1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

    List of finding aids

    R.I.H.S. Library page

    R.I.H.S. home page

 American Brass Band Records

 Civilian concert & marching band in Providence, RI

 Band records and sheet music, 1829-1978

 Size: 5 ft.

 Catalog number: MSS 256

 Processed by: Erica C. Haakensen

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            The American Brass Band (ABB) is the oldest continuously running civilian concert band in the United States. An early form of the band was organized in 1825 by bugle player Joseph C. Greene; it was known then as the Providence Martial Team. In November 1837, the band became formally organized into the American Band and Orchestra of Providence, RI (aka the American Brass Band). There were 14 men in the band at this time; one of them was Benjamin P. Robinson, a fife and cymbal player who hosted the charter meeting in his father's counting room basement. The ABB was an all-brass band whose repertoire included classical music, marches, and popular standards. It steadily grew in renown as a concert and marching band throughout New England.

            Greene temporarily left the ABB in 1839 to take on leadership of the Boston Brass Band; the band was conducted by Benjamin G. West until Greene's return in 1841. In 1853, the band became incorporated into a military band in the Second Brigade of the RI Militia. On April 17, 1861, the ABB volunteered to serve in the Civil War with the First Regiment Rhode Island Detached Militia. Its three month service involved carrying wounded soldiers off the battlefields in stretchers. The band saw action at the Battle of Bull Run, VA on July 21, 1861 before its service ended. After the Civil War, the band was designated the official band of New England and marched in multiple presidential inaugurations.

            The ABB's popularity skyrocketed after David Wallis Reeves, a renowned cornetist and "famous writer of military marches," assumed leadership in 1866. Reeves added a woodwinds section to the formerly all-brass band and lead it on several national tours. He also discovered Bowen R. Church and trained him to be a nationally-known cornet virtuoso. Reeves's personal celebrity grew as he composed over 100 marches that included the famous "Second Regiment C.N.G." march. Eventually, the ABB came to be known (especially in the Boston area) as Reeves' American Band and Orchestra or Reeves' Band. This name helped distinguish it from the growing number of "American" bands that were based throughout New England.

            Two major milestones in the band's history took place in 1887. One was the fiftieth anniversary concert in which the surviving original band members (including Joseph Greene) came out of retirement to play with the current roster of musicians. The other was the formation of the American Brass Band Veterans Association on November 26, 1887. The first set of officers of this association included Samuel D. Sprink as President and William E. Whiting as Secretary. In October of 1892, D.W. Reeves accepted the directorship of Gilmore's 22nd Regiment Band of New York. He returned to the ABB after one year and remained as conductor until his death in 1900.

            At this point Bowen R. Church, the assistant conductor, took over as the band's general director like he had done in 1892. But it was not long before Church resumed his former position as assistant conductor. He was succeeded as leader first by Herbert L. Clarke, then Edward M. Fay. Fay's decision to rename the band Fay's American Band (circa 1906) was a source of much controversy amongst past and present members. By now, the band's popularity and artistic integrity were starting to decline from what it had been during the Reeves period, although it continued to tour successfully on a national level. It was around this time that Robinson, the last of the band's charter members, passed away at age 96.

            Warren Fales, town councilman of East Providence and financial backer of the ABB, soon replaced Fay as general director. Although he was not a musician, Fales helped the ABB regain some of its former prestige and formed a tradition where each concert began with one of D.W. Reeves's marches. The band leaders that came after Fales were Joseph Lemaire, Frank Wollenberg and Alfred Archambault. In 1978, ABB underwent a complete reorganization under a new music director: Dr. Francis M. Marciniak, Director of Bands at Rhode Island College. Dr. Gene Pollart took over as director in 1996.


History of the American Band. Viewed June 24, 2005. http://www.ric.edu/am_band/history.htm

Return to top

Scope and content:

            The American Brass Band Records are divided into four series:

Series 1: Sheet Music (no dates)

Series 2: Organizational Documents (1847-1978)

Series 3: Historical and Personal Records (1829-1916)

Series 4: American Brass Band Veteran Association (1887-1910)

            Series 1, the Sheet Music makes up the bulk of the collection. It consists of over 700 titles, either printed or handwritten, in unbound sheets and booklets or bound volumes. A separate Microsoft Excel file was created for the music inventory. The unbound music list, sorted by box and folder numbers as of this writing, contains the available information on the composer, genre, arranger, size, and presentation status (handwritten, print, or both) of each title. Other information includes: whether there originally was an envelope or folder for the music; if there was a number on the envelope or stamped/written on each copy of music; if the music or envelopes were stamped; what those stamps said; and miscellaneous notes such as if one sheet possesses multiple titles. The three lists for the bound sheet music are not as detailed due to lack of information. They are currently sorted in chronological order and had page numbers assigned to them (e.g. page six refers to the back of the third sheet of paper).

            Series 2, the Organizational Documents refer to the official records of the ABB as an organization. These include the original charter and by-laws, the incorporation act, a roll call list spanning 120 years, and financial records.

            Series 3, the Historical and Personal Records detail the ABB's history through their concerts and band members. Of particular value are the journal kept by original band member Benjamin P. Robinson and two scrapbooks kept by Thomas Thorp and an unknown author.

            Series 4, the American Brass Band Veteran Association contains the organizational records (finances and meeting minutes) of the association as well as William E. Whiting's written account of the ABB's tour of service in the Civil War.

Return to top


            This collection was donated in four separate gifts. This first was in 1907 (#1907. 29) by Thomas Thorp, which included a scrapbook of records from 1838 - 1906. Two donations arrived in 1979. The first (#1979. 77. 1-7) was from Russell Robinson which included six manuscript score books, Benjamin Robinson's journal, an undated letter from D.W. Reeves, clippings and broadsides. The second (#1979. 85) was from Martha Virginia Brown of a letter from D.W. Reeves to W.D. Eddy on 17 April 1899. The final donation was in 1985 (#1985. 71) by Francis M. Marciniak of a record book of the American Brass Band with dates ranging from 1853-1977.

Return to top

Processing note:

            During the summer of 2005, the volumes and loose materials in this collection were sorted by category and rehoused in acid-free boxes and folders. Those volumes containing scrapbook materials should be considered for preservation photocopying because of the large amount of acidic clippings pasted onto their pages. Also, there are clippings and programs tucked between pages that need to be accounted for.

            The sheet music was divided into four main groups: small (approximately 5"x7" or less), medium (in the 7"x10.5" range), large (approximately 9.5"x13" or more), and bound volumes. The small, medium, and large groups were then sorted alphabetically by title, removed from their highly acidic envelopes, cleaned, and rehoused in acid-free folders. A few samples of the original envelopes have been filed in folders at the end of each size range. There were many cases where two or more musical scores were either printed on the same sheet of paper or within the same booklet. Single sheets of music that had one title on the front and another on the back were filed alphabetically - for instance, "Juanita March" and "Merry War March" were filed under "J". Sheets with multiple titles on a single side or throughout a booklet were filed under the first title that appears. Untitled scores were filed at the end of each size range. The scores in the bound volumes were inventoried according to their original order. The six volumes handwritten by Benjamin P. Robinson were different instrument parts for the same list of titles, so only the Basso volume was inventoried. It must be noted that there are some differences in the title order of these six volumes.

Return to top


Series 1: Sheet Music


            For listings of song titles of unbound sheet music, CLICK HERE.

            For listings of song titles in Volume 1, CLICK HERE.

            For listings of song titles in Volume 2, CLICK HERE.

            For listings of song titles in Volume 7, CLICK HERE.



            Box 1.                        Sheet Music, small

            Box 2.                         Sheet Music, small

            Box 3.                         Sheet Music, small

                                                Sheet Music, medium

            Box 4, Folder 1.          Sheet Music, medium

            Box 4, Folder 2.          Sheet Music, medium

            Box 4, Folder 3.          Sheet Music, medium

            Box 4, Folder 4.          Sheet Music, medium

            Box 4, Folder 5.          Sheet Music, medium

            Box 4, Folder 6.          Sheet Music, medium

            Box 4, Folder 7.          Sheet Music, bound. Volumes 1 & 2

                    For listings of song titles in Volume 1, CLICK HERE.

                    For listings of song titles in Volume 2, CLICK HERE.

            Box 5.                         Sheet Music, large

            Box 6.                         Sheet Music, large

            Box 7.                         Sheet Music, large

            Box 8.                         Sheet Music, large

                    For listings of song titles of unbound sheet music, CLICK HERE.

            Box 9, Folder 1.          Sheet Music, bound. Volume 3

                                                - Basso. Benj. P. Robinson

            Box 9, Folder 2.          Sheet Music, bound. Volume 4

                                                - Clarinetto. Benj. P. Robinson

            Box 9, Folder 3.          Sheet Music, bound. Volume 5

                                                - Flauto. Benj. P. Robinson

            Box 9, Folder 4.          Sheet Music, bound. Volume 6

                                                - Post Horn. Benj. P. Robinson

            Box 9, Folder 5.          Sheet Music, bound. Volume 7

                                                - Violino I. Benj. P. Robinson

                    For listings of song titles in Volume 7, CLICK HERE.

            Box 9, Folder 6.          Sheet Music, bound. Volume 8

                                                - Violino II. Benj. P. Robinson


Series 2: Organizational Documents

            Box 4, Folder 8.          Charter and by-laws                           Jan 1853

                                                Roll call                                              1854, 1863-1883, 1894-1978

                                                         - also includes incorporation act, scale

                                                of prices, amendments to articles, &

                                                scrapbook materials

            Box 4, Folder 9.          Financial records. Account Book      25 May 1847 - 4 Jul 1854

- includes scales of prices, a record of

                                                jobs taken, & general band records

            Box 4, Folder10.         Financial records. Bill                       17 Sep 1857

Series 3: Historical and Personal Records

            Box 9, Folder 7.          Concerts                                            Feb 1829 - 3 Nov 1893, n.d.

                                                - includes tickets, programs, & sale lists

            Box 4, Folder 11.        Correspondence                                  17 April 1899, n.d.

            Box 4, Folder 12.        Journal. Benjamin P. Robinson          6 Nov 1837-1889

                                                         - includes scrapbook materials &

                                                memorial publications

Box 4, Folder 13.        Memorial publications                        11 March 1900, n.d.

                                           - see also Box 4, Folder 12

                                    - see also Box 10, Folder 5

Box 10, Folder 1.        Scrapbook. Thomas Thorp                26 Jan 1838 - 26 Sep 1906

Box 10, Folder 2.        Scrapbook. Unknown author             1899 - 25 April 1916

Series 4: American Brass Band Veteran Association

            Box 9, Folder 8.          Civil War summaries                          23 Jan 1891, n.d.

            Box 10, Folder 3.        Financial records. Daybook               23 Apr 1887 - 6 Nov 1906

            Box 10, Folder 4.        Financial records. Ledger                  1895-1905

            Box 10, Folder 5.        Minutes                                               26 Nov 1887 - 27 Nov 1910

                                                - also includes scrapbook materials

                                                & lists of member deaths

Return to top


American Band of Providence - History.

American Brass Band - History.

American Brass Band Veterans Association.

Band directors - Rhode Island.

Bull Run, 1st Battle of, Va., 1861.

Brass bands - Rhode Island.

Church, Bowen R.

Concert programs.

Concert tours.

Conductors (Music) - Biography.

Fales, Warren.

Greene, Joseph G.

Marching bands - Rhode Island.


Reeves, David Wallis, 1838-1900.

Robinson, Benjamin P.

Sheet music.

Thorp, Thomas.

United States - History - Civil War, 1861-1865.

Whiting, William E.

End of finding aid - return to top