U.S. Navy Band Great Lakes celebrates 100 years of “Pride in Service.” From its first performance in July 1911, to Lieutenant John Philip Sousa’s 300-piece Bluejacket Band, to today’s current mission of representing the Commander, Naval Service Training Command, the band enjoys a rich history of serving the Sailors and citizens of the Midwest with pride and distinction.
In the beginning, the band provided ceremonial support for boot camp graduations, as well as patriotic performances for the community on behalf of the base Commandant, Captain Albert F. Ross. The band, with bugle squad, quickly grew to 45 Musicians. Later, the bugle squad separated from the band to form its own group at the Bugle School, performing as a drum and bugle corps.
In 1917, because the base had grown from 1,500 to over 15,000 Sailors, Commandant W. A. Moffett appointed Lieutenant John Philip Sousa, USNR, as Director of Music. Sousa was tasked to increase the size and scope of Navy music by creating a Music School to provide only the finest musicians for the fleet. On station, the 300-member professional Great Lakes “Bluejacket Band” was the pride of the Navy and the nation.
During World War I, over 1,500 musicians trained at Great Lakes, creating 15 Regimental Bands, the 300-member Bluejacket Band, plus over a dozen Navy Bands to service the fleet. An important duty of the band was to support the Liberty War Bond drives, where they raised thousands of dollars for the war effort. The Bluejacket Band commonly traveled in eight railroad cars reaching 26 cities to perform more than 40 concerts in 20 days. During this period they were considered the “official band of the Navy Department.” President Wilson, after attending a concert in New York City’s “Hippodrome,” declared Great Lakes Navy Band as “America’s Band.”
In 1942, the Navy enlisted 5,000 African-American musicians, such as trumpeter Clark Terry, saxophonist Von Freeman and composer Gerald Wilson, successfully creating some of the best bands in the country and helping to end segregation in the Navy. Also of note, Musician First Class James Parsons, trumpeter, was later appointed by President John F. Kennedy as the first African-American Federal Judge with permanent tenure.
From the “Golden Age of Bands” to today’s technology-driven entertainment, U.S. Navy Band Great Lakes continues “Pride in Service” as a force for global good through community outreach, diversity, recruitment and honoring those who serve.