The Big Beat "Keeps You Rockin"

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Fred Thomas

During the early 1950’s music fare heard on radios was a mixture of big band, standards, crooners, pop tunes, and novelty songs. This was also a time of great innovation and drastic change in popular music. Forms from a great variety of sources came together to create a new sound. Because of the simplicity and the strong basic beat, this sound had great appeal to the younger generation. Young people certainly took an interest in radio and records. Parents were shocked! They considered this novel sound primitive and obscene, which made it even more appealing to their children. The unique sound assumed three basic forms, similar in beat, but different in sound because of their very diverse origins. Rockabilly had its origins from Country and Western. Rhythm and Blues was derived from Black Gospel and Southern Blues. Pop Rock was more of a popular music sound with a strong up-tempo beat (courtesy of The Old and Gold Show, WDTR, radio, Detroit)

These recordings, not widely played on mainstream radio, were being broadcast in 1951 by Alan Freed, a late-night disc jockey at station WJW in Cleveland. This amalgamation of genres would become known as “rock ’n roll”, a name Freed would later be credited with advancing. His program was called “Moondog House” and became popular with young kids in Cleveland and beyond. By his choice of music alone the Moondog earned their trust. In fact, Freed would be credited as one of the early prime movers of “rock ’n roll” and the early rock concert business. Soon he was doing live rock shows. The response was remarkable. No one in the local music business had ever seen anything like it before. Two or three thousand kids would buy tickets, all for performers that adults had never even heard of.” (courtesy of Wikipedia)

A fascination with music and records has consumed countless hours of my time. The bug bit me at age thirteen. The pursuit of them was unintentionally initiated by my brother Jerry who was three years older. In late 1954 he began bringing home 78 rpm records with unusual titles and playing them on his small three-speed record player located in our bedroom. There was Sh-Boom by the Chords, Crying in the Chapel by the Orioles, Chop Chop Boom by the Danderliers, and others. All were by vocal groups, and had unfamiliar titles.

One afternoon I asked him to let me go along to the record store, only to meet immediate rejection. However, a plea to mom by this little brother cleared the way. Magee Music was located at 303 West Michigan Avenue opposite the original Cleary College. There I discovered the force that drew him to these strange new sounds. It was the attractive, young miss behind the counter. Discussing the up and coming artists and buying records put him in her presence. I don’t recall how long his infatuation lasted, but the roots of my music and record involvement can be traced directly to his fondness for her.

My growing interest was reinforced by a 200 selection Wurlitzer jukebox at Cecil’s Drive Inn, the restaurant my parents opened in 1955 at 1215 East Michigan. A Dearborn vending service maintained it and the cigarette machine. If I were present when their rep finished his duties, he always left me a generous supply of nickels so I could keep the selections spinning. Hearing the songs encouraged paying customers to do the same. This activity broadened my knowledge of songs and artists. In addition, the current tunes entertained me as I busily performed my table cleaning and dishwashing duties.

Fast forward to April 1958. The Michigan Industrial Education Society was holding an exhibition in Lansing where prize-worthy projects made in high school shop classes throughout the state were being shown and judged. As high school seniors, two buddies and I were afforded the opportunity to take Friday off school and visit the popular display. A unanimous decision to accept the offer was immediate.

Our destination was the Lansing Civic Center. Once there, the search for the exhibit hall took us throughout the multi-storied building. Passing a Coming Attractions announcement board, my attention was drawn to a colorful poster announcing The Alan Freed Big Beat music tour show on stage Sunday, April 27th. My interest was piqued. I had read plenty about Alan Freed and his concerts, but never had the chance to attend one. I couldn’t believe the playbill! When I saw the list of performers, I knew I had to drive back the ninety miles for the show, and I convinced others to accompany me. Next, prior to locating our intended destination, a detour to the box office was made and tickets, priced from $1.75 - $3.50, were purchased. The Big Beat Tour monopolized discussion during the drive home.

I was super excited as I looked forward to seeing seventeen acts. Fourteen of them had a song on the national Top Ten chart including: 1. Jerry Lee Lewis - Great Balls of Fire; 2. Buddy Holly - Peggy Sue; 3. The Crickets - Maybe, Baby; 4. Chuck Berry - Sweet Little Sixteen; 5. Frankie Lymon - Why Do Fools; 6. The Diamonds - The Stroll; 7. Danny and the Juniors - At The Hop; 8. Billie and Lillie - La Dee Dah; 9. The Chantels - Maybe; 10. Larry Williams - Boni Maroni; 11. Pastels - Been So Long; 12. Dicky Doo and the Don’ts - Nee Nee; 13. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins - I Put a Spell; 14. Jo Ann Campbell - Wait a Minute; 15. Ed Townsend - For Your Love; 16. Billy Ford and the Thunderbirds; and 17. Big Rocking Band.

The return trip to the Civic Center went smoothly. Extra time was allotted in case of unforeseen travel interruptions. None occurred. Once inside the auditorium ushers directed us thru the maze of aisles to our seats. Anticipation electrified the youthful multitude awaiting the rock and roll performers. The sight of the emcee approaching the center stage microphone set off uncontrolled audience pandemonium.

One by one, individual acts appeared on the stage, and were greeted by deafening applause. During some performances multiple spectators, overcome by gyrating rhythms, spontaneously leaped into the aisles and began dancing. Uninterrupted by such fanfare, the bands kept the auditorium rockin’ through their final songs which usually brought loud yells for “more” from admiring spectators.

The enjoyment of this dynamic concert experience had one downside. We needed to be home by eleven p.m. and that required a premature departure. However, Chuck Berry was a favorite, so we decided to stretch our luck and not leave until we saw him. After being awed by two of his numbers, we felt the passing of time necessitated leaving immediately. On the way out I stopped for a glance back just as Chuck was doing his infamous duck walk across the stage. I never saw him in person again.

When I recall The Big Beat concert now I am impressed by how many performers like Buddy Holly, The Diamonds, and Danny and the Juniors still prevail today. Most, like bright stars, reached their peak, and then faded into oblivion.

In addition to The Big Beat tour, Alan Freed had a TV program called The Big Beat, and made a movie called The Big Beat. The Del Vikings sang a song titled The Big Beat. It was written by Fats Domino and David Bartholomew, not by Alan!

(Fred Thomas moved to Ypsilanti in 1948, graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1958, and then from Eastern Michigan University in 1965. He currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: In 1949 Jerry Wexler, and editor at Billboard magazine, substituted the term “rhythm and blues” for the older “race” records and “Rhythm and Blues” was born.

Photo 2: In 1951 Alan Freed, a late-night disc jockey at station WJW in Cleveland, began playing an amalgamation of genres which would become known as “rock ‘n roll.”

Photo 3: The 78 rpm record player became very popular in the early 1950s.

Photo 4: Poster for the Alan Freed Big Beat music tour show at the Lansing Civic Center in April of 1958.

Photo 5: Chuck Berry was one of the favorites who played at the Lansing Civic Center in 1958.

Photo 6: Many performers like Buddy Holly, The Diamonds, and Danny and the Juniors are still popular today.

John Challis - The Musical Maverick Who Revolutionized the Harpsichord

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Jan Anschuetz

Like Steve Jobs, who built his first PC in his parents’ garage as a teenager and revolutionized computers, a child musical genius in Ypsilanti built an organ in the loft above his father’s jewelry store and went on to modernize an ancient instrument – the harpsichord. This is the story of John Challis and the way that the Ypsilanti community - with its many resources including generous citizens, a supportive family, caring instructors, and the support of the Michigan Normal College community - helped an “unusual” child turn into a world-renowned musical master.

John was one of four children born to Charles and Alice Callen Challis of South Lyon, Michigan. Charles studied watch and jewelry making and also mechanical and electrical drawing, and attended college in Illinois. His parents, Charles and Mary Gready Challis, built a large double store on Lake Street in South Lyon in 1900. They sold farm implements and carriages and later automobiles. That year, their son Charles married Alice and established a jewelry business in his parents’ building.

The jewelry business was not all that Charles was interested in. He was excited about the newly-invented telephone and in 1902 organized an independent telephone company in South Lyon called The South Lyon Telephone Company. This successful business was sold to The Michigan Bell Telephone Company around 1916. Charles then became partners in his father’s business, and when his father retired in 1918 after 47 years, Charles moved his family and talents to Ypsilanti. In 1919 he opened a jewelry store at 104 West Michigan Avenue.

It was then that Charles’ twelve year old son John began to blossom. John was being trained as a watch maker and jeweler by his father and learned to use metal working tools. At the same time, his musical abilities were being encouraged by his mother. In an Ypsilanti newspaper article by Flora S. Jones from 1928, she describes how John’s mother contacted Professor Frederick Alexander of the Normal College Conservatory of Music to request that John receive organ lessons from him. She further described how her young son had made his own organ and now needed to learn how to play it. Professor Alexander stated that the child “…had rigged up an old reed organ with pipes, and played with one foot while he pumped with the other. ‘But John’, I said…’an organist plays with both feet – and shortly afterward he had arranged that very thing, having hitched it up in some way to his mother’s vacuum cleaner. True, the vacuum cleaner was about all you could hear – but he played with both feet in approved style.”

Not only was John allowed free reign to use his father’s metal tools as well as the loft above the jewelry store containing well seasoned boards, Professor Alexander also kindly allowed John to have the keys to the musical studio at the Conservatory, which contained an old style clavichord which was made by master craftsman Arnold Dolmetsch, commissioned by the Chickering Company of Boston. Imagine the amazement of Professor Alexander when one day John told him that he had made his own clavichord. Alexander’s response was “But John - you can’t make a clavichord” to which John is said to have replied “I know it – but I have.” The 1928 article quotes Alexander as describing this creation. “He had never seemed to consider he would be unable to do the thing he wished to do, and he has always seemed to know how to go about it. In this instance, he had taken apart an old melodeon, a well seasoned old picture back made the sounding board; he had sent away for the finest wire he could obtain and untrained and unskilled except the instinct prompted and he had studied the makings of my instrument – he had made his first clavichord. A bit crude of course, but a vicious achievement for a boy or thereabouts. His hands were trained to fine accuracy, for John’s father is a watchmaker and the boy was to follow his father’s footsteps.”

John was so impressed with the clavichord made by Arnold Dolmetsch which he was allowed to play at the Normal that he wrote to him in England and this is where the community rallied about the talented young Ypsilantian John Challis. When it was established that a place was reserved in the studios of Dolmetsch for his apprenticeship at Haslemere, Surrey, England in 1926, a fund was organized, led by Miss Madge Quigley, a talented graduate of the Normal Conservatory of Music who had studied clavichord at Dolmetsch Studios. The Ypsilanti community soon contributed enough money to pay John’s transportation and expenses to learn at the hand of the master craftsman. At that time Dolmetsch was one of a handful of people manufacturing harpsichords in the world.

The 19 year old did not waste his time or talent while in England, A small article published in the local Ypsilanti Newspaper dated December 17, 1927 reads “John Challis, Ypsilanti musician who is this year in England, has just had his fourth concert in London with the Dolmetsch family. George Bernard Shaw was in the audience. Miss Madge Quigley who played the clavichord which Mr. Challis made in England, at the Normal Christmas concert here, is under contract with Prof. Frederick Alexander not to play the instrument in America except under his management. A subscription recital is already under way in Detroit.”

When John returned to Ypsilanti for a two month visit with his family and friends, a reporter was sent to interview him. This unusual article, published October 20, 1928 begins: “ ‘Success?’ happily smiled, John Challis, son of Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Challis, Congress St, slender, straight young – boy – almost, except for the black eyes, shinning beneath black brows and wavy hair – fine artist’s eyes, ashine (sic) with the joy of following the gleam of inspired genius, and seeing the accomplishment of his handiwork. ‘Success, as the world sees it, doesn’t mean so much to me -; it is having the chance – and he smiled again, even while his eyes looked away off to Haslemere, England where for two years he has worked in the shops of Arnold Dolmetsch, renowned and world recognized as the master and reviver of old time hand-made musical instruments.” (Note – This is an exact quote from the article with strange grammatical usage but it does get the point across).

Returning to England after this visit home, John became foreman and supervised ten craftsmen in the building of harpsichords and clavichords. In 1930 John came back to his father’s loft on Michigan Avenue and went into the business of manufacturing harpsichords. According to a Time Magazine article written about John Challis and his harpsichord building, published January 24, 1944, John clarified that the harpsichord was not the predecessor of the piano and that the ancestor of the piano is the dulcimer. Both the dulcimer and piano use a hammer process to produce notes. The harpsichord’s strings are plucked with either quills or leather picks called plectra.

At one time the harpsichord was the instrument of choice for many classical music composers, but was replaced by the piano for concerts in large orchestra halls because harpsichords simply could not be heard by a large audience. In an undated article written by Allen Shoenfield, John Challis stated that he fell in love with the harpsichord. When he played one for the first time he heard how the composers had written their music. He spoke of playing their works on a piano. “It is like putting the masters in straight-jackets.” Challis says, “Bach is usually played like a schoolboy recites poetry, in a meaningless singsong.”

Challis was soon manufacturing and selling about eight hand crafted harpsichords a year in his studio/workshop on Michigan Avenue where he employed two assistants. Not only did he manufacture instruments, but his goal was to create a harpsichord that would be powerful enough to be heard in concert halls. The Time Magazine article tells us that “He introduced many improvements into harpsichord manufacture, (and) utilized modern materials like Bakelite, aluminum and nylon…” “I am not an antiquarian, “ he explained, ”my idea is simply to carry on the manufacturing of harpsichords where it left off when the instrument went out of popularity at the end of the 18th century.” In 1944, when the article was written, he was the only producer of harpsichords in the world.

One of the ways in which he changed this instrument was by using an aluminum casting for the frame. In an unpublished paper written by the Reverend Jasper Green Pennington of Ypsilanti in 1985, we learn more of Challis genius and inventiveness. “Challis was a highly creative and innovatory builder… The extremes of climate in large areas of North America, as compared with the moderate climatic conditions of Europe in which the harpsichord and clavichord were developed, led him to experiment continually with new materials and techniques of construction in an effort to produce instruments with stability comparable to that of the modern piano… While remaining faithful to a decorative scheme in the tradition of Dolmetsch’s later finish and leaf-gilded moldings, he based the interior structure of his instruments increasingly on components of metal and plastic. In his last years he even used metal soundboard, thereby gaining stability in tuning without sacrificing the characteristic Challis tone quality.” While greatly changed inside, Challis harpsichords were noted for having a traditional exterior and handmade brass hinges. They stayed in tune through changes in temperature and humidity and had a clear, bright sound.

However, not all musicians approved of his “improvements.” One critic wrote that “Challis was another example of what happens when 400 years of refinement through craft is suddenly thrown out, combined with some really counter-productive engineering.” She went on to state that “someone had to be John Challis and put the harpsichord through an experimental phase if only to expose the hubris of modern engineering when applied under false goals.” Yet, it seems that many musicians valued his hand crafted instruments and his business grew.

By 1946, Challis’s instruments were much sought after and he moved his workshop to larger quarters in Detroit. Challis continued to inspire and teach others the art of harpsichord making. In 1955, 16 year old Frederick Battershell worked Saturdays and Sundays at the Detroit shops. They were first located at 549 East Jefferson and then moved to 85 Vernor. He wrote “I will never forget this experience and the kindness of his partner Ephraim Truesdell.” He described a very positive experience which led him to a long life of making instruments using the skills that he learned at the Challis shop.

Another admirer wrote about visiting Challis’s Detroit studio on Vernor, near Woodward in the 1960’s. He said “John was quite nice to me and demonstrated his dual manual models and then showed off his reinvented Mozart-Hayden pianoforte. I had never heard such sound before or have since. He was constantly smoking and had a bit of a shake at this time, but as soon as he started playing, the shake stopped and he was a magnificent player.”

In 1966, when John’s house was condemned to build the Chrysler Freeway, he moved his business to New York and located at 133 Fifth Avenue. David Worth writes of visiting John Challis “numerous times in NYC and found him to be the most generous individual as well as an exceptional performance coach.” Stephen Danziger, M.D., F.A.A.D., F.A.C.P., Treasurer Brooklyn Chapter, American Guild of Organists wrote in May, 2010 his memories of Challis. “My high school, the High School of Music and Art (now LaGuardia H.S.) in Manhattan had a one manual Challis harpsichord in the music office which I played every day I worked in the office – lunchtime. On one occasion I visited John Challis’ studio on lower Fifth Avenue and he very kindly showed me what he was working on. His instruments were made with a metal frame, instead of the usual wooden one. He said that it kept in much better tune. Of course the sound of these instruments was much more powerful than a wood-frame instrument. Some compared it with Wanda Landowska’s metal-frame Pleyel harpsichord which had strings under great tension, as in the piano… The instruments at Music and Art had pedals instead of hand stops. The appearance of the case when the harpsichord was closed resembled a coffin, and students often commented on what was really inside.”

John Challis, a musical genius whose talents were recognized, encouraged and nurtured by the kind people of Ypsilanti, died in New York City at the age of 67 on September 6, 1974. It has been speculated that he had Parkinson disease but a member of the family, a neurologist, who knew John personally thought that he had died of a liver disorder. In his obituary in a local paper we learn that John had been awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities Degree by Wayne State University and also an honorary Masters Degree by Eastern Michigan University. He was survived by his 92 year old father, a resident of Lake Alfred, Florida, a sister Hazel Davies in Tampa, Florida, a sister Grace Joardar in Tacoma Park, Maryland and a brother Dean, a retired high school principal living in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. No matter the cause of death, we need to celebrate the life and achievements of this great, talented, imaginative and ambitious young man who left a mark in musical history as Ypsilanti had left it’s mark on him.

The University of Michigan Stearns Collection has a Challis harpsichord in their world-renowned collection of musical instruments. Other museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art have Challis harpsichords in their collections. Two videos on You Tube can help you experience the vibrancy of a John Challis harpsichord. The performances are performed by Rosalyn Tureck in 1961 and are J.S. Bach compositions – BWV 848 Prelude and Fugue in C-Sharp ( ) and BWV 825 Partia-Giga No. 1 in G-flat Major ( ). Examples of organist E. Power Biggs playing the Challis harpsichord can be found at .

(Jan Anschuetz is a long-time member of the Ypsilanti Historical Society and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: John Challis playing one of his hand crafted harpsichords.

Photo 2: John Challis inserting a leather plectrum on one of the 244 jacks on a Challis harpsichord.

Photo 3: The Challis harpsichord in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Photo 4: In 1930 John came back to Ypsilanti and began to manufacture harpsichords in the loft above his father’s business at 104 W. Michigan Avenue. Today the space has been combined with 106 W. Michigan Avenue and is occupied by the Ypsilanti Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Dynamics

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Fred Thomas

In the spring of 1954 a music style called rhythm and blues was making its way across America. Vocal groups with finely tuned harmonies gained increasing popularity among teenage audiences. Doug Fasing and Ted Carson were influenced by this musical genre and decided to form a singing group. Both were juniors at Ypsilanti High School. Rumors of their efforts circulated quickly. Soon three close buddies wanted in on the action. After a few practice sessions, a group name was being considered. The word dynamic in a newspaper advertisement caught Doug’s eye and stuck with him. He suggested it to the others as their moniker and a yes vote was unanimous. The Dynamics.

During the 1950’s the Gilbert House was home to the Gilbert Teen Club. As you entered, there was a pool table area to the left. To the right was a dance floor. Beyond that was a refreshment area with tables. I recall a nearby jukebox playing records most of the time.

I first saw the Dynamics at a performance there. The dance area was crowded with onlookers sitting on the floor, eager to hear them. The listeners were indulgent when mistakes happened. Those early singing opportunities improved their presentations.

At the time, Ypsilanti had two record stores downtown. One was Magee Music at 303 West Michigan Avenue, just west of Adams. The other was Carty’s Music Box at 204 Pearl. The Carty store occupied the northwest corner of Pearl and Washington. While this location offered music lessons and sold a variety of music, Magee Music stocked rhythm and blues. That enabled customers to buy records by groups the Dynamics introduced them to such as the Cadillacs, the Charms, the Coasters, the Drifters, the El Dorados, the Imperials, and the Midnighters.

The more the Dynamics practiced, the better they became. Before long their reputation preceded them, and appearance requests multiplied. They were just happy to show up, have an audience, and get a few bucks for gas.

In addition to the Gilbert House, they sang at high school proms and private parties. If they got invited, they made every effort to be there. One event was for the Ladies Literary Club at 218 N. Washington where they sang R&B to those sophisticates. Another time they shared billing with the Crew Cuts at a program in Ann Arbor.

In 1954, a popular Detroit disc jockey began hosting the “Ed McKenzie’s Saturday Party” on WXYZ-TV Channel 7. During the two-hour show he discussed new records with teens and hosted talent competitions. Professional entertainers also performed.

In June, 1955 the boys auditioned and earned a spot on the popular program. Not to be outclassed, they donned their finer threads to impress the judges. Word had gotten around town about them appearing on the show and many Ypsi teens tuned in, me included. Well rehearsed for the competition, their vocal talents were at their best. When the acts concluded, studio applause insured their win over four other groups. The first place prizes included an album of Glenn Miller songs, a 45 rpm record player, and season passes to a major Detroit amusement park.

Harry Short joined the U.S.Army in 1956 and was replaced by Bruce Johnson.

In addition, show promoters became aware of their talents. Ollie McLaughlin, a disc jockey at WHRV (now WAAM) represented them for awhile. The Ypsilanti Armory at 1025 South Huron hosted many R&B shows and often invited them to participate. The Dynamics shared the stage with Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, the Coasters, Muddy Waters, Bill Doggett, and Little Willie John.

Out of town, regulars at Inkster’s Club Vogue kept them returning every weekend for a month, doing two shows a night. Count Belsa, the band leader at the club, thought highly of their talents. On one occasion he set them up to perform along with some big name R&B groups at the Warfield Theater in Detroit. Their numbers were well received.

In the fall of 1957 the now-seasoned quintet got an opportunity that might have changed their lives. With help from Bruce’s brother who was disc jockey Sleepy Head Ted for WFDF in Flint, they arranged an audition with Barry Gordy, the founder of Motown records. They drove to his Detroit residence where they sang several songs a capella and a few with piano accompaniment. Mr. Gordy liked the group so much that he gave them two original songs to learn before a return visit. Whatever potential the meeting offered, nothing materialized as a result of it.

Unfortunately, the guys couldn’t exist in two worlds at the same time. Devoting time to singing became difficult. Some were now married, one had joined the service, others had job demands, and college study time had taken another. Eventually these diversions made them face the fact that each member wanted to go his own way. And go they did, taking all those Dynamics memories with them.

(Fred Thomas lived in this area (1948-1998) and enjoys sharing his articles.)

Photo Captions:

1. The Dynamics: (left to right) Doug Fasing, Leonard Finley, Randy James, Harry Short, and Ted Carson.

2. Guest entertainers at the “Saturday Party” included Billy Ward and the Dominoes, seen here with host Ed McKenzie, and many others.

3. In June of 1955 The Dynamics appeared on the “Saturday” show and took first place in the talent competition, performing “Chop Chop Boom” by the Danderliers.

4. An old friend took this shot during one of the Dynamics’ performances at Inkster’s Club Vogue.

5. The Dynamics performed along with some big name R&B groups at the Warfield Theater on Hastings Street in Detroit.

We hear Ypsilanti singing. Historic Choir sings of WWII heritage

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Val Kabat

30th Anniversary Concert to feature the Consolidated B-24 bomber, “The Liberator”, built at Willow Run airport in World War II

The Ypsilanti Community Choir is excitedly looking forward to their 30th anniversary celebration on Thursday, May 2. The concert, which is free, will be held at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 201 North River Street, and will begin at 7:30 p.m.

What makes this concert especially exciting is that the choir will be premiering a new work by Ann Arbor composer Karl Osterland. YCC’s association with Osterland dates back to the early 1980s when he and founder Denise Rae Zellner were colleagues in Music Youth International.

In addition to Osterland’s day job as president of Ypsilanti’s FasTemps, a full-service staffing agency. He is music director and organist at Historic Trinity Lutheran Church in Detroit, where he directs three services each Sunday. When approached about the possibility of writing a new work to commemorate YCC’s anniversary, Osterland looked for an inspiration unique to Ypsilanti. He found it in the B-24 “Liberator,” which contributed so much to the Allies’ efforts during World War II.

Reflecting on the creative process, Osterland says, “I find the incredible speed and unity of purpose in the US and especially in Ypsilanti during WW II to be very inspiring. In some ways, it was Ypsilanti’s finest hour—a time when the hopes of a nation were being played out at that bomber plant. It fascinates me.”

It was 1939, and the first B-24s were being produced at the rate of one per day at San Diego’s Consolidated Aircraft plant. Dearborn’s Ford plant was under government contract to produce some of the aircraft’s parts. But then Henry Ford’s production chief, Charles Sorenson, visited the San Diego plant. After seeing the manufacturing process in person, Sorenson was sure that Ford—using the assembly line—could do better. He was right, and by August of 1944, the Willow Run Bomber plant was producing one B-24 per hour.

Henry Ford’s 80-acre factory with a mile-long assembly line employed more than 40,000 people. This was the largest factory in the United States, and the largest anywhere outside the USSR. It had the largest assembly line in the world (3,500,000 sq. ft.) at the time of completion. Ypsilanti’s major contribution to the war effort caused the rest of the world to see southeastern Michigan as the “Arsenal of Democracy.”

Not considered the most attractive of WWII’s flying arsenal, the Liberator nonetheless provided incomparable service during the Second World War and the Korean conflict that followed. Many pilots and crewmen were disappointed when first assigned to fly the enormous bomber, nicknamed the “flying barn.” But after a successful mission or two, Liberator crewmembers almost always sang her praises.

Osterland’s music captures the “rumbling, grumbling” assembly line, where the workers “Keep those parts a moving, always proving we can get the job done” and also the dedication of the pilots who “soar as on wings of an eagle and grasp the heavens . . . righting the wrongs and enforcing the will of a people who would be free.”

Ypsilanti Community Choir 30th Anniversary Concert
Premiering “Liberator”
by Karl Osterland
Thursday, May 2 • 7:30 p.m.
Emmanuel Lutheran Church
201 North River Street, Ypsilanti
Admission is free

Photo captions:

1. Bombers (no caption)

2. Choir (no caption)

3. The Choir in rehearsal

Frederic H. Pease, A Man For All Seasons

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2012,
Spring 2012
Original Images:

Author: Jan Anscheutz

Most people in Ypsilanti know about Pease Auditorium, the center of musical performances at Eastern Michigan University. Fewer know the life story of the remarkable citizen this building is named for––Frederic Henry Pease. Pease was born in 1839 in a log cabin in the wilderness of Ohio, but obtained an excellent classical European education. He is known today not only for major contributions as an educator, author, composer, performer and teacher, but as a man who thought beyond the box and helped to further enrich an already vibrant Victorian Ypsilanti community with his gift for music and his imaginative outlook. He also laid the foundation for the teaching of music by publishing textbooks on the subject for college music students.

Pease fathered nine children and, following his death in 1909, was remembered by his friends and students and by ordinary citizens, as a kind man with a good sense of humor. During my research for this article, I discovered a five-page handwritten document in which Pease highlights some of the events of his productive life. It’s not often that a “ghost from the past” helps write an article for the GLEANINGS, but that document will serve as the basis for what you are about to read. I have enriched the narrative with materials from various books, publications, and university and family records, and also with the kind assistance of several Pease descendants.

Frederic Pease begins his narrative by tell ing us a little about his family. In about 1634, his family emigrated from England to Salem, Massachusetts as part of the Puritan migration. The Pease family was notable for its honesty, integrity and community involvement, virtues which were later reflected in Frederic Pease’s own character. The New England Historical and Genealogical Register records an example of the moral character of Frederic’s grandfather, Phineas Pease, who was a tanner and shoemaker, and had been a musician in the Revolutionary War. In purchasing land from an Indian, Phineas paid part of the agreed purchase price immediately, but still owed a large remainder. The Indian came to Phineas with the written agreement and asked him to keep it, since he would be gone for a time and wanted the document kept safe. Phineas tried to talk the Indian out of this arrangement, telling him that it was not a good way to do business, since he could easily be cheated out of his due. The Indian, however, insisted that he completely trusted and respected Phineas Pease and that the document would be safest in his possession. That trust was vindicated when the Indian returned. Phineas gave him back the paper and the money owed was eventually paid.

Peter Pindar Pease, Frederic’s father, was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in 1795, the eighth of 12 children of Betsey Lawrence and Phineas Pease. As a young man, Peter traveled west from Massachusetts and, on July 12, 1821, married Ruth H. Crocker, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, in the wilderness of Brownhelm, Ohio. Peter tells us in his own words of his early history as a pioneer: “In the fall of 1816, at the age of 21-and-a-half years, I left Stockbridge, my native place, to seek my fortune in the West and settled in what is now called Brownhelm, then an entire wilderness, and known as Town No. 6 in the nineteenth range of the Connecticut Western Reserve. Three young men of us built the first house in town, and wintered there in the employ of Col. Henry Brown of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. From whence a colony was formed of about twenty families, who settled the town, enjoying the pleasures and suffering the privations of a pioneer life, common to all new settlements. I, with my family of five children, left Brownhelm in April, 1833, for the express purpose of commencing the Oberlin enterprise (in) dense forest, and thus took a second trial of pioneering, which was much shorter than the first, and I have been an eye-witness to what God hath wrought in and for this place, and for this great valley of the Mississippi, and do praise and magnify his name.”

There is an interesting family story, passed down through the generations, regarding the oxen-pulled wagon trip made from Brownhelm by Peter Pease and his family, which led to the founding of Oberlin College, the first co-ed college on the continent. It seems that Peter’s wife, Ruth Crocker Pease, had had a dream about founding the college, which she believed to be a message from God. After the wagon carrying the Pease family had traveled many miles through the woods, it came to a place Ruth had seen in her dream. There the wagon stopped, and the pioneers aboard disembarked to begin the project of building a college and a new community. Peter’s nephew, young Alonzo Pease, had accompanied the Pease family on its trip. He grew up to become a noted American artist, who, among many other works, painted portraits of several Pease family members, including the one shown here of Peter Pindar Pease, now on display at Oberlin College.

Time magazine credits Peter Pindar Pease with being the first settler on 500 acres of land claimed by Jean Frederick Oberlin, who envisioned building on the site an institution designed for “the diffusion of useful science, sound morality, and pure religion."

In an article about the “History of Oberlin College,” published November 2, 2007, we read that “In the spring of 1833, the first settler, Peter Pindar Pease, built his log house at the center of Oberlin. That December, 29 men and 15 women students began classes in the Oberlin Collegiate Institute.” Two years later circulars describing Oberlin noted that “youths are received as members irrespective of color.” As a result, by the turn of the century, one-third of all African-American graduates of predominately white institutions in the United States had graduated from Oberlin. Furthermore, in 1841, four women graduates from Oberlin were the first ever in America to receive AB degrees.

Peter helped to make his wife Ruth’s dream a reality by his physical labor. Patricia Murphy of Oberlin College, who is Director of the college’s Heritage Center, was interviewed by The Chronicle Telegram in 2010. Murphy offers additional details about Peter Pease’s role in establishing the college, a distinction later captured in the portrait painted in 1842 by his nephew Alonzo and donated to the college by a family member. Murphy states that during this time Peter was living in a log cabin. He had arrived by ox team with his wife and five children on April 19, 1833, There is an interesting family story and immediately started to clear the land, along with others who had joined the Pease family as pioneers of the Oberlin Colony. Pease helped to construct the buildings of the college, the town, and the church. It was during this time Frederic Henry Pease was born, on August 24, 1839. He was the seventh of 12 children of Peter and Ruth. He was five years old when the picture of his father was painted by his cousin, so we can assume that, like Abraham Lincoln, Frederic Henry Pease was born in the humble enclosure of a log cabin.

The Life of Frederic Pease

Frederic Pease gives us an account of his life as a child in the Oberlin wilderness in a narrative penned in his own hand, in the third person, on his own Normal State College stationary. Some of the material in the Pease account is the same as that included in a later article about Pease ascribed to Austin George, which appeared in a 1900 book, compiled by Daniel Putnam, entitled The History of the Michigan State Normal. It is my guess that Pease provided George his own account to serve as source material for the later article. In his own third-person narrative, Pease writes: “Music has always been a prominent feature in the curriculum of Oberlin and the young Frederic Pease received his education. He sang in the celebrated Oberlin choir before his voice changed and afterward played the violin in the same choir. Later, in his early manhood he studied with B. F. Baker, a well known musician at that time and also with B. J. Lang, both of the leading musicians of Boston. Mr. Pease (meaning himself) tells how, when he was a small boy, a singing school was started at his home and how he finally persuaded his father to give him the money to join. But there was a book to buy and the money for that he had to earn himself. He asked a farmer to let him ride on his horse while he was plowing. It was hard work. The farmer was particular about having the horse go very close to a certain tree standing in the field and every time the tree was passed the boy’s legs rubbed against the rough bark. It was painful, but in the end the dollar mastered and Pease took his first singing lessons.” Although Pease does not mention it in his autobiographical sketch, he also learned as a young man to play the piano forte.

More is written about Pease’s early exposure to music in an article entitled “Dedication of New Normal Auditorium Gives Life to Memory of Eminent Musician and Beloved Citizen,” published in the Ypsilantian newspaper on June 23, 1915. The reporter tells us: “The family environment in those early years did not include opportunity for hearing music nor encouragement in its study, but he (meaning Frederic) was even when a child precociously musical, and his brother Walter was called by the Indians the ‘wood dove’ because of his voice. When a mere lad he attempted the construction of a violin, and he once asserted that the first joy of his life was when permitted to turn the leaves of music for a violin player. Practicing on the organ at Oberlin, though a deeply coveted privilege, was one that did not fall to the aspiring lad. In after years he was greeted in his home town with an enthusiasm which must have been very consoling. Through determined application, availing himself of such opportunities as arose, he had attained some measure of ability when, at the age of eighteen Prof. E. M. Foote, a familiar name to Ypsilanti people, came into his life.”

In his own third-person account, Frederic writes: “Mr. Pease did his first teaching at Meadville, Pennsylvania at the age of sixteen. Later he taught pupils in music at Oberlin.” Additional details on Pease’s early life are found in an article in the Michigan Library Bulletin for March/ April, 1926. We read that “at the age of eighteen he left Oberlin and traveled with Professor E. M. Foote, holding musical conventions until 1859, when he settled in Ypsilanti as teacher of the piano.” The same year he married a beautiful young student at the Normal, Josephine A. Dolson. Josephine’s parents were Ann Eliza Stevens and Leviticus Euphrates Dolson. Levi’s father was a trader born in Canada. He was a tanner and fur trader and contemporary of Father Gabriel Richard, who was a friend, and very influential in the founding of Detroit and Michigan. It is said that he looked so much like Father Richard that he posed for a statue of that influential priest.”

In his article, Austin George tells us that “In December, 1863, he (Pease) was appointed Professor of Music in the Normal School, which position he has held with marked success, until the present time.” (“The present time” is probably 1900, when the George article about Pease appeared in the History of the Michigan State Normal.) “For the purpose of preparing himself more thoroughly for his work,” George continues, “he spent the year 1863 in Boston under the instruction of the best teachers that city afforded. When he returned to Ypsilanti in 1864 he was given the position of the chairman of the music department at the Michigan State Normal School. The harmonium (pump organ) was the only instrument in the school. Through the Musical Union, in connection with the Normal choir, a better class of music was presented to the people and musical interest spread throughout the state. Better music was demanded and better teachers … (were) made part of the regular course in the Normal.”

About 1874 Pease purchased a beautiful rosewood square grand piano for the Normal and selected an identical one for his friend, Frederick Swaine, a maltster and a prominent Ypsilanti citizen who had just built a fine home at North River and East Forest in Ypsilanti. Both men were participants in musical performances and conducted vocal music in Ypsilanti; they also later became founders of the Musical Union. Frederic Pease referred to his friend Frederick Swaine as “The Father of Classical Music in Michigan’, citing him for his influence in selecting music for performances. The square grand piano at the Normal is long gone and forgotten. However, I am glad to say, as writer of this piece and long-time occupant of the Swaine House, that I was able to purchase with the home itself in 1965 the very piano Frederic Pease selected for Frederick Swaine––which is identical to the one Pease himself purchased for the Normal in 1874. We had the piano restored to its original condition by dint of the love, determination, talent, and prayer of an 88- year-old blind man and his wife. It graces our parlor in the Swaine House to this day, and whenever I pass by it, I’m reminded of both Freds, Pease and Swaine, and their passion for music.

Educating Teachers on How Music Should Be Taught

Frederic Pease was chairman of the music department at the Michigan State Normal College, but he had another great interest. Because music was a required course for graduation, Pease wanted to make sure students were instructed in the art as effectively as possible. At the time no textbooks were available to assist teachers, so Pease took it upon himself to write one, along with several other books on music and his own compositions. Austin George writes this in his article on Pease in The History of the Michigan State Normal: “In the field of authorship, Professor Pease’s labors have been voluminous and successful. He is joint author of The Western Bell and sole author of The Musical Lyra, both published by Ditson & Co., of Boston. He is also author of The Crystal, published by S. Brainard of Cleveland, and joint author with Walter Hewitt of a Harmony Manual. His latest book (in about 1900), Pease’s Singing Book, published by Ginn & Co., Boston, is now the regular text-book in the Michigan Normal. He wrote the cantata, “The Old Clock on the Stairs,” published by Whitney of Detroit, which he had the honor of conducting in Italy with the pupils of Madame Filippi, and which the Italian critical musical journal, Artistico Mundo, spoke of in terms of high commendation. He has also written an operetta “Enoch Arden,” which has been performed several times and received with marked favor, but which has not yet been published.”

Other Musical Activities

All of this output, however, failed to exhaust Frederic’s creative energies. He performed as an organist for a church in Jackson, Michigan for seven years; for another church in Detroit for 15 years; and for a church in Ypsilanti for five years. In an article entitled “Michigan Musicians,” in the Michigan Library Bulletin for March/April, 1926, we learn these additional details about Pease’s career: “He was also president of the Michigan Music Teachers’ Association, three times. In addition to his teaching in the Normal and to the establishing of the Conservatory and raising it to a high rank among kindred institutions he taught voice culture and singing nine years in the Detroit Conservatory of Music; had charge of the work at Bay View for three years; and was educator at the National summer School of Chicago. Mr. Pease organized the Ypsilanti Musical Union in 1870 which was long a flourishing society and which was finally absorbed in the Normal choir, whose concerts were the musical event of the college and the town and which still rank very high under the direction of his successor, Prof. Frederick Alexander…” We also learn in the “Michigan Musicians” article that, while Pease was recognized as a king among conductors, he was also well known as a composer and a compiler of musical works. Among his compositions are the following: “Charge Them That are Rich,” “The Crystal,” “He is There,” “Life’s Story,” “The Old Clock on the Stairs,” “Pilgrim and Stranger,” “Psalm of Life,” “Reaper and Flowers,” “Remember Thy Creator,” “Te Deum Laudamus,” and “When the Heart is Young.”

The Impact on Ypsilanti

Frederic Pease did much to enrich the community of Ypsilanti. A major contribution was the Ypsilanti Musical Union, which Pease helped organize in 1870 with his friend Frederick Swaine. Austin George offers these details about the Musical Union: “Walter Hewitt was the pianist, and Professor Pease was the first conductor, and so continued during the fifteen years of life of the society. This was one of the finest organizations ever formed in the West, and did wonders for musical culture all over the State. A mere mention of some of the selections rendered will give an idea of the character of the work done: there were given the “Messiah”… , “The Creation,” and “Elijah” and “St. Paul”…, the operas “Martha,” “Bohemian Girl,” “Chimes of Normandy” and “Pinafore”; also Mozart’s “Twelfth Mass,” Mercadente’s “Four-Voiced Mass,” Haydn’s “Second,” and Gounod’s “St. Cecilia Mass.”

Professor Pease’s friend and co-founder of the Ypsilanti Musical Union, Frederick Swaine, who had had an excellent musical education in London before he emigrated to Ypsilanti, wrote a review of the opera “Martha,” conducted by Pease and performed the evenings of December 9 and 10, 1875. Swaine wrote: “It was a great undertaking being the first time that an opera on the same scale has been given by amateurs in this state. The performance from beginning to end ran smoothly and without a flaw reflecting credit on Professor Pease and others connected with the training. The chorus was exceptionally good and has been highly praised by visitors from other cities both for the singing and acting.”

The Ypsilanti Musical Union was so successful that by 1880 the Ypsilanti Opera House was built as a venue for its performances. In The Story of Ypsilanti, written in 1923 by Harvey C. Colburn, we read about the Opera House: “The building was of exceptional tastefulness and beauty for the period. The material was red brick with black brick facings, the structure being surmounted by a dome, and this by ornamental iron work. The interior was of considerable beauty. The ceiling decorations included the medallion portraits of Longfellow, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Byron, Scott, and very properly, in the company of these notables, Ypsilanti’s own Professor Frederic H. Pease.”

The photograph of the Ypsilanti Musical Union performing H.M.S. Pinafore at the Ypsilanti Opera House, while Pease was studying music in Europe in 1882, shows an honorary picture of the conductor placed on the podium in front. You will also see his friend, Frederick Swaine, who played the role of Sir Joseph Porter, at the far upper left.

Education in Europe

Professor Pease had never graduated from college and believed that he needed to further his education in Europe under the finest musicians of the time. In 1881 he was granted leave from his position at the Normal to pursue that education. Austin George writes the following about this episode of Pease’s life: “Entering upon his work at the Normal in 1864, the duties, responsibilities, and possibilities of the position soon convinced him that he needed a culture and training not to be found in this country; and so under ‘leave of absence’ he went abroad to study with the masters of Germany and Italy, and to make inspection of European schools and methods of teaching. In Germany he entered the Kings Conservatory, Dresden, and was a pupil of Herr Professor Gustav Scharfe, and of Herr Jannssen, on the piano and organ, and also of Herr Pohl in composition and counterpoint. In Italy, he studied at Milan, as a pupil of the celebrated San Giovanni and of Madame Fillippi. He visited the schools of Switzerland and of England, especially London, inspecting the methods of teaching, and he visited the principal cities of Italy, such as Naples, Rome, Florence and Venice, to hear operas and concerts.”

A Warm and Humorous Man

Despite all of his culture and education, Professor Pease was recognized by all who knew him as a warm and humorous man. Nora B. Harsh was one of his students and a graduate of the Normal in 1892. She remembered this about Pease when she was in her mid-80s: “Frederic H. Pease was a teacher’s teacher. He studied in Europe with every great voice…. He knew every method in the world, and brought these ideas to his pupils. He taught singing as a science before he did as an art, thus the voice lasted. Due to his teaching, two voice teachers with studios in the Fine Arts Building (both had studied in Europe) came to me for lessons. One said, ‘You have a gorgeous voice. I want to learn how it is done.’ (I was 83.) “I started piano with Mr. Pease (he didn’t want to be called professor) when I was eleven and was in his care until I graduated at both the conservatory and Normal in 1892, twelve years. Such a handsome man, and sarcastic. He would assemble pupils who were to give a recital and admonish them, ‘Look at the audience. Don’t watch me. I can play the accompaniments without your help. And you needn’t carry a handkerchief – it won’t hold you up, but if you have a pretty fan, I suppose you will carry it. Don’t pay any attention how you sing your song, except the first note, because all will be matching, and the last note, so to get applause.’ I could write a book about Frederic H. Pease, but all of the above, because I hope it will never be forgotten that he was great!”

I have a recording made by Frederick Swaine’s daughter, Jesse Swaine, when she was over 80 years old. In it, she reads a letter that Professor Pease had written to her father from Germany in 1881, telling him of his travels and study. The letter is filled with humor and warmth, and much teasing. Pease seems to be enjoying the atmosphere of the German beer houses as much as any high culture––perhaps partly in jest with Fred Swaine, who was a maltster by trade in Ypsilanti. In any case, Pease looked forward to returning to Ypsilanti, and it is apparent that he is very enthusiastic about his various projects there, including the choir and Musical Union.

Two Happy Marriages Frederic Pease seemed to be blessed with much harmony in his personal, as well as his professional, life. On November 7, 1859, the year that he settled in Ypsilanti, he married Josephine Antoinette Dolsen, who died on November 19, 1877, after giving birth to the couple’s eighth child. Upon her death, the newspaper The Ypsilantian commented that Josephine’s “loveliness of face and character” had become Ypsilanti “traditions.” An obituary in The Ypsilantian of November 24, 1877 states simply: “Died, [Josephine A. Pease, daughter of Levi E. Dolson of Detroit and beloved wife of Professor Frederick H. Pease, November 19, 1877, age 37 years. Mrs. Pease was married in 1859, having been a student at the Michigan State Normal School. She and her husband united with the Episcopal Church. She leaves five children, the oldest a daughter of 15.” The eldest daughter referenced in the obituary later became a noted musician in her own right. The Episcopal Church is St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on North Huron Street. When his wife died, Pease had a stained glass window – now (2012) in storage -- made for the church in her honor.

One of Frederic and Josephine’s sons, Marshall, remembered several incidents from his childhood, which were recorded in an undated Detroit newspaper story. He tells the reporter that as a child he often took the train into Detroit with his father, where Frederic went weekly in order to play the organ for the Unitarian Church. “Sometimes there would be a sumptuous dinner at the Antisdel House or the Michigan Exchange. An indulgent grandfather (Levi Dolsen, who was on the Detroit Public Schools school board and lived in the city) would generally endow him with a dollar on these expeditions. This money would be lavishly expended in excursions on the street cars and an occasional foray to the tower of the city hall.” Marshall tells of a funny incident that happened, when he was a young lad, in Ypsilanti. He was required to pump the organ at St. Luke’s Church while his father was giving an organ lesson to a woman student. It was a hot day for October and Marshall was wearing his red flannel, onepiece winter underwear. As he pumped the bellows full of air he became hotter and hotter and started to remove the layers of clothing he was wearing. He thought it would be a good idea to rid himself of the itchy and warm, long underwear and as he was removing them, his head somehow got stuck in the clothing. He couldn’t help a muffled scream. The Victorian lady pupil came running to his aid and pulled the stuck garment off of him and fled the church.

The writer of this article, George W. Stark, goes on to tell us that, as an adult, Marshall Pease was “made a life honorary member of the Guild of Former Pipe Organ Pumpers” and his written citation proclaimed that he was the “only nude organ-pumper in the entire organization.”

Frederic Pease married a second time ten years later in 1887, to an Abbie Hunter from Kalamazoo. As reported again in The Ypsilantian: “At Kalamazoo,” the notice reads, “occurred the marriage of Miss Abbie J. Hunter, a former Normal Conservatory student to Prof. F. H. Pease. After a trip to Detroit, they will take up residence in the Professor’s home on Congress Street (in Ypsilanti). A magnificent floral design consisting of a wish-bone and standard (the latest conceits for wedding offerings), has been received here from Detroit by the Normal choir. It will be forwarded to Kalamazoo to be presented with compliments and congratulations of the choir to Prof. Pease and his bride.”

The End of a Creative Life In 1901, Frederic and Abbie, with their daughter Helen, who had been born in Ypsilanti in 1889, moved into a 5000-squarefoot residence at 35 South Summit Street. It was in this home that Fred Pease died, on March 22, 1909. The newspaper headline was stark: “PROF. F. H. PEASE IS DEAD – WELL LOVED HEAD OF THE NORMAL CONSERVATORY PASSED AWAY MONDAY NIGHT – Had Been Ill Five Weeks – Heart Failure was Immediate Cause of Death” The story under the headline offers details on Pease’s demise: “Prof. Pease was taken ill about five weeks ago with jaundice. It was supposed that he was recovering but Saturday night his heart gave out. A consultation of doctors including Dr. Britton, his family physician, Dr. Vaughan, and Dr. Flinterman of Detroit, was held and it was decided to operate Tuesday but his condition changed suddenly and the end came unexpectedly Monday night.” The article also notes that Frederic, at the time of his death, was worried about his wife Abbie’s health and that she was in a sanitarium. His youngest daughter Helen was in school in New York.

The obituary offers information about Pease’s long career and accomplishments, and includes a statement from a colleague at the Normal College, a Professor Strong, which expresses the highest praise: “The sudden death of Professor Pease this morning will be received everywhere with the greatest surprise and grief. Few men in the state - almost none in his profession - were more widely known or more highly esteemed. During the forty-six years since he came to Ypsilanti as a young man to take charge of the music department of the Normal school he has sent out from this institution a host of young people full of enthusiasm for good music and grateful to him for the help and inspiration which he had given them. What mourning there will be today throughout the State, and far beyond its borders over the loss of the beloved teacher, and friend; and how many voices will be heard humming again the music that he taught them years ago and which they will never forget. In the college itself Professor Pease will be most deeply mourned. He was the senior member of the faculty and as greatly beloved for his personal qualities as he was honored for his devotion to his noble art.”

One of Pease’s students, Grace Madison, learned of Frederic’s death and the next day took his chipped and well-worn conductor’s baton from a music stand as a memento of her beloved teacher. She kept and “cherished” the baton as a keepsake, but her conscience ultimately got the better of her. In September, 1948, college authorities received the baton as a gift from the former student.

In a 1949 Ypsilanti newspaper article, headlined “Baton of Frederic H. Pease among Centennial Keepsakes,” Madison is quoted as saying, “I knew eventually, that [the baton] should be returned to the college.” The thrust of the article, however, was to promote a centennial pageant to be staged by the Normal College in commemoration of Professor Pease. We read that a Professor Haydn Morgan, then the conservatory director, “has the baton now and will use it (on May 19, 1949) to conduct a rendition of Prof. Pease’s arrangement of ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ as part of a historical pageant presentation. Prof. Morgan describes the instrument as short and heavy and chipped slightly on one end. Though noticeably aged, it is not too far fetched to conjecture that it might be the same baton that conducted renditions of ‘The Creation,’ an oratorio by Haydn, which Prof. Pease instituted as an annual campus tradition during his lifetime, and which will be especially presented in memoriam during the centennial under the baton of Prof. Morgan.”

Thirty-six years earlier, on June 22, 1909, at Normal Hall, three months after Pease’s death, the Normal College had honored his life with a presentation of music and tributes entitled “Exercises in Memory of the Late Professor Frederic H. Pease.” We read in the program for the event that “The selections composing the…program were taken from Professor Pease’s own compositions. They are the ones in which he was especially interested. The program is as follows: 1. “A Psalm of Life,” then a prayer; 2. “Remember Now Thy Creator,” followed by a Memorial Address by Rev. Reed Stuart of Detroit, a Pastor’s Tribute by Rev. Wm. Gardam, and a Faculty Tribute by Prof. E. A. Strong. 3. Performances of “Ships That Pass in the Night” and “Life’s Story,” finished by 4.“The Lord’s Prayer.” Frederic was survived by his wife Abbie, who moved to Kalamazoo, worked as a librarian and died in 1953 at the age of 88; their daughter Helen Helen Pease Crisp; and five of the eight children born to his first wife Josephine. The children included Jessie Pease, who became a noted musician and world traveler; Ruth Pease Johnson of Toronto; Max L. Pease, then living in Poplar Bluff, Mo.; Marshall J. Pease of Detroit, who was a music teacher in the Detroit Public Schools; and Frederick I. Pease of Chicago.

On June 22, 1915, the newly built Pease Auditorium was dedicated and named for this beloved member of the Normal College faculty who was so instrumental in forming the basis of a musical education for all. Among the many testimonials to Frederic Pease’s extraordinary qualities and accomplishments, one stands out that is perhaps the most germane of all. It is this moving tribute to his teaching abilities and warmth: “As a teacher he invested every subject with charm. So inspiring were his classes dealing with public school methods that a great impetus was given that teaching throughout the state. Seating himself at the piano he would illustrate and illuminate a point in his theory classes with clever improvisations.”

Pease Auditorium too was one of Frederic’s dreams. It was made a reality in 1915, and has been the showplace ever since for local and international talent that continues to make fine music available to the citizens of Ypsilanti. In providing that service, Pease Auditorium is a fitting testament to Frederic H. Pease, whose lifelong mission was to introduce the common people to good music that would enrich and inspire their lives.

(Jan Anscheutz is a regular contributor to the GLEANINGS.]

Ypsilanti Songs!

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Fall 2011,
Fall 2011
Original Images:

Author: Al Rudisill

Over the years a number of songs have been written about Ypsilanti! Probably the most popular one to local residents was the “comic” song “Ypsilanti” published in 1915. The song was published by Jerome H. Remick & Company, who at the time, was probably the largest music sheet publisher in the world. Although the song itself never hit the “big time,” Alfred Bryan who wrote the lyrics, went on to pen “Peg O’ My Heart.” Egbert Van Alstyne who wrote the music, wrote “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree” in 1905, and then in 1916 wrote “Pretty Baby.”

The song has been controversial over the years because of the “YIP-SI-LAN-TI” pronunciation of Ypsilanti and the use of the terms wop, skee, goo and spoo. At the time Wop was a derogatory term for immigrants who were in the United States without the appropriate papers.

By Alfred Bryan
& Egbert Van Alstyne

I’ll sing you a song that’s not very long
It’s crazy as crazy can be
The verse is as short as a pistol report
And the chorus is longer than me.
Ypsilanti, Michigan
Ypsilanti wish again
I’ve got an auntie who lives in a shanty
In Ypsilanti, Michigan!

The great Russian Czar
threw away his cigar
Sunday night when I sang it for him;
He ordered me shot
right there on the spot
And I juggled the ball on my chin.
I sang it one night to the Kaiser alright
And he thought I was talking in French.
He gave me a cross, a great big iron cross,
And it hit me right square in the trench.
A woof is a woof and a goof is a goof
And a skee is a skee all the time;
A rose has a scent, but it hasn’t a cent,
And ten of them haven’t a dime
A wop is a wop and a cop is a cop
And hair doesn’t grow on your brain;
A goo is a goo and a spoo is a spoo,
Please excuse me, I’m going insane.

Another piece of music titled “I’m A Goin’ To Go To Ypsilanti” was found in our “Music About Ypsilanti” files in the YHS Archives. The words for this piece were written by C. Arthur Blass with music by Julius Wuerthner. It was published in 1910 by the Brehm Brothers of Erie, Pennsylvania. Not much has been found about this song but it is interesting that they compared Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor.

I’m A Goin’ To Go
To Ypsilanti
By C. Arthur Blass
& Julius Wuerthner

There’s a little town we know,
where the fellows love to go,
It’s a town not very many miles from here.
Where the girls are bright and sunny
and far sweeter yes than honey,
There a fellow always gets a smiling cheer.
When you’re laden with deep sorrow
and you’re thinking of the morrow,
of your studies and your troubles
cares and woes.
Ypsilanti is your harbor,
It’s far different from Ann Arbor,
It’s your refuge from the cruel knocks and

I’m a goin’ to go to Ypsilanti,
I’m a goin’ to get myself a girl,
I’m a goin’ to have a great old time,
you bet,
I’m a goin’ to set the town a whirl,
I’m a goin’ to take in all the ball games
I’m a goin’ to see a show or two,
I’m a goin’ to go to Ypsilanti,
Why don’t you?

When you reach this town I’m sure,
you will find that it’s a cure
As your worry and vexation disappears.

And you’ll swear by all that’s true
That you never can feel blue,
When you’re with the pretty girls
that you call dears.
But you soon begin to sigh
as departing time draws nigh,
and Ann Arbor once again draws
on your mind.
Then you make a resolution
Ypsilanti’s the solution,
Of your problem girls-a-plenty
there you’ll find.


Picture 1: The “Yip-si-lan-ti” song was controversial because it was billed as a “comic” song
and the use of some derogatory words

Picture 2: In 1910 the Brehm Brothers from Erie, Pennsylvania published the song “I’m A Goin’ To Go To Ypsilanti”[Referring to the practice of “Michigan Men” coming to Ypsi to court the MSNC co-eds, viewed as preferable to the M Bluestockings!]

(Al Rudisill is the President of the Ypsilanti Historical Society and the Editor of the GLEANINGS.)

Back to the Future

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Fall 2010,
Fall 2010
Original Images:

Author: Maura Overland

Please join the Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, October 3, 2010 for our season opener “Back to the Future” at Towsley auditorium on the campus of Washtenaw Community College beginning at 3:30 pm. Featuring the world premiere of the Ypsilanti Orchestral Jazz Suite composed for the YSO by renowned bassist and Ypsilanti resident, Paul Keller. This multimedia work honoring the history of Ypsilanti through music will be narrated by community leaders and include historic photographs from the archives of the Ypsilanti Historical Society and the Eastern Michigan University Archives.

Based on extensive research of Ypsilanti’s musical past revealing historic concert programs, Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was selected for the program because it was part of a 1928 concert performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at Pease Auditorium on the campus of Eastern Michigan University. The first half of the concert will also feature several other traditional orchestral pieces selected by Adam Riccinto, YSO Founder and Music Director to illuminate certain themes and time periods in Ypsilanti’s history. Works will include Smetana’s Vltava (or The Moldau in German) originally written in celebration of the Vltava River as it runs through Bohemia and part of a series of six symphonic poems composed by Smetana entitled Má vlast (The Motherland). Riccinto selected this work because of our community’s proximity to the Huron River and its influence on Ypsilanti’s growth and development. Other pieces will include the work of John Philip Sousa and Aaron Copland.

The highlight of the concert will be the premiere of Paul Keller’s Ypsilanti Orchestral Jazz Suite featuring five movements dedicated to Ypsilanti heritage. The titles of each movement are:
#1. Woodruff's Grove (the original name of the first 1823 settlement in the Ypsilanti area along the west side of the Huron River)
#2. Ypsilanti Underground (dedicated to Ypsilanti's important connection to the Underground Railroad which helped southern slaves escape bondage)
#3. The Real McCoy (an homage to Elijah McCoy: Ypsilanti resident and an important African/American inventor of automatic oil systems for locomotives as well as the folding ironing board)
#4. Willow Run and The Great Migration (inspired by the World War II era and the northern migration of southerners seeking work in the auto factories retooled for wartime production)
#5. Downtown To Depot Town (a tip of the hat to Michigan Ave. and Depot Town, Ypsilanti's vibrant cultural scene, the resilience of the community and the bright future of Ypsilanti).

Guest narrators include Paul Schreiber (Mayor of Ypsilanti), Dr. Susan Martin (President of Eastern Michigan University), Dr. James Hawkins (former Ypsilanti Public School Superintendent), Natalie Edmunds (Founder of the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival) and Linda Yohn (89.1 FM WEMU's jazz radio program director). Jerry Robbins, Conductor of the Ypsilanti Community Band will make a guest appearance during the concert and the Ypsilanti Community Choir will perform several songs related to Ypsilanti’s heritage including The Ypsilanti Comic Song and Rosie The Riveter during intermission.

A reception with appetizers and non-alcoholic beverages will take place in the lobby immediately following the concert. For tickets and more information please call 734/973-3300 and/or visit

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The advertising card for the 2010-2011 Concert Season for the Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra featured a picture of the train station in Depot Town.

Music at the Museum

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2010,
Spring 2010

Author: Bob Southgate

The museum has often had musical groups and instrumental soloists as part of our many and varied programs. The local chapter of Sweet Adelines International, Voices in Harmony, has often been a part of this musical heritage. This chorus has smaller groups that have performed for us on several occasions. One of these quartets, Harmony 4 Fun, most recently sang for our Christmas open house last December.

Sweet Adelines International is a worldwide group of women who come together to enjoy singing four-part harmony in the barbershop style. This international organization has chapters all over the world. Voices in Harmony has a growing membership of more than 60 women from Washtenaw and surrounding counties and they meet weekly in Ypsilanti. The group shown performed in period costume for the Docent Appreciation Lunch several years ago. Perfect for the audience at the museum was the historical theme of World War I music. This smaller group performed in authentic period costume. They most recently sang for the 2009 Docent luncheon featuring the history of barbershop music in America.

The second group shown by the Christmas tree is the Harmony 4 Fun quartet. This Sweet Adelines International group of 4 local women last sang at our December 2009 open house. From the left: Nancy Kingsbury, tenor; Terry Mull, lead; Jill Burton, bass and Shirley Southgate, baritone.

The Ypsilanti Museum is always ready to showcase fine local talent in its ongoing quest to encourage the development of the unique creativity found in our community. This museum has found a rich source of musical excellence.

(Bob Southgate is a member of the YHS Board of Trustees and also serves on the YHS Museum Advisory Board.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Sweet Adelines “Voices in Harmony” group that performed at the YHS Docent Appreciation Lunch.

Photo 2: The Sweet Adelines “Harmony 4 Fun” quartet that sang at the YHS 2009 December Open House.

The Ypsilanti High School Girls Drum & Bugle Corps 1935-1978

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Summer 2006,
Summer 2006
Original Images:

Author: Lois Hopp Katon

The Ypsilanti High School Girls Drum & Bugle Corps had a proud history from 1935 until 1978. It was believed to be the first all-girl organization of its kind in the State of Michigan, perhaps in the country, and was known as “The Pride of Ypsilanti” for forty-three years.

Professor John F. Barnhill of Michigan State Normal College, now Eastern Michigan University, offered time on his day off to help organize a Boys Band in mid-year of 1925. He did not allow girls in the band because he did not believe in girls wearing pants, but because of the interest of about a dozen young ladies to play musical instruments, he agreed to lend his patient guidance to these ambitious girls the following year. By 1927 it became apparent that it was too difficult to teach this handful of girls to play the various band instruments, so plans were made to form a girls drum and bugle corps.

In the winter of 1935, Professor Barnhill and Principal Norris Wiltse screened 75 eager applicants from ninth to twelfth grades and selected 32 girls for the first marching group. High priority was given to scholarship, leadership, attractiveness and school service. They learned to play drums and bugles, and Miss Martha Wolter, secretary to School Superintendent, Ernest Chappelle, agreed to be the First Drum Majorette and Corps Advisor. Among the first girls to be chosen for the DBC was Dorothy Morhous (Hutchinson).

The girls practiced each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8:00 am, and agreed to drill during vacations. On March 25, 1936, the new Drum & Bugle Corps made its first appearance on the street in navy blue skirts and white blouses. They played two songs, “I'm in the Army Now” and “The Hunting Song” as they performed precision drills. In April of that year a benefit program to provide new uniforms for the YHS Boys Band netted over $1,000 surplus, so they donated the money to the Girls Drum & Bugle Corps to purchase attractive uniforms. The ladies of St. Lukes Auxiliary Guild took on the job of sewing the new outfits.

On Memorial Day in 1936 the girls make their first appearance in the new white uniforms consisting of a mid-calf poplin skirt with gold braid down the side; worn with a white long-sleeve blouse and tam cap with a band of gold braid. They had a purple and gold banner to carry with the flag, and stepped out at a smart pace.

On July 4, 1936, the YHS Girls Drum and Bugle Corps “stole the show” as they led the Centennial Parade. They played three pieces and performed precision drills. It was later told by charter member, Dorothy Morhous Hutchinson, that Mr. Barnhill was so proud of his girls that he often took the entire group to Gaudy's Chocolate Shop to treat them to a soda. After the death of his wife that year he seemed to put all his energy into music: The Normal College Band, Ypsi High Boys Band, Girls Drum & Bugle Corps, and the Community Band. He was truly a dedicated man!

In the fall of 1936, the Corps played at YHS football games and led the Harvest Day's Parade. Among those selected to replace graduating seniors this year were Ruth Fleuelling (Deake), Mary Esther Ross (Miller) and Marjorie Backus. In April of 1937, the DBC led Girl Scouts for the Annual Tree Planting Ceremony, and thrilled crowds at the Prospect Park Band Concert with precision drills. After leading the Kids Parade on July 3, and dazzling viewers at the 4th of July Parade, the Corps disbanded for the summer. In the fall of 1937, the girls were honored to lead the Hudson's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit. Then on December 7, they led the Welcoming Parade for Santa Claus and the street lighting ceremony for the Christmas Season.

On January 12, 1938, John F. Barnhill ordered new Scotch kiltie uniforms to be worn by the Corps. The $1,400 cost was paid for by donations and special projects. Among many events scheduled were: A UofM Band Concert at Pease Auditorium with Prof. William D. Revelli conducting, Ypsi Board of Commerce Uniform Fund, Dance at Masonic Temple, Policeman's Ball at the Armory and car washes and card games. Ypsilanti business men met at the Huron Hotel to pledge support from Kiwanis, Rotary, American Legion, Junior Chamber of Commerce, City of Ypsilanti, Teachers Club and Ypsilanti High School. The Ladies Literary Club, Business and Professional Women, and Women's Study Club also offered support. The Girls Drum & Bugle Corps proudly showed off their beautiful, new uniforms in the 4th of July Parade.

The exclusive all-girl organization quickly became known as “The Pride of Ypsilanti” and attracted wide attention and received tremendous applause at the Michigan State Fair on Sept 9, 1938. On October 11, they paraded in Ann Arbor at the District Convention of Kiwanis and led the Pep Rally Parade for the first YHS football game of the season.

The final debt of $400 for the new uniforms was paid from the receipts at a U-M Band Concert at Pease Auditorium in January of 1939. In April of that same year Marjorie Backus gave a benefit dance recital to buy new pearlized drums for the Corps. She continued the benefits for several years thereafter.

The DBC led the Annual Clean-Up, Paint-up and Fix-up Parade on May 3rd of 1939 and the Corps won the first prize of $40 at the “Eagles State Convention Parade” in Ann Arbor on June 26. The July 4th parade ended the season.

The usual round of football games, pep rallies, homecomings, and the Harvest, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial Day and July 4th parades marked the calendar of performances each year for the well-acclaimed kilted lassies who led every parade with loud applause from the crowds.

In April of 1941, I was chosen to replace a girl who moved to California to live with an aunt after her mother died. I was given her uniform and a place as the first one in the first row to play tenor drum. It was a thrill as I was the only girl in my class to march in the Corps before the sophomore year.

May 19, 1941, was a sad day in Ypsilanti when beloved Professor John F. Barnhill suffered a paralytic stroke and died at the age of 64. He shared a good part of his life directing, teaching, and drilling his outstanding bands. The Normal College Band, Ypsi Hi Boys Band, Girls Drum & Bugle Corps, and the Ypsi Community Band all attended his funeral in uniform, at the Congregational Church in Ypsilanti. This was the first time that I marched with the Corps.

Mr. Leland Randall was hired as the new Band and Orchestra Director of Ypsi High and assumed duties of training new recruits of the Girls Drum & Bugle Corps. Martha Wolter continued her duties as Drum Majorette and Advisor. Among the graduating seniors was Dorothy Rice (Norton).

In 1943, I was elected President of the Corps and designed the emblem (a musical lyre with the letters DBC) adorning a pocket of the new red sweaters to be worn with the skirts, shoes, socks and white spats during school hours when we marched for parades and football games in the afternoon.

During World War II the DBC marched in war bond rallies, and scrap metal and paper drives. In April, 1944, they were the featured attraction at the Pantlind Hotel in Grand Rapids as guests of the American Legion Post 282 at their annual convention.

1945 was the 10th anniversary of the kilted Corps. I was a freshman at Michigan State Normal College. On November 3, the 37 members of the Girls Drum & Bugle Corps broke a Michigan tradition and performed for a Michigan/Minnesota football crowd at halftime. The highly publicized Corps formed a B-24 airplane marching down the field with the majorette as propellor and special smoke effects from the rear of the plane. The crowd roared with applause as the Corps delighted them with a pinwheel formation. My sister was a member of the Corps and I was asked to be a substitute for a member who was ill.

On November 10, at the largest football crowd of the season, the DRC led the Ypsilanti Goodfellows Parade to welcome home service men and women at the game between Ypsilanti and Howell. Barbara Warner was crowned “Queen of Ypsilanti” and honored at halftime ceremonies in front of a huge “V” formed by the Drum & Bugle Corps. In 1946 the Kiwanis Club financed a trip to Chicago to march at the 32nd Annual Convention. The Corps appeared at famous Soldiers Field and was the only organization of its kind to perform before the 10,000 delegates from all sections of the United States, Canada, Alaska and Hawaii.

In September of 1947, the DBC led the Torchlight Parade for the Kaiser-Frazer Festival on the occasion of its 100,000th car rolling off the assembly line. Kaiser-Frazer occupied the former B-24 Bomber Plant where airplanes were mass-produced during World War II. An ice cream social was held on the American Legion Home lawn on June 19 to raise funds to replace worn out uniforms of the DBC. The Scottish Kiltie uniforms had been used since 1938 and were worn by over 250 girls during that time. The all-girl organization, “The Pride of Ypsilanti,” brought a lump to your throat and a tear to the eye of parade watchers as precision marching was demonstrated and intricate drills performed.

On May 12, 1948, the girls rode by Greyhound bus to Chicago to participate in the Phythian Regional Rally. All Knights of Phythias Lodges in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Ontario were represented. The Corps was now composed of 39 members had been a marching and maneuvering favorite from its beginning in 1935. The girls learned the Highland Fling and exhibited its intricate dance steps several times to the wild applause of viewers. Four bagpipes were purchased for the Corps to add authenticity to the unique and colorful group. Plans for new uniforms were underway, but samples from England and Canada had yet to be selected. Marlene Moffett (Britton) was one of the graduates this year.

In the fall of 1949, the DBC led the “shortest parade in history” to announce Fire Prevention Week. The procession consisted of the DBC, 2 Fire trucks, and the Ypsilanti High School Boys Band. By March of 1950, the Drum & Bugle Corps new uniform campaign was in full swing. Sponsors pledged included the Junior Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis Club, Jimmy Hunt Dance Studio, Business and Professional Women's Clubs, Ypsilanti Teachers Club, J. LaRue and Lawrence Arnet, JCC's Auxiliary, Estabrook School PTA, and O. A. Hankinson. At the March meeting of American Legion Post 282, the Legion offered to pay for the remaining 13 uniforms.

The Lions Club invited the DBC to an expense-paid three day trip to Chicago beginning on April 16, to be a prominent part of their International Convention. Chartered buses were provided by Ford Motor Company.

In 1950, the beautiful, long-awaited kiltie uniforms with “RED” jackets arrived from Scotland through Canada. Their first sparkling appearance was September 15, at the first home football game for YHS. Don Gridley of Hiawatha Card Company in Ypsilanti had Moyer Studios assemble the Corps in front of the Washtenaw Country Club to take a color picture for a new postcard, to be produced for stores and businesses in the area.

The Corps was hosted during the year by the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation, the Kiwanis Club and the D.A.R., and participated in the E.M.U. homecoming parade and other Ypsilanti parades. They were featured at the Holland Tulip Festival in May, traveling in courtesy cars donated by Kaiser-Frazer. In January of 1951, the DBC surprised the Ypsilanti School Board by giving a $1,120 check in payment of loans to the uniform fund. This money was raised from the efforts of Student Council at car washes, bake sales, dime dances and other special events.

On July 28, a farewell party was held for Director George Cavender who accepted a position at the University of Michigan. His new duties consisted of conducting the UofM world famous marching band and the Symphony and Varsity Bands, as well as teaching in the music department. The Girls Drum & Bugle Corps won State honors and national recognition during the five years he was Director.

The April highlight in 1953 was at Metro Airport, when the YHS Girls Drum & Bugle Corps, “The Pride of Ypsilanti,” was invited to greet President Richard M. Nixon and Senator Homer Ferguson upon their arrival in Michigan. Among the graduating seniors this year was Ada Minges Kisor.

In 1954, Miss Martha Wolter was honored for her 21 years as secretary to the Superintendent of Schools and Board of Education. She had begun her duties in 1931 after graduation from Ypsilanti High School. When the Girls Drum and Bugle Corps was formed in 1935, she became the 1st drum majorette, and was the leader until 1947 when she relinquished her ostrich feather bonnet to a student. She continued as advisor, leading booster and counselor. Martha was best described as “having the complete faith, friendship and admiration of everyone who knew her.”

The DBC led the Annual Christmas Religious Parade while forming a Christmas Tree and playing “Oh Christmas Tree” and formed a Church while playing “0 Come All Ye Faithful” while they were marching.

The girls practiced each morning at 8:00 am and each evening at Frog Island to perfect their skills, formations and precision marching. They skillfully danced the Highland Fling and Sword Dance at homecoming to thrill the Ypsilanti crowds. Each girl took pride as a member of this exclusive group, and it was always sad at the end of a year to say goodbye to members. Karen Benson (Nickels) was a graduate in 1957.

Allan Townsend, a former trombonist with Big Bands of the 40s, was the new Director of the Corps in 1958 and Miss Martha Wolter became the bride of J. Walter Daschner. In 1960 identical twins, Sandra and Susan Palmer were the first second generation members to march in the Drum & Bugle Corps. Their mother, Vera Beck Palmer, was a member from 1938–41.

March 21, 1961, marked the 25th Anniversary of the Drum & Bugle Corps. As the Corps celebrated its birthday, fellow Ypsilantians believed it was one of the unique all-girl organizations in the entire country. It was said that the Scottish Plaid Uniforms were as much a trademark of Ypsi as the Water Tower. Other communities have had girl bands, but none achieved the prestige of the Ypsilanti group. Professor John Barnhill saw that the group contained only the best, and belonging was one of the highest honors attainable to YHS girls. The rules were strict and the Corps marched only with full ranks and spotless uniforms. Girls had to maintain a B-average, exhibit quality leadership and good citizenship. With these regulations, the city sent the Corps anywhere and knew each member would conduct herself so as to reflect honor to the city and the school she represented. The original Corps in 1935 had 32 members and, after 25 years, the 41 members continued to be a great public relations instrument for the city of Ypsilanti.

On October 5, 1962, at Briggs Field, American Legion Post 282 presented the Corps with a new 50-star flag for the color guards to display. This was one of countless times a civic organization had honored the Corps. In 1962 the DBC was chosen as guests at the U-M Army football game in Michigan Stadium, Michigan Week Festival-Sturgis, Hamtramck Christmas Parade, Holland Tulip Festival, and a spectacular Detroit Lions Halftime Show on National TV. Our daughter, Cheri, was a member of the Corps that time, and we were chaperones at the game. The Scottish lassies have paraded in city, state, and country celebrations to honor our city and school. To be a member of the DBC was the most prestigious honor given to Ypsi High girls.

In 1964 they appeared a 3rd time at a Lions football game on national TV, and drew loud applause and cheers when they danced the Highland Fling and Sword Dance. Again Roger and I were chaperones at the event and nearly froze in sub-zero weather. The Memorial Day and July 4th parades closed the marching season for 1964.

Besides 1965 football, E.M.U. Homecoming, Kiwanis Charity Game, and the Wayne Fall Festival, the DBC marched in the Hudson Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit, on national TV and Tulip Time in Holland in spring. Cheri was a ‘66 graduate.

They led all parades and festivals in 1967–68, and marched at Shadford Field football game half-time shows. A social event was a “Fun Night” with the YHS Band as guests, and a senior banquet and pajama party at the drum majorette's home. The colorful Corps traveled to Jackson to perform and went to Benton Harbor in 1968–69, along with their trip to the Holland Tulip Festival and all other parades in Ypsilanti and surrounding towns. The YHS Girls Drum & Bugle Corps, “The Pride of Ypsilanti” for 35 years, was nearly cut from the budget in 1971 when two millage requests failed. Because it was temporarily disbanded, the Corps did not march in the July 4th parade for the first time in the history of the acclaimed group. A second tragedy hit on July 25, when beloved Martha Wolter Daschner, the first majorette, and long-time advisor to the Corps, was killed in an auto accident in Canada. The people in Ypsilanti and many former DBC Corps members were shocked and saddened by the news of Martha's untimely death and many attended her funeral.

This merged photo shows Dorothy Rice (Norton), as she looked in 1942, with her daughter Cindy as she looked in 1966.

By the fall of 1971, after strong protests from parents, local citizens, and Ypsilanti service organizations, the DBC was reinstated with the understanding that they would be a self-supporting group. Long time fans remembered the dazzling Scottish uniforms, polished brass buttons and sparkling white spats of the DBC Corps. Unfortunately, the glamorous uniforms of the past had now seen almost 25 years of wear.

Mrs. Barbara Weiss took over the leadership of the group and began to teach new songs and intricate formations. By February of 1972, a drive was underway to replace the rotting uniforms. Costs would be about $12,000 since the Brodie Tartan outfits were imported from Scotland, and each uniform contained about 12 yards of cloth. The goal was to raise money and have new Scottish kilts by the fall of 1973 when the new Ypsilanti High School opened.

In mid-March, 19 new girls were welcomed into the Corps and began to practice instruments and learn to keep in step while marching. A spaghetti dinner and rummage sale raised $500 for the new uniforms and $1,000 was received from the estate of the late Martha Daschner. A Tag Day was held in the spring, and the DBC marched in Sturgis in the Michigan Week Parade. The girls won first place in the Detroit St. Patrick's Parade in March and performed at a Scottish festival at Alma College in May. Charlene Britton was a graduating senior at YHS.

In 1972, Christine Edmunds was selected as Drum Majorette. Mrs. Nan O'Hara announced in March that $10,000 was raised and the new uniforms were to arrive by the Sesquicentennial Celebration in July. The generosity of Ypsilanti townspeople and civic organizations was greatly appreciated and three organizations designated “golden patrons,” pledged $1,000 each for the purchase of five complete uniforms.

In 1973 my niece, Lauri Hopp served as Assistant Majorette. The DBC continued to dazzle crowds in the new uniforms, leading all Ypsilanti and EMU parades. Since the Corps was still self-supporting, it had several ongoing money-making projects. Tag Day, spaghetti dinners and car washes were held to raise money for out-of-town trips.

The Drum & Bugle Corps Scottish lassies thrilled crowds as they danced the Highland Fling and Sword Dance at YHS and EMU Homecoming and Band Days. A citrus fruit sale helped defray costs of flags for the additional flag corps, new uniforms, instrument repair and other expenses. The Drum & Bugle Corps entered the Great Lakes Drum Corps Association in the spring, and it was the first time the 56-member Corps performed in the summer competition in the 40-year history of the DBC. Mrs. Barbara Weiss said they practiced many hours to master the unique marching style described as a glide step. “Nothing moves from the waist up, at least that is the theory,” she stated.

Brenda Kisor was selected as new Majorette in 1976. Again the DBC led the Ypsilanti and surrounding area parades. Sadly 1977–78 was the last year “The Pride of Ypsilanti” marched and performed as the Ypsilanti High School Girls Drum & Bugle Corps. Class sizes had increased and more competition developed between sports, band and the “Golden Garrison International Drum Corps Group” in which both girls and boys were eligible. There was pressure on the girls in the Drum & Bugle Corps as some compared it to a sorority, which was illegal in high school.

The Girls Drum and Bugle Corps was not an elective, but a type of Honor Society where girls were chosen on the basis of scholarship, leadership, attractiveness and service to school. Only 15–20 girls were chosen each year to replace graduating seniors, and the number was small compared to the hundreds of students now in each class. Also, the Corps was self-supporting and transportation costs increased as well as the costs for upkeep of uniforms, supplies, and maintenance of instruments.

After 43 glorious years as “The Pride of Ypsilanti,” the DBC Highland Lassies disbanded. As the only all-girl drum and bugle corps in the state, or perhaps in the country, it became famous for the many years it thrilled home and away crowds. As flags passed and our Scottish Corps marched by in perfect precision, it brought tears to the eyes and lumps to the throats of Ypsilanti townspeople, and especially former members of the Corps. In 1979, a proud Ypsilanti tradition ended, but to those of us who remember it well, the Ypsilanti High School Girls Drum & Bugle Corps will live on in our hearts forever!

A Henry Distin Cornet

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, February 1985,
February 1985
Original Images:

A Bit of Late News on our Cornet

Among the collection of musical instruments in the Ypsilanti Historical Museum is a Henry Distin cornet. The instrument was given to the museum in 1969 by Wendell Harwood.

The instrument is silver plated with gold leaf trim and it has mother of pearl valve buttons. Except for the valve casing the instrument is decoratively engraved. The bell is marked:

(Picture of a spread-
wing eagle holding
TRADE a trumpet) MARK

The valves and the valve casing are marked with the serial number 18555. The tubing at the tuning slide is marked “Low P”. There is a detachable lead pipe with an extension bit for lower pitch. The shank of the mouthpiece is marked “Henry Distin Mfg. Co.” and the cup is marked “1”.

The instrument is from about 1900 and is in excellent condition. The bell is the distinctive “shepherd's crook” design of that era of cornets. The tone quality of the instrument is the dark, velvet sound characteristic of the turn of the century cornet. This tone quality is greatly influenced by the construction of the mouthpiece. The diameter of the cup is narrower than that used with more modern instruments and is fairly deep, giving the cup a V-shape. The rim is fairly flat and the back bore seems to be narrow. When used with more modern instruments this mouthpiece gives them a darker, more mellow quality.

Henry Distin (b. London, 1819; d. Philadelphia, 1903) was a member of an English family of brass instrument makers, musicians, music sellers and publishers. The Distin family was an early supporter of the instruments of Adolphe Sax. They adopted the “saxhorns” for their performances and became the British agents for the instruements. In 1850 the family began to manufacture their own instruments. The firm was sold in 1868 to Boosey and Co.

Henry Distin came to the United States in 1877 and established his own firm in Philadelphia in 1884. In 1887 the firm was moved to Williamsport. Henry Distin retired in 1889 with the firm continuing under the management of Brau C. Keefer.

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