"Bringing Music to the Community for over a Century"
The first band leader in Kokomo was Byron Reed (1828-1896) who was from the village of Miami ten miles north of Kokomo. Described as a combination of a gypsy, poet and philosopher, Reed appeared also to be as "restless as an Arab" in his lifestyle, occasionally leaving his wife and daughter to live on the Great Plains with his friend William "Buffalo Bill" Cody and to try his luck as a "49-er" during the California Gold Rush. Reed's band was active during the Civil War years providing music for recruitment rallies, patriotic parades and union meetings.
Following the Civil War era, the next band leader of note in Kokomo was a drummer in Byron Reed's band named Tom Ogden. His band was alternately known as "The Higlet Guard Band" and "The Light Guard Band." By 1891 Ogden's band merged with another local group, "The Citizen's Brass Band," to form "Tom Ogden's Brass Band." Ogden's bands were hired whenever stirring music for an occasion was called for, especially patriotic ones, and political rallies always required the music of a band. According to newspaper reports from the day, Ogden's band also provided music to "ballyhoo" for sidewalk sales at the local department store, performed for traveling dog and pony shows and provided music for the commencement ceremonies of Kokomo High School.
In 1902, Alton S. Mygrant became the local band master in Kokomo. Mygrant came to Kokomo from Elwood, Indiana, where he had served for two years as leader of a "factory band" called "The American Tin Plate Band." A cornet player, Mygrant was born near Markle in Wells County in 1866 and worked as a mail carrier, operated the Mygrant Band and Orchestra House beginning in 1931 and organized numerous educational opportunities in Kokomo and surrounding towns as "boys' bands." Active as a band master in surrounding communities as well, Mygrant also was leader of the Grace Methodist Church Sunday school orchestra and for a time was director of the church choir as well.
The local band in Kokomo in Mygrant's time had various names, but by 1920 a committee from the local Chamber of Commerce raised $1,000 for the "upkeep" of the band and the band accordingly was renamed "The Chamber of Commerce Band." At this time, the band had 25 players, rehearsed two evenings a week and outfitted their members in uniforms.
During the Depression the financial backing for regular Wednesday "Concerts in the Park" was gone and regular concerts were suspended for a time. The Kokomo Tribune organized a campaign to provide financial backing by local industrial, commercial and financial concerns on a concert-by-concert basis. Bandmaster Mygrant composed a theme march for these concerts whose title changed from week to week depending on the sponsor, from the "Kokomo Tribune March" one week to the "Stellite March" the next, and so on. The unofficial title of the march, however, always remained the same, the "Jackrabbit March."
During the Depression the band's activities included playing for Kokomo "Red Sox" baseball games, giving benefit concerts for charities and hospitals in nearby towns and participating in the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race activities aside from their regular schedule of Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evening concerts in Kokomo parks and on the Courthouse Square.
From 1935 to 1940 sponsorship of the Kokomo band was provided by the Elks Club and in 1941 sponsorship was taken over by Post 6 of the American Legion. The Legion provided the band with a free rehearsal hall and storage space for their rapidly growing music library. From 1941 to 1982 the band was named the "Post 6 American Legion Band." The Park Band plays Charles Parker's "American Legion March" as its theme march to open concerts to this day.
In 1935 Ross Dwiggins inherited the directorship of the Kokomo band from Alton Mygrant. Dwiggins had been leading the band when they performed at their annual appearance at the Bluffton Street Fair since 1926, so it was a natural progression for him to assume leadership when Mygrant retired. Dwiggins continued as band leader for 31 years until his death in 1967.
Ross Dwiggins was born in 1887 in Kokomo. Originally a violinist, he got his start as a cornet player in one of Mygrant's boys' bands in 1903. After service in World War I, Dwiggins moved to Chicago to make a living as a vaudeville pit musician. By 1926 he was playing in a theater at 63rd St. and Jackson Park, sharing a stand from time to time with a young violinist from Waukegan, Illinois named Jack Benny. In that same year Dwiggins was invited to appear with the band from Kokomo at their annual engagement at the Bluffton Street Fair, returning every year thereafter for the rest of his life as leader of the Bluffton Street Fair Band.
By 1935 Dwiggins had settled in Kokomo and assumed leadership of both the Kokomo and Lafayette, Indiana town bands and made his living as a private music teacher to scores of young musicians on all instruments, especially the trumpet and cornet.
Dwiggins led his bands "Merle Evans-style," directing with one hand and playing any missing parts on his cornet with the other hand. A strong-willed, determined Irishman, Dwiggins would play your part for you "in your face" if you missed a passage during rehearsals. He did not regularly solo with the band, encouraging the members to "step out front," especially his advanced students who played in the band.
During Dwiggins tenure as leader of the Kokomo band, concerts in the park were the main performance outlet for the band. Various venues in Kokomo were tried as performance locations over the years, but by 1962 the traditional evening for the park concert had become Wednesday in Highland Park as it remains to this day. Until 1976 the band rehearsed all year ‘round in order to "stay in shape," but since that date the band's schedule of one 2-hour rehearsal on Tuesday night for a 1-hour concert on Wednesday night has become the norm.
Over the years the directorship of the band has almost invariably passed to a person who has been a player in the band. Successors to Ross Dwiggins after his death in 1967 have included Norbert Johnson, a tuba player in the band, in 1967; Don Clymer, clarinetiest, in 1968; Al Jones, trumpeter and band director at Haworth High School, from 1969 to 1971; Jerry Daniels, band director at Taylor High School, from 1971 to 1974; Carlyle "Bud" Drake, band director at Oak Hill High School, from 1974 to 1975; Max Millspaugh, trombonist and band director at Northwestern High School Band, from 1976 to 1978; Chuck Whorwell, clarinetist and band director at Eastern High School, in 1979; and Bob Thornburg, trumpeter and band director at Carroll County High School, from 1980 to 1988. Steve Rhodes, who got his start as principal trombonist with the Park Band in 1978, has been music director of the band since 1989.
Over the years the size of the Kokomo band has grown from an average of 25 in the 1930's to 45 by the end of Ross Dwiggins' tenure and is the current size of the band today. Since it's reorganization as a not-for-profit corporation in 1988, the band has been known as "The Kokomo Park Band" in recognition of it's function in the Kokomo community.
from "A History of the Community Band in Kokomo, Indiana from Pre-1882 to 1982" by Karen Whitford
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