Jack's Musings: Lt Charles Benter and the US Navy August 24 2009, 9 Comments


By Jack Kopstein

United States Navy Band Celebrate 84 years 1925-2009

Lt Charles Benter, Founder

L t Charles Benter certainly must take his place as one of the pioneers of military music in the United States. Whereas many military band leaders succeeded to the leadership of well-known military musical ensembles steeped in tradition, he founded his own organization, brought it to a state of perfection and remained as the leader of the Navy band from 1919 to his retirement in 1942. He was Born in New York, New York in 1887 and died in Washington, D.C in 1964 In addition to founding the US Navy band, he was the organizer of the U.S. Navy School of Music, and the first U.S. Navy bandmaster to attain officer rank. He was commissioned a lieutenant by an act of Congress in 1925. When he retired from the Navy in 1942, after thirty-seven years of service, he conducted the Metropolitan Police Band in Washington, D.C., for another twenty years, and then worked for a public relations firm until his death two years later. Benter was educated in the public schools of New York City. He received an honorary doctorate from Columbia University in 1929. He joined the Navy as an apprentice musician in 1905, playing saxophone and bassoon, and he became a bandmaster at the age of nineteen. He even directed bands on a number of navy ships, including the gunboat Paducah, battleship Rhode Island, flagship Connecticut, and the USS Henderson. He was aboard the latter ship with a band of thirty-five musicians who accompanied President Harding on a voyage to Alaska in 1923, a short time before the President's death. Knowledgeable in political matters, Benter was successful in having the band's authorized membership increased to seventy-five men in 1924. Under his direction, the Navy Band became famous through its tours and many radio broadcasts (beginning in 1927). Benter organized the Navy School of Music in 1935 and later formed the Navy Band Orchestra. He received several military awards for service in Cuba and Vera Cruz during World War I, was a charter member of the American Bandmasters Association, and was also an active member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. Benter is credited with a number of compositions. Many are associated with the Navy including All Hands March and Our Navy March. Although Benter had a reputation for severity with his subordinates, his accomplishment in bettering the conditions for military musicians is widely acknowledged. He brought the US Navy band into the main stream of military music in the United States with broadcasts both on the Columbia and National Broadcasting systems. He instituted coast wide tours through the U.S.  in 1925. Lieutenant Benter was a great friend, admirer, and disciple of John Philip Sousa. The two men had much in common. During World War 1 Sousa had been the director of the Great Lakes Navy band in Chicago. This large and very effective band had an impact on Benter being assigned the job of forming a similar size band in Washington in 1919. The task for Benter was to create a full time band worthy of upholding the traditions of the Navy and would rank second to none in the world. His legacy in developing the Navy band into a first class military music ensemble capable of playing in several different mediums has withstood the test of time. Highlights during LT Benter's tenure: 1925-1942 -----    leads 75-member Navy Band to become a presidential favorite -----    frequently featured on NBC's "Hour of Memories" broadcast 1925    (Mar. 4) President Calvin Coolidge signs bill establishing the United States Navy Band and approving national tours 1927    welcomes home Col. Charles Lindbergh following his historic transatlantic flight 1929    performs for Rear Adm. Richard Byrd's homecoming after his South Pole flight 1932    (Feb.) John Philip Sousa makes his last appearance with a major band when he guest conducts the Navy Band for the bicentennial of George Washington's birth 1940    American Bandmasters Association recognizes the Navy Band as "The World's Finest"