In recognition of February being African American History month, the United States Navy Band Brass Quartet held a special performance President's Day weekend at the Navy Memorial Heritage Center in Washington, D.C.
The musical tribute honored the contributions of African American Sailors during the band's long and proud history. It was also an opportunity to pay homage to several figures that have gone mostly unrecognized due to the racial and social pressures that plagued the U.S. during its early years.
Accompanied by vocalist and fellow Navy Band Musician 1st Class Cory Parker, the quartet honored the likes of Samuel Ward - composer of the famous 'America the Beautiful' music - to jazz trumpeter and former Tonight Show soloist Clark Terry. Years before joining Johnny Carson on the popular late-night program, Terry enlisted in the Navy Band in 1942 and received much of his music education at the Navy's Great Lakes Naval Station.
Special songs were also selected in honor of such jazz legends as Duke Ellington, Alton Augustus Adams, John Coltrane and Navy violinist and World War I veteran William Grant Still. Known as the "Dean of African American composers," Still was the first African American to conduct a major symphony orchestra and would go on to become the first composer to have an opera performed on national television.
"Our focus is to show how the Navy music program has thrived over the years as a result of the contributions by our African American Sailors," said Musician 1st Class Antony Halloin, tuba player with the Navy Band Brass Quartet. "As a band, we take cultural diversity quite seriously. We would not be where we are today if not for them."
Based out of the Washington Navy Yard, the brass quartet was founded in 1999. The group recently performed a similar African American history program at an elementary school in Arlington, Va., and was invited to perform at the ground breaking ceremony for the African American Museum near the National Mall earlier this week, said chief musician John Schroeder, a trumpet player with the quartet.
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Betty Myers, a flute piccolo player with the Navy Band, was one of several attending the quartet's performance at the Heritage Center. She said the program was a perfect showcase of African American history and its ties to the Navy.
"Music is a bridge to everything. It's the best ambassador anyone can ask for," Myers said. "Audiences who have been to shows like this have been tremendously receptive and usually come away learning something new. I know I certainly did. Their presentation was fantastic."
For more information on the Navy Band, or a complete list of upcoming performances, visit www.navyband.navy.mil.