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Baltimore's Municipal Music program extended into the African-American community. Huber's assurances that the Colored Municipal Band would operate on the same level as the white Park and Municipal Band belied the fact that inequities built in from the start. The "colored" organizations ran on a fraction of the budget earmarked for the white performing organizations. While members of the colored bands received approximately the same rate of pay per service, they played only six concerts a season compared to over a hundred by the white organizations. Moreover, African-American musicians were forced to contribute toward the purchase of music and the rental of their rehearsal hall.[1]  This situation persisted throughout Huber's rein as Director of Municipal Music.  

Huber had as much respect in the black community as he deserved.  As manager of the Lyric Theatre he refused to allow Anne Brown, Paul Robeson, Duke Ellington and a number of well-known African American artists to perform. In fact, he barred Eleanor Roosevelt from the Lyric stage when she was to appear at a NAACP benefit. During his years as Lyric manager, none of the city-supported "colored" groups were permitted to perform on the Lyric stage. 

The success of the program was insured by the large reservoir of talent in the African-American community. Band personnel was drawn from the ranks of professional black musicians. The orchestra was made up of professionals and gifted amateurs, some as young as eleven or twelve.  The chorus was almost entirely amateur. Appropriations for these groups amounted to less than 10 percent of the municipal music budget. 

Baltimore Negro City Band, the only municipal organization of its kind in the country, performed at Perkins Square near Mulberry and George Streets. The band was organized in 1922 with an appropriation of $1,000 from the city. A. Jack Thomas who directed a military band at Fort Meade, was made conductor.[2] The band, fitted out with uniforms like the white bands, performed six concerts a season in "colored" city neighborhoods.[3] The band broadcast one concert a season over WBAL (in contrast to the white band's weekly performances). 

Thomas stayed with the band until the spring of 1927.  The musicians bristled over the fact that they would have no say in the appointment of the new conductor or the concert schedule. Charles Harris, director of the Commonwealth Band, and one of the best known musicians in the State, succeeded Thomas when he was suspended from the musician's union for financial improprieties[4]

In January 1928, a concert by the City Colored Band was broadcast throughout the U.S. and Canada over WBAL. That summer, the band gave six concerts; in 1929, it gave twelve. The programming was a mix of overtures, waltzes, and marches. The thirty-five member band, also directed by Charles Harris, played only in the black sections of the city. (Sharp and Hill Streets and Fremont and Myrtle Avenues, Caroline and Jefferson). 

A second band, the Colored Park Band, was organized in 1939 with $500 in unused appropriations allotted to the Colored Chorus and $700 from a city contingency fund.[5] The Colored Park Band played its first season in Druid Hill Park, away from the main bandstand where the white band performed, in Grove three.[6]

The bands continued to play through the war years. Teen-aged musicians and high school students (several of them young women) replaced men who had entered the armed services. The "Colored" designation was dropped in 1942 when Robert Iula took over as head of Municipal Music.  The number of concerts was increased from twelve in 1943 to eighteen in 1944 with the bands playing on alternate weeks in Druid Hill Park on Sunday afternoons and on Thursday evenings in neighborhood parks.  Their performances drew large crowds.  The combined band concerts held in Druid Hill Park in 1945 and 1946 drew crowds of twelve thousand.

Harris, the first conductor of the City Colored Orchestra, also conducted the Colored Municipal Band. He was formerly assistant manager of the Royal Theatre and director of the Commonwealth Band, said to be the best musical organization in the city. Many of the musicians in the band followed Harris to the City Colored Orchestra.  Harrison Ward, who played flute, piccolo, and violin, had studied with Ephraim Zimbalist, Sr. Harris studied conducting with Gustav Strube.  Harris was replaced in 1933 by W. Llewellyn Wilson, undoubtedly the most influential black musician in the city. Harris continued in the orchestra as a cornetist.

W. Llewellyn Wilson was a cellist in the City Colored Orchestra. He began his musical career at the age of eight, pumping the organ in his church. He attended Baltimore public schools before going on to Morgan College and post graduate work at Columbia University, New York University, and the University of Pennsylvania. He worked in shipyards and in Baltimore's copper refining plants to earn money for music lessons. He received his musical training from his mother before studying with Daniel E. Stewart and Katie J. Hurst. He continued his musical studies with members of the Peabody Conservatory's faculty who taught African-American students outside of the Conservatory in the days before the end of segregation. Wilson studied choral conducting with Eugene Robert, cello with Bart Wirtz, organ with W. G. Owst, Dr. G. Herbert Knight and Harold D. Phillips, theory and orchestration with Katherine Lucke and Gustav Strube. He was appointed assistant conductor in 1931 and conductor of the City Colored Chorus. He studied orchestration with Gustav Strube, cello with Bart Wirtz and music theory with John Denues, Music Supervisor of the Baltimore City Public Schools. Wilson headed the music department at Douglass High School; lectured at Morgan College and wrote for the Afro-American. During his tenure at Douglass, the school turned out musicians like Cab Calloway; pianist Ellis Larkins; soprano Anne Brown; tenor Avon Long, and composer and Howard University Professor Thomas Kerr.

The Baltimore City School Board voted to approve Saturday morning concerts by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. While newspaper articles credited Huber for initiating these performances, the credit belongs to J. Llewellyn Wilson, head of the music department of Douglas Senior High.[7] The concerts were to be held in the auditorium of Douglas High School for "Negroes attending public schools."[8] On November 19, 1927, the BSO performed the first of these concerts.  The programs were identical to those performed for "white" schoolchildren.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performed its first concert for "adult negroes" at the Auditorium of the Douglass High School.  The previous year the orchestra inaugurated a series for colored children (also at Douglass). The success of these concerts prompted Mrs. Marie Bauernschmidt, then secretary of the Public School Association, to propose the formation of a "Negro orchestra.[9]

The orchestra gave three concerts during their first season.  Audiences for the concerts were relatively small, due in part to the expense of the tickets (50 cents). When it looked like sparse audience attendance might threaten the concerts, Wilson urged the city to continue its support of the orchestra and increase its efforts to bring the concerts to the attention of the community.  

An anonymous donor put up money to underwrite the orchestra and donated scores. The Musical Union agreed not to insist that its musicians be paid for rehearsals.  The School Board offered the music room of the George Washington Junior High School for rehearsals.  There was much speculation on the identity of the donor: Sidney and Walter Hollander, Mrs. Baurenschmidt and sculptor Edward Berge were likely candidates.

The orchestra played its first concert at Coppin Normal School for an audience of invited guests. The orchestra played its first public concert, in May 1931 at Douglass High School, to a packed house.  The orchestra participated in music programs at Douglass and other city high schools. The orchestra continued to give annual concerts with the colored orchestra until 1938 when union disputes shattered the organization. 

In 1934, pianist Ellis Lane Larkins made his debut as soloist.[10] Larkins, hailed as a prodigy, was the gifted son of a violinist John Larkins, a member of the orchestra.  Even at the age of ten Larkins demonstrated the elegance, grace and unaffected style that would become his hallmark. 

Larkins returned in March 1937 to perform a movement of the Mozart Concerto in D major. Larkins, now a student at the Washington Junior High, was hailed as the finest talent discovered in Baltimore since Shura Cherkassky.[11]

The following year, soprano Anne Wiggins Brown, a graduate of Douglass High School, performed with the orchestra. When the Peabody Conservatory refused to accept her as a student, Mrs. Constance Black, wife of the owner of the Baltimore Sun, encouraged her to go to Juilliard. She won the prestigious Margaret McGill Scholarship. She auditioned for George Gershwin for his forthcoming opera, Porgy. He asked her to sing unaccompanied, "City Called Heaven," which became one of her signature selections. Gershwin found his "Bess" and began tailoring the opera to take advantage of her prodigious talents. He rewrote act three, creating Summertime for Brown, and changed the title of the opera so she would share equal billing with baritone Todd Duncan.  The premiere took place on October 10, 1935, at New York's Alvin Theatre. The opera catapulted Brown to stardom. When Porgy and Bess travelled to the National Theatre in Washington, D.C., Brown learned that the audience was to be segregated. She led the cast in protest, forcing the theatre to relax their policy for the performance.[12] 

In 1942 she returned to Broadway in a revamped version of Porgy and Bess.  After the run was completed, she was offered the lead in Oscar Hammerstein's Carmen Jones. She refused the offer, touring the U.S., Canada, and Europe instead. Her Philadelphia performance with the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra broke all attendance records. She performed at Carnegie Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and continued to perform in Europe, South America, and Asia. 

Union disputes interfered with the 1937-38 season when the local Musicians’ Union refused to allow its members to play with the orchestra. The Musicians' Union, Local No. 543, justifiably insisted on a wage scale comparable to that of white musicians and that only union musicians be allowed to play. 

The Union also insisted that Wilson become a member. Charles E. Gwynn, President of the Union, criticized Wilson for ignoring the efforts of the Union to improve conditions in the colored orchestra. For Wilson, the dispute posed a terrible dilemma. Backing the Union would put Wilson in opposition to Huber who controlled the lion's share of the music scene in Baltimore.  For Wilson it meant professional suicide.

After both sides agreed to consider a compromise, conference with representatives of the union, Mayor Jackson, and Fred Huber was held in the Mayor's office in April, 1938.  The union offered to withdraw their demands for unionization of the entire orchestra if the group would be led by a union musician drawing union pay.  The Union dropped their demand for 100% union membership for orchestra members but adamantly refused to concede on the issue of a Union conductor.   The Mayor refused the concession but offered to expand the number of concerts by the colored band to twelve. 

The group's June concert went on as scheduled with soprano Lillian Matthews Parrot as soloist.[13]  Despite the strong support for the organization and the efforts of leaders in the black community, the orchestra failed.  Wilson ultimately ran afoul of Huber and resigned the conductorship of the orchestra and chorus.

Just a few years later, union disputes would lead to the collapse of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.  The Huber empire was beginning to crumble. After Huber's departure, the orchestra and chorus re-organized under the newly established Music Board and continued to give concerts through 1945 under the direction of A. Jack Thomas.

In February of 1942 the City Colored Chorus and orchestra were revived with Andrew F. Rosemond as their new director.  The force behind the revival was Peabody's new director, Reginald Stewart.[14]  The municipal department of music appropriation was augmented by a Carnegie Grant.  Before coming to Baltimore to conduct the colored National Youth Orchestra in the spring of 1941, Rosemond was head of the violin and chamber music department and director of the symphonic orchestra of the school of music at Tuskegee Institute. Rosemond had toured internationally as a violinist and conductor.  The NYA orchestra, which hired unemployed musicians between the ages of 16 and 24, was headquartered at Douglas Memorial Community Church.  The program was part of a National Youth Administration plan to establish youth orchestras and employ young musicians in towns and cities across the country.  Four orchestras were planned for Baltimore: an orchestra to play symphonic fare and another devoted to popular music for white youths and a parallel group for the African-American community.  Bart Wirtz conducted the white group which rehearsed at Polytechnic.

--Elizabeth Schaaf

 


 

    [1]Baltimore Afro-American, 10 July 1937

    [2] A. Jack Thomas, went on to become director of music at Morgan College.

    [3] In 1931 the band performed fourteen concerts but budget cuts the following season reduced the season to the original six. 

    [4]May 7, 1938 Afro-American

    [5]Baltimore Sun, 25 June 1939

    [6]Baltimore Afro-American, 13 July 1940

    [7]Dec. 5, 1927  Herald Commonwealth. 'Is A.N.P. In Error?

    [8]Sept. 30 1927 Sun  Approval Given Concerts For Negro School Pupils

    [9]Baltimore Sun, April 22, 1929

    [10] Larkins returned in 1937.

    [11] Afro-American April 17, 1937

    [12]Brown's concert career was cut short when she developed respiratory problems on a 1953 tour in Europe.  When she returned to her home in Norway, she was diagnosed as an asthmatic.  She continued her career as a teacher, becoming one of the most celebrated teachers in Norway. 

    [13]Lillian Matthews Parrott studied music in Berkley, California, and later with Charles H. Bochau, a member of the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

    [14]Robert Bolles, head of Peabody's music education department, Osmar P. Steinwald, supervisor of instrumental music in Baltimore public schools and Dr. David E. Weglein, superintendent of public instruction were also involved in reviving the program.

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