Women and the Band
October 20, 2019
When the Municipal Band was organized in August of 1922, it’s doubtful that any of its founders gave any thought to including women in the band. Despite the fact that there were many talented female musicians in the community, the organizers’ prior experience with bands in general viewed bands as men-only groups, often fraternal or military in nature. Yes, there were a few bands “out there” somewhere that included some women—and even some bands made up entirely of women musicians. But such groups were few and far between and were seen mostly as novelties. The Charlottesville Municipal Band was going to be a serious, men-only organization and would function much like the local business and civic organizations from which its first members largely came.
That said, there are at least two instances in the Band’s early history in which women were significantly involved. The first of these occurred less than a month after the Band was organized, when a committee of prominent citizens was appointed to “canvass the city” to try to raise funds to finance the new Band. There were several prominent Charlottesville women on this committee. The committee did not continue once its work was done.
The second instance involving a female and the Band was directly related to musical performance. Conductor Harry Lowe and members of the Band’s Board of Directors knew that most of the well-known professional bands of the day sometimes employed talented female performers and singers as featured soloists on their concerts. The Sousa Band was a good example of this. Wishing to emulate such groups, the Municipal Band in September 1926 asked local soprano Pearl Russow to solo with the Band on an “as needed” basis. She agreed. Mrs. Russow was a talented performer, whose singing was much enjoyed by audiences far and near Charlottesville. She went on to perform with the Municipal Band nearly a dozen times between 1926 and 1930 before relocating with her family to San Antonio, TX. It could be said that Mrs. Russow was the first female member of the Municipal Band, although she was not an instrumentalist and did not perform with the group on a regular basis.
The Municipal Band remained an all-male organization for the first 35 years of its existence. The tide would begin to turn, however, soon after the close of World War II. Early in 1947 clarinetist Emmett E. Pack and several others approached the Band’s Board of Directors to suggest that women be considered for membership in the Band. Over the next few months considerable discussion of this question pro and con took place, but no decision was reached. Ten more years passed. Then shortly after becoming the Band’s fifth Music Director early in 1957, Sharon Hoose again approached the Band’s Board of Directors about admitting women to the Band. This time, the Board agreed and the Daily Progress reported on July 8, 1957 that for the first time in its 35-year history the Municipal Band would have women players at its July 9th concert to be held in Court Square Park. There were eleven pioneering women in the Band that evening. Several of them went on to perform with the Band for many years, and one of them, Peggy Madison, has been a member of the Municipal Band for 62 years as of this writing!
In the years since 1957 there have been just under 600 female members of the Municipal Band. They represent a little over one-third of all persons who have played in the Band since 1922, and one or more women have performed on every type of instrument used by the Band. Flutist Eleanor Dickerman in 1968 became the first woman to be elected to the Board of Directors. In 1984 French horn player Clara Mincer became the first female President of the Band. In addition to performing and soloing with the Band and its small group ensembles, women have played a role in nearly every facet of the Band’s operations, including Board membership, building management, publicity, community outreach, young musician development, fund raising, stage management, logistics, library maintenance, travel and social arrangements. Without the presence of women among our members the Municipal Band would not be the organization it is today. We salute the pioneering women musicians of our past, the talented and hard-working women musicians of today, and we look forward to welcoming into the Municipal Band the many talented women musicians awaiting us as we approach our second century!