standing after the exposition). For the next few years, he worked almost exclusively with his own Concert Company, and in 1893, he played at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

After the convention, apparently he made a good living by playing on the street corners of Philadelphia and developed quite a reputation doing so. He died a wealthy man, investing money in real estate. Information for this entry appears in Pioneers in Brass (Bridges [1972], 64-65).

Ulysses S[impson] Grant Patterson

(b Franklin County, VA 1867; d Lynchburg, VA 11 Apr 1916)

This entry is of special interest to the author of this document, as he teaches at the same institution, Virginia State University, at which Ulysses taught over 100 years ago. In Ulysses’ day, the University was known as the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute. It was granted a large plot of land in 1882 by the Government of the State of Virginia and, for more than 100 years, it had a tremendous impact not only on the state, but also on the nation as a whole.

He was born to Frank and Amelia Patterson (presently buried in Lynchburg) in 1867 (Salem Historical Museum 2000). After finishing public school, he entered the State Normal School of Tuskegee, Alabama on 5 December 1885, and stayed there until April 1886. In September 1888, he entered the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute, lived on campus in Virginia Hall, studied at the Collegiate Institute, and graduated as the Class Historian in 1891. Ulysses was one of the first teachers on the music faculty (even before he graduated) and the first "Band Leader" at the institution. His nickname was "Bunyan", perhaps because of his tall stature. After graduating, he left the Institute, much to the regret of his colleagues, to teach at Spiller Academy in Hampton, Virginia, where he stayed only for two months (Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute 1896). He then went home to Salem teach music privately, and was asked to teach Vocal Music and Brass Bands at the Virginia Seminary, Lynchburg, Virginia where he stayed until 1896. He did not accept an offer to teach at the State Normal School of Alabama, preferring at the time to stay in his own state.

Later, however, in 1896, Ulysses left Lynchburg to pursue a professional career singing with the Cleveland and Haverly’s Mastodon Minstrels. "The hit of the first part of the Cleveland and Haverly’s Minstrels was U. S. G. Patterson singing his own, I Never Loved Until I Met You" (The Freeman, 25 December 1897). He sang baritone solos with Madame S. Jones, the "Black Patti," and with Flora Batsen, "The Queen of Song." He also sang baritone solos and played solo cornet for Al. G. Field’s "Darkest America" in 1897, and made three concert tours as baritone singer throughout the State of Virginia as the "Peerless Baritone." "As a musician, scholar, gentleman, he ranks among the best that Virginia affords" (The Freeman, 25 December 1897). He was highly regarded as one of the "finest Negro Cornetist in the State of Virginia, and possibly the South" (Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute 1896).

The author of this document could find no more information in The Freeman for U. S. G. Patterson after 1897. However, the city directory of Lynchburg lists him as the principal of the Virginia Seminary between 1897 and 1898, a teacher of public schools in 1899, and a mail carrier from 1900 to the last year of his life (Jones Memorial Library 2000). The Gazette (Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute 1909) confirms that he was a mail carrier, since U. S. G. Patterson was "one of our most energetic and versatile of our graduates, [and] is in the U. S. mail service in Lynchburg, Va. He was the first president of the Y.M.C.A. here and the first leader of the band. He is now one of the substantial citizens of his town." He remained active as a musician, since he was also Choir Director at Court Street Baptist Church in Lynchburg for some time. At present, however, no exact dates for his tenure as Choir Director have been found by the author of this document.

On 27 April 1898, he married Gertrude Jones in Lynchburg, Virginia (Salem Historical Museum 2000). She was the daughter of John and Mary Jones of Lynchburg, Virginia, and according to the 1910 census, he and Gertrude had four children; Dorothy (10), Mamie (8), Ulysses, Jr. (7), and Ferdinand (5); and Gertrude’s mother was living with them at the time (Salem Historical Museum 2000).

Ulysses bought property from at least three other individuals. There were a number of deeds of trust made with various trust companies in Lynchburg, using the properties as collateral, so he must have owed money to a number of people at the time of his death. Ulysses died at his home, 1308 Wise St., Lynchburg, Virginia, on 11 April 1916 of lobar pneumonia influenza.

Ulysses S. Grant Patterson’s funeral at Court Street Baptist Church was attended by thousands of people of the entire community. Ulysses was held in high esteem by all who knew him. "The church columns, the choir left and the music stand of the dead leader were draped with black and the services were most impressive, the widespread evidences of grief shown testifying to the high esteem in which he was held…Seats were reserved for a number of white people who were present." Over 2,000 people attended his funeral, and others lined the route to the Methodist Cemetery. Ulysses was a highly respected individual of the community, as he was "grand vice chancellor of the colored Knights of Pythias of the State." The Grand Chancellor, John Mitchell of Richmond, Virginia, other officers were present along with representatives of many other lodges. Information for the above paragraph appears in the Lynchburg News, 12 April 1916 (Jones Memorial Library 2000). Sources of information appear throughout this entry.

Laura Edwards Prampin Harry Prampin

Although their careers coincide almost simultaneously, Laura was considered the cornet virtuoso of the two. Harry entered the musical scene in 1892 as the bandmaster of the Merritt University Students and continued conducting [and playing his cornet in] the McCabe and Young’s Minstrels, Davis’ Uncle Tom’s Cabin Company, Salter and Martin’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin Company, and J. Ed George’s Georgia Graduates. He played cornet with and directed the band with the Original Nashville Students and L. E. Gideon’s Mastodon Minstrels in 1898.

Harry arranged to have his wife travel to Chicago to take cornet lessons in October 1898. It is not known if she played cornet before this date. After performing with the Rusco & Holland Minstrels, Harry resigned his post to Fountain Woods in September 1900. Later that year, both he and his wife were billed as "The Prampins: High Class Entertainers" and toured the vaudeville circuit as a cornet/comedy duo. In one publicity add in The Freeman, Harry was dressed in a clown outfit, while his wife was in full formal attire, both holding cornets (The Freeman, 29 December 1900). In 1901, they both toured the minstrel circuit and in 1902, he was hired to conduct his own band with Howe’s Great London Circus. His wife was hired as solo cornet with the same band. She was considered "the greatest colored lady cornet soloist" and appeared as a special cornet soloist accompanied by one of the two "white bands" of the circus"(The Freeman, 10 May 1902).

Between the months of August and November 1902, they were again with Rusco & Holland, Harry conducting and playing cornet, and Laura playing cornet. In November 1902, the managers of the minstrels changed from Shayne, Roberts, and Gillen to McCarver, Reed, and McCarver. Harry Prampin then resigned his position [and also perhaps, Laura, as well]. Laura toured in 1902 and they both toured in 1904 and 1905 as "The Prampins," giving a performance at "Sam Lucas Night" in New York City on 7 December 1905. They may have disappeared from the musical theatre scene at this point, as the author of this document could find no more entries for them in The Freeman through 1916. Information for this entry appears in many issues of The Freeman from 1 October 1898 to 30 December 1905.

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