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They're Playing Our Song - Part 2

Community Bands in Kansas

A typical town band, drawn by  Kansas cartoonist Albert T. Reid.Town Bands

By the 1880s and 1890s, almost every town--no matter how small--had a band. These groups embodied civic pride and were a major weapon in rivalries between towns. 

Bands were loud, flashy, and on the move. The typical town band projected a patriotic and manly image, emphasized by military-style uniforms.

Topeka cartoonist Albert T. Reid caricatured the typical town band in this cartoon (top, right) around 1900. Reid also composed the Guardians of Liberty march which became a standard band piece played by many famous conductors.


Uniform cap, Jackson's 23rd Regiment Band.

Band Membership

Community bands had a certain democratic appeal, as they included men of all ages and walks of life. But the force of democracy did not extend across the lines of gender or race. Well into the 20th century, bands generally did not mix men and women, or African Americans and whites.

 In some smaller towns, though, bands included women to provide a band of practical size. This alto horn (center, right) was owned and played by a "Mrs. Jacobs" in the Alta Vista town band.

Alto Horn played by a female members of the Alta Vista town band.

Some Kansas communities supported African American bands. Begun as Jackson's Dispatch Band in Topeka in 1890, this group was a regimental band for the all-black 23rd Kansas Volunteers. At top, right is a uniform cap for Jackson's 23rd Regiment Band.


Tenor horn damaged  in Quantrill's raid.

Earliest Town Band

The first known civilian band in Kansas began with the arrival of four Vermont musicians in Lawrence in 1854. With the addition of a few more members, their band played for the city's first Fourth of July celebration in 1855.

The Lawrence band later raised money to buy fine silver instruments, including this tenor horn (center, left). The group showed off its new equipment in an evening concert on August 20, 1863.

The next day, the town was nearly destroyed in Quantrill's Raid, an attack by pro-slavery guerillas. The horn was smashed against a fence during the raid.


Kansas Bands

Iola Municipal Band drum-head.

The popularity of town bands peaked around 1910, when 18,000 such groups existed in the United States. Some communities were more supportive of the band craze than others.

As of 1919, Salina, with a population of 15,000, supported six bands--more than any other community in the state.

Marshall's Band uniform jacket.The Iola Municipal Band, originally established in 1868, is the oldest continuously operating city band in Kansas. A drum-head used by this band is pictured at bottom, right (courtesy of the Allen County Historical Society, Iola).

Marshall's Band in Topeka was organized by John Marshall in 1884 to aid the Republican presidential campaign. The band is still active today. This uniform jacket (bottom, left) dates from the early 1900s.

Hutchinson had a silver cornet band with nine horns and two drums, founded in 1875.




After the turn of the century, new forms of entertainment--phonographs, motion pictures, radio--revolutionized the way America played. Town bands began to wither away.

The Kansas band law of 1905 allowed cities to raise taxes to support bands. Monies are allocated for bands that contract with the city to give free concerts and provide "musical service . . . upon occasions of public importance."

Some town bands have survived, and continue to entertain at concerts and public events in Kansas.

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They're Playing Our Song:  Community Bands in Kansas is an online exhibit developed by the Kansas Museum of History.

  1. Military Bands
  2. Town Bands
  3. Music in the Schools
  4. Fraternal Bands
  5. Railroad Bands
  6. Cowboy Bands
  7. Ethnic Folk Bands
  8. Circus Bands
  9. Bandwagons and Bandstands

Contact us at kshs.kansasmuseum@ks.gov