HISTORY OF “THAT ALTUS BAND”
(From the Dallas Journal, June 14, 1937)
Dallas has welcomed some wonderful bands in her time—military bands, university bands, college bands, high school bands, circus bands and on down to the little old German bands that used to oompah and tweedle-dee outside the beer saloon’s swinging doors, but not within the memory of this generation at least, have the streets of this old town rung to the tread and tramp of such another group as this Altus band that Oklahoma sends to the Greater Texas and Pan-American Exposition. From baton-twirler to the last trumpeter in ranks, it was eye-filling, heart-thumping and foot-bewitching. Judge of the pride to which the fathers and mothers of these youngsters have a right from the strange exaltation and affection, which they inspire in your own heart, even though you know not lad or lass in the lot. Here is no band—here is youth and euphony on the grand march, and in the grand manner.
(“That Altus Band”, by Callaway Buckley)
When you see merchants rushing from their stores, leaving their cash registers open; professional men rushing from their offices, not waiting for the elevator but pounding down the stairs; and housewives rushing out their front doors and throwing their brooms down on the front porch, it’s not a riot, it’s not a mob, and it’s not a panic, it’s “That Altus Band”.
Let band music fill the streets of Altus and there’s a wave of pride that sends a big portion of the city’s residents hurrying to get a front row position along the curbs. Altus wants the world to see her band but when the show starts, Altus spectators will be in there fighting for a front row seat along with those who have never seen the organization perform.
The story of “That Altus Band” is an interesting one. It all started back in 1933, the heart of the depression, you might say, and it seemed a futile move to about everybody concerned except a young Oklahoma A & M college graduate who came to town in August, one of the slowest business months of the year, and told disgruntled business men that he thought it a was a good idea if they would help him verbally and financially organize a band.
Altus thought the August sun of southwestern Oklahoma had a hold of Dick Jewell (for whom our music building is named) who had graduated from Oklahoma A & M with an engineering degree and then decided the country needed more music if it was to survive the depression. He also knew that engineering wasn’t going to get him through the lean years.
Jewell launched his band campaign the day he landed in Altus. For a week, he talked up the idea and hunted musicians. The night of August 17, 1933, he called his first rehearsal. There were nine persons present who could play their instruments fairly well.
(A little more than four years have elapsed sine then and today “That Altus Band” consists of a first band of 90 members, a girl’s drum and bugle corps of 80 members, and a second band of 40 members. When combined, these units actually own more than $25,000 worth of equipment. They have traveled at least 10,000 miles to appear before a half million people and have had their pictures and stories about them in more than 20 million copies of print.)
The first rehearsal was a lean start. Jewell had the names and promises of 22 persons to come to that rehearsal. He urged the nine to come back the next week and then started his rounds all over again. He found more musicians in town ad imported four who played instruments he knew his band was going to need. His second rehearsal brought our 22 players.
By October 1, 1933, Jewell had what he called the Altus Municipal Band with 35 members. The next thing the band had to do was get uniform. The donation method was used this time. They raised enough money to buy 35 uniforms at $10 each. That was the beginning to the town’s cooperation with the band. Jewell recalls that on the drive for funds one of the merchants said: “I never have seen your band, but I guess you must have one from what everyone says, “here’s my ten”. It was cooperation like that that built the band!!!
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