Paul Lavalle and the Cities Service Band of America September 23 2009, 30 Comments

Contributed by Jack Kopstein

Paul Lavalle was a conductor, composer, arranger and performer on clarinet and saxophone. He was born Joseph Usifer on September 6, 1908 in Beacon, New York, and died in Harrisonburg, Virginia on June 24, 1997. Lavalle’s parents were Ralph and Jennie Usifer, both Italian immigrants. Graduating from Beacon High School, he planned to study law at Columbia University. After winning a scholarship there, Lavalle studied music at the Juilliard School and was a student of composition of Joseph Schillinger. He performed in many 1930s bands, including one in Havana, Cuba. In 1933, he became an arranger and clarinetist in the NBC Symphony Orchestra when it was conducted by Arturo Toscanini. His first composition to be performed with this orchestra was Symphonic Rhumba (1939), conducted by Leopold Stokowski on December 6, 1942.

Paul Lavalle has combined an ability in organization with a solid background in music performance, conducting, and composition. As the conductor of the Cities Service Band of America during eight years of weekly broadcasts over NBC Radio, beginning in 1948, his name became known in millions of American homes. With the help of his brother, Michael Usifer, conductor of the town band, he learned the fundamentals of most of the instruments, but preferred to perform on clarinet and saxophone.

After graduating from Beacon High School, he began majoring in law at Columbia University, but upon winning a scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music during his freshman year, he abandoned law for music. After leaving Juilliard he performed with a band in Havana, Cuba, followed by a series of concerts with the NBC Symphony, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. In addition to the famous Band of America, selected as the official band of the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, Lavalle founded the Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street, the Stradivari Orchestra, and the NBC Highways of Melody Orchestra. In 1966, he organized the McDonald All-American High School Band. In 1968, he became director of music for the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra, and in 1981 he began conducting the Wilton, Connecticut, Chamber Orchestra.

Throughout much of his career, he guest¬conducted school and professional orchestras and bands in various sections of the United States. Recipient of a number of honors and awards, Lavalle's showy and energetic style of conducting won the approval of most audiences--as well as the criticism of a few more conservative conductors. Living in Wilton, Connecticut, for many years, Lavalle, learned to counteract a busy schedule in New York and elsewhere with hobbies, including gardening and golf.

Lavalle wrote a variety of musical works for band and orchestra, and several scores which he composed while driving into New York City each day. In addition to tone poems,  instrumental concertos and features, and symphonic arrangements, he composed a number of marches; All-American High School Band, Ballyhoo, Band of America, and Good Fellowship are listed in the 1982 Band Music Guide. Other marches included Be Prepared (for the Boy Scouts), The Big Brass Band, Big Joe the Tuba, Boys Club of America, Bugle Calls A-Plenty, Dwight D. Eisenhower (built on the notes D-D-E we featured during the 1952 presidential campaign), The Merrymakers, and United Press.

Paul Lavalle applied for the conductor’s position of the Cities Service Band of America in 1948, and he won out over a number of other highly qualified applicants, including Frank Simon, conductor of the well-known ARMCO Band in the 1920's . Every Monday night for the next eight years, millions of Americans heard the introduction over NBC Radio begin with: "Forty-eight states . . . forty-eight stars ...forty-eight men marching down the main street of everybody's hometown! Here comes Cities Service Band of America, conducted by Paul Lavalle!" During the series of over 400 entertaining and stimulating broadcasts, this professional band entertained a vast radio audience, produced a number of record albums for RCA, and served as a beacon for school bands across the United States.

Lavalle became instantly recognized and newspapers across America, including the Appleton Wisconsin Crescent,  suggested that, “Maestro Paul Lavalle Walks in the Shoes of Sousa.” He became the inspiration for young band musicians across the USA and Canada. He travelled extensively performing and his recordings were snatched up immediately when they were released. Lavalle worked on numerous radio programs, including The Dinah Shore Show (1939-40), The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street (1940-44), Plays for Americans (1942) and Highway of Melody with the Band of America (1944-56). On his radio shows he collaborated with Victor Borge, Mario Lanza, Robert Merrill and Dinah Shore. In November 1944, his jazz composition "Always" made it to number 29 on the top 40 charts. In 1940, The New York Times described him as "NBC's ubiquitous music maker" and said he was "of small size, dynamic, dark haired..." Lavalle told the reporter, "Music is my life, and I am happy that it is so.”

In 1949, Lavalle and the band became one of the first musical groups to appear weekly on television. Beginning in 1964, the Band of America toured extensively and also became the official band of the 1964 New York World's Fair, an engagement that lasted into 1965. Lavalle guest conducted many orchestras, including the ABC Symphony, CBS Symphony, NBC Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1967, he was instrumental in forming the 100-member All-American High School Band (by 1968 known as McDonald's All-American High School Band) which participated in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and Tournament of Roses Parade. Actress Muriel Angelus met Paul Lavalle while she was performing on the radio, and they married in 1946. She retired from acting to raise a family. They maintained an apartment in Manhattan and a Colonial home in Connecticut. Their daughter Suzanne Lavalle Bothamley was an NBC reporter and became a realtor for Coldwell Banker Funkhouse. Paul Lavalle died June 24, 1997 in Harrisonburg, Virginia at the Rockingham Memorial Hospital.

Paul Lavalle's compositions

Band of America March (1949), Big Joe, The Tuba March (1950), Boys' Clubs of America (Marching Song) (1948), Dwight D. Eisenhower March, The United Press March (1952, composed for United Press International), United States Overture (1951),

(Information from Paul Bierley, The Instrumentalist, Marquis Who's Who., and The New York Time )and Appleton Wisconsin Post Crescent, The Beckley Post Herald W Va)and Wikipedia,Encyclopedia If you were influenced by the Lavalle broadcasts please feel to blog, we would love to hear from you.

- Jack Kopstein