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The United States Army Field Band of Washington, D.C. is a touring musical organization of the United States Army. Each year, the Army Field Band performs more than 400 concerts and makes thousands of appearances before audiences of all ages. From America's largest cities to her smallest heartland communities, "The Musical Ambassadors of the Army" tell the story of the Army.
The soldier-musicians of the Field Band have appeared live, on the radio, and on television in all 50 states, and have performed in 25 foreign countries on four continents. They are the most traveled musical organization of the United States military. Stationed at Ft. Meade, MD, the Army Field Band consists of four performing components: The Concert Band, The Soldiers' Chorus, the Jazz Ambassadors, and The Volunteers. The Army Field Band's operations component works in garrison at Ft. Meade and organizes all tours.
Every four years, the Army Field Band is charged with the special responsibility of leading the first element of the Presidential Inaugural Parade. The Kennedy Center Honors, three World Series, the Baltimore Orioles' annual home finale, the 1995 Presidential Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of V-J Day, the 40th Anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, the National Memorial Day Concert, the state funerals of Presidents Reagan and Ford, and the 2002 Winter Olympic Games are some examples of high-profile appearances by the Army Field Band. However, the Army Field Band's day-to-day mission is to represent the United States Army by performing concerts across America, from the most prestigious of concert halls to the humblest of schools.
During World War II, musical groups crisscrossed the United States, performing concerts and shows that helped to raise money for the war effort. The USO shows, made famous through their connection with Hollywood greats like Bob Hope, did much to keep Americans aware of the sacrifices made by the nation's servicemen and women overseas.
After his tour in the Pacific Theater, Chief Warrant Officer Chester E. Whiting became the first commander of the First Combat Infantry Band, a unique group made up entirely of combat veterans. The band traveled the country and presented concerts very much like those given by the USO--shows full of a wide variety of classical and popular music. Admission to a typical First Combat Infantry Band concert was gained by buying a War Bond. The band raised over a million dollars for the war effort, earning the nickname "The Million Dollar Band."
Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers, Commanding General of U.S. Army Ground Forces, recognized the great success of shows like those produced by the USO and the First Combat Infantry Band. He believed that a band made up of active duty Soldiers would be a valuable asset to the Army's public relations mission, and that a band made up entirely of combat veterans would make a dynamic impact on American audiences.
In 1946, the United States Armed Forces were in the midst of the largest military drawdown in modern history. Millions of servicemen and women returned stateside to resume their civilian lives and the military's numbers decreased dramatically. General Devers foresaw the need to maintain a relationship between the Army and the American people. An important part of this effort was the First Combat Infantry Band.
General Devers' message of March 21, 1946 to Chief Warrant Officer Whiting was brief but profound, articulating the principal mission of The U.S. Army Field Band in words that continue to be used today:
"I want you to organize a band that will carry into the grassroots of our country the story of our magnificent Army, its glorious traditions and achievements, and of that great symbol of American manhood: the Ground Soldier."
The band's members had to pass a rigorous audition. The nucleus of the organization consisted of musicians from the original First Combat Infantry Band, greatly streamlining the process of forming the new unit.
The new band existed under the umbrella of U.S. Army Ground Forces, and was renamed The Army Ground Forces Band. In the spring of 1950, as the Army Ground Forces were re-titled "U.S. Army Field Forces," the band assumed a new name--The United States Army Field Band--that it keeps to this day.
Tenting on the Old Camp Ground, performed by the Army Field Band concert band and chorus
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Since its inception in 1946, The U.S. Army Field Band has grown from one main performing ensemble--the Concert Band--to branch out into many other genres, evolving into four separate performing components. The Soldiers' Chorus had its origins in the early days of the Concert Band, when Concert Band members would gather in front of the band during shows and serenade the audience. They featured glee club-style choral arrangements of traditional and popular songs. In 1957, the unit began to audition vocalists specifically for the Chorus. Field Band history was made in 1974 when the unit's first full-time female soldier-musicians enlisted to join the ranks of the Soldiers' Chorus. Today, this SATB chorus still tours and performs alongside the Concert Band, but also appears with other musical organizations outside of the Army Field Band, as well as performing independently.
The Army Field Band performed swing and jazz standards from the very beginning; in the early 1960s, the early stages of a permanent big band began to take shape. The Satin Brass and Studio Band were the first big band component, which performed separately from the Concert Band. In 1969, the Studio Band was recognized as a full-fledged performing component, and was later named the Jazz Ambassadors. Sometimes called "America's Big Band," it has since established itself as one of the finest big bands in the world, performing at the most prestigious jazz festivals and appearing with the biggest names in the genre.
In 1981, "The Musical Ambassadors of the Army" once again found a new audience with the forming of The Volunteers. A six-member band, The Volunteers focuses on contemporary popular music, including (but not limited to) rock, pop, country, R&B, and patriotic favorites. Arguably the most versatile of the Army Field Band's performing components, The Volunteers can be heard at rock festivals, country festivals, sporting events, veteran's hospitals, high schools, and more.
The Concert Band has performed the National Anthem at the Baltimore Orioles' final home game of the season traditionally every baseball season, and have performed those same honors in the 1970, 1971 and 1979 World Series finales, all played in Baltimore. A recording of the Army Field Concert Band's performance of the Anthem is still sometimes used at Oriole Park at Camden Yards prior to several other home games each season, if there are no live performances planned.
In addition to their performing schedule, The United States Army Field Band produces albums and videos each year, including the long-standing Legacy recording series and the Army Field Band Instructional Video Series. Although the Army Field Band cannot freely distribute its materials to the general public, it does offer recordings and other educational resources free of charge to libraries, schools, and educators nationwide. In the near future, all of the Army Field Band's recordings will be made available for free download. Information on the Field Band's educational outreach program, their performance schedule, and more can be found at .
COL Jim R. Keene January 2015-Present
LTC Paul Bamonte December 2014-January 2015
COL Timothy J. Holtan 2011-2014
COL Thomas H. Palmatier 2007-2011
COL Finley R. Hamilton 1999-2007
COL Jack Grogan 1991-1999
COL William E. Clark 1979-1991
MAJ Samuel J. Fricano 1974-1979
LTC Hal J. Gibson 1968-1974
LTC Wilmont M. Trumbull 1966-1968
LTC Robert L. Bierly 1960-1966
LTC Chester E. Whiting 1946-1960
Steve Gadd (1968-1971)
Paul Stephens, lead trumpet Jazz Ambassadors (2003-2012)