Ellis L. Brooks: Bandleader and Composer

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Ellis Brooks, ca. 1899
Johns Hopkins University

Ellis L. Brooks (1848-1920) was a trombonist, composer and popular bandleader with strong ties to West Michigan. Brooks directed famous bands in New York and Chicago during the late nineteenth century, and was ranked among contemporaries like Frederick Neil InnesPatrick Sarsfield Gilmore and John Philip Sousa, both in terms of popularity and critical acclaim.

Brooks continued to maintain extremely popular bands across the country through the nineteen-teens, and employed many prominent West Michigan musicians, including Chester Z. Bronson, William S. Bronson, George Balcom and John Vleiken (of Kalamazoo), Frank Holton and Gardell Simons (both world-renowned trombonists from Allegan), and countless others.

Dunstable Cornet Band

Born in Massachusetts about 1848, Ellis Brooks spent his childhood with his family in Dunstable, Massachusetts. By 1861, young Brooks was playing trombone in the Dunstable Cornet Band. Brooks’ father built the bandwagon for them.

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Dunstable (MA) Cornet Band, organized 15 September 1861
Nashua (NH) Telegraph, April 1976

Brooks’ Famous New York Band

Brooks toured for several years with various stage productions and minstrel companies, including Howard, Langrishe & Carle’s “Black Crook” Company; Sweatnam, Billy Rice & Barney Fagan’s Minstrels; the French Grenadier Military Band; and William Foote’s Millennial Minstrels. Brooks later assumed leadership of the New York Concert Band, which is said to have rivaled the great bands of Innes, Gilmore and Sousa.

Brooks’ band won great acclaim when it was introduced at the Minneapolis Industrial Exposition in 1887. During the wintertime months of the late 1880s and early 1890s, Brooks played at several of the large resorts along the New England coastline, and at least eight consecutive seasons at the historic Ponce de León, Alcazar and Cordova hotels in St. Augustine, Florida. Band members at this time included Frank Holton, Herbert L. Clarke, and Kalamazoo bandsman Chester Z. Bronson, all of whom later joined John Philip Sousa’s New Marine Band in 1892. When Brooks appeared at the 1893 Pittsburgh Exposition, the star soloist with his band was Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, the internationally famous African American singer known as “Black Patti.”

Second Regiment Band, Illinois Volunteer Infantry

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Second Regiment Band, Illinois Volunteer Infantry, ca. 1899

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Ellis Brooks, ca. 1896
Library of Congress

In 1893, Brooks succeeded A. F. Weidon as leader of the famous Second Regiment Band of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry in Chicago, where he would continue to receive great acclaim. A crowd of 25,000 was on hand at the Indiana State Fair in September 1894 to witness a 140 piece massed band spectacular featuring Brooks’ Second Regiment Band along with bands from Terre Haute, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis.

In December 1895, Brooks’ Second Regiment Band could be heard in concert at Chicago’s finest theaters; the Chicago Opera House, the Columbia Theater, Central Music Hall, the Masonic Temple, and the Auditorium. In January, the band performed afternoon and evening concerts at the Chicago Cycle Show for the thousands who attended. The following May, the band was giving concerts every afternoon, plus Saturday and Sunday matinees, at Chicago’s Ferris Wheel Park on North Clark Street.

In September, Brooks’ Second Regiment Band joined more than 1,000 supporters in serenading Republican presidential candidate William McKinley during part of his “front-porch” campaign in Canton, Ohio. (Brooks’ “Chicago Post March” was said to have been one of President McKinley’s favorites.) To commemorate the occasion, Brooks penned “The Voice of the Buckeye” for McKinley’s 1896 campaign, dedicating the piece “in fond remembrance of the AEolian Silver Cornet Band of the 94th Regiment, O.V.I.” Brooks directed the Chicago Second Regiment Band until May 1898.

Historic Reproduction: “Dixie Queen” March Two-Step

“Dixie Queen” March Two-Step by Ellis Brooks (composer), 1900

QRS Arranged Piano Roll #30549 (uncredited arranger) pianola.co.nz

Third Regiment Band, Oregon National Guard

The following year, Brooks was in Portland, Oregon, conducting the 25 member Third Regiment Band of the Oregon National Guard. In February 1900, Brooks led a series of benefit performances carried out over four consecutive evenings that featured Brooks’ composition, “Victories of Old Glory on Land and Sea,” accompanied by stereopticon slides “depicting the life of the soldier and sailor.”

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Grand Rapids Evening Press, 2 March 1901

Grand Rapids Furniture City Band

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Furniture City Band, ca. 1910
IBEW

In the fall of 1900, Brooks moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was enlisted to direct the newly formed 40-member Furniture City Band and to head the music publishing division of the J.W. York Band Instrument Company. Brooks met with great success in Grand Rapids, and his performances were typically well attended. During the winter months, Brooks led an annual series of concerts at the Powers Opera House, where he continued to wow audiences with his multimedia epic “Victories of Old Glory in Peace and War” and other favorites. Summertime brought performances at John Ball Park and other summer resort work. 

Sousa in Grand Rapids

Shortly before John Philip Sousa’s May 1901 concert in Grand Rapids, Brooks received word that Sousa intended to perform Brooks’ “Forget Me Not Waltz” during his show. Perhaps to smooth the tension over a recruiting dispute a decade earlier (Brooks was upset that Sousa had apparently recruiting members of his band), Sousa invited Brooks to direct the popular number during his performance. Brooks accepted. Sousa’s Band would also make a recording of Brooks’ “Lagrimosa” soon after.

Lyon & Healy

After several seasons with the Furniture City Band, Brooks left Grand Rapids in 1905 and moved back to Chicago to become a manager for Lyon & Healy, a prominent instrument manufacturing and music publishing firm. Unfortunately, Brooks suffered an apparent stroke during summer of 1905, and a second in October, which forced him to resign. Chicago musicians staged a benefit concert for Brooks in November, which featured several famous guest conductors, including Alfred Frederick Weldon, a long-time Chicago band director and composer; Frederick Neil Innes, a former member of Gilmore’s band and one of the most famous bandleaders of his day; Carl Bunge, instructor at the Chicago Conservatory; Jacob F. Hostrawser, director of Chicago’s famous Pullman Band; A. Fischer, and Charles E. Brinley. A commemorative march, “Remembrance,” was penned for the occasion.

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Grand Rapids Press, 19 October 1905

Brooks’ Chicago Band

By 1909, Brooks was back on his feet, leading band concerts in Chicago during the summer months and touring the Southwest during winter. In November 1911, Brooks led his 40 piece military band at the opening of the Second Annual Expositon of the Texas Cotton Palace in Waco, Texas. For two straight weeks, Brooks’ band was the chief entertainment and furnished two concerts each day for the estimated 200,000 in attendance.

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Ellis Brooks’ Band, Newman, IL, 1915 (Ellis Brooks, far right)
Author’s collection

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“Voice of a Buckeye,”
Sheet Music ca. 1896
Library of Congress

 

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“A Florida Cracker,” 
Sheet Music ca. 1899
Levy Sheet Music Collection

 

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“The Morton,” 
Sheet Music ca. 1899
Library of Michigan

 

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“Chicago Post March,” 
Sheet Music ca. 1896
Library of Congress 

Ellis Brooks: Composer and Arranger

In addition to his work as a bandleader and orchestra director, Ellis Brooks was a prolific arranger and composer of popular music, marches and semi-classical pieces. He even made a brief foray into ragtime. At one point, Brooks claimed to own the largest collection of music in the country—some 11,500 pieces—spanning more than a century.

The sound of Brooks bands survives today on several recordings from his era, including renditions by Sousa’s Band, the New York Military Band, and Vessella’s Italian Band. A few of Brooks’ compositions also survive as piano rolls, cut during the early years of the twentieth century. Indeed many of Brooks’ works are being performed by brass and marching bands to this day.

Historic Recording: “Garden of Roses Waltz”

“Garden of Roses Waltz.” New York Military Band. Released: 1915
Ellis Brooks (composer)

Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project, UC Santa Barbara Library

A partial list of Ellis Brooks’ compositions

  • “Old Helicon” (1883)
  • “American Guard Quickstep” (1888)
  • “American Medley March” (1888)
  • “The Jolly Minstrel” (1889)
  • “Col. Moulton’s March” (1895)
  • “Dust to Dust” (1895)
  • “Chicago Post March” (1896)
  • “The Voice of the Buckeye” (1896)
  • “Adlake March Two-Step” (1897)
  • “My Gal is a Rubber Neck Two-Step” (1897)
  • “Escort March Two-Step” (1897)
  • “A Florida Cracker Rag Two-Step” (1898)
  • “The Morton March” (1899)
  • “Dixie Queen March” (1900)
  • “Victories of Old Glory in Peace and War” (1900)
  • “Victories of Old Glory on Land and Sea” (1900)
  • “Forget Me Not Waltz” (1901)
  • “Idealistic Overture” (1902)
  • “Boom Sing Boom” (ca. 1903)
  • “A Trombone Strike (Dead Horse)” (1902)
  • “Lobster Club March” (1903)
  • “Always Gay Caprice” (ca. 1903)
  • “Mazie Valse Suite (Waltz Suite)” (1903)
  • “Reverie Mazurka” (ca. 1904)
  • “In Springtime Intermezzo” (1904)
  • “Lagrimosa” (ca. 1905)
  • “The Emblem March” (ca. 1905)
  • “Comedy Club March” (1905)
  • “Hello, Bill March” (1905)
  • “Recreation March” (1905)
  • “Reign of the Roses Flower Song Intermezzo” (1905)
  • “Garden of Roses Waltz” (1905)
  • “Belle of Indiana March” (1905)
  • “Sweet Thought Reverie” (1905)
  • “Rip Van Winkle Overture” (1905)
  • “In the Great Beyond Meditation Religioso” (1905)
  • “Military Swing March and Two-Step” (1905)
  • “Floriana Waltzes” (1905)
  • “Home Folks March and Two-Step” (1905)
  • “Chaperon March” (1907)
  • “Manzano Spanish Intermezzo” (ca. 1910)
  • “Harmony of Love Romance” (1915)
  • “Au Moulin” (ca. 1916)
  • “On the Field of Glory” (n.d.)
  • “Love’s Eternal (L’Amour Eternelle) Waltz” (n.d.)
  • “Nature’s Adoration Reverie” (n.d.)

Ellis Brooks’ arrangements (partial)

  • “Youwanta March and Two-Step,” Edward B. Desenberg (1899)
  • “Caprice Waltz,” L. Mayeur (1904)
  • “And Her Name is Maud,” Arnold Hirsch (1905) 
  • “Waving Palms Waltzes,”  B. H. Starks (1907)
  • “Fight or Frolic” March, No. 1. for orchestra, Edward J. Delano (1908?)
  • “Voluptueuse,” Robert Hoffman (1909)
  • “Unter dem Doppeladler,” Op. 159 (“Under the Double Eagle”) March, Joseph Franz Wagner (composed ca. 1880s)(1913)
  • “La Czarine,” L. Ganne
  • “Serenade,” M. Moszkowski

Recordings

Known recordings of Ellis Brooks’ compositions (partial)

 

Title

Performer

Date

LagrimosaSousa’s Band7 September 1905
Garden of Roses Waltz” New York Military Band1915
Au MoulinVessella’s Italian Band8 November 1916

 

Known recordings of Ellis Brooks’ arrangements (partial)

 

Title

Performer

Date

BabillageArthur Pryor’s Band16 November 1911
Celebrated Organ OffertoireArthur Pryor’s Band9 September 1912
La CzarineVictor Military Band11 January 1916

Piano Rolls

Known music rolls of Ellis Brooks’ compositions (partial)

 

Title

Manufacturer

Date

“Dixie Queen—March Two-Step”Q. R. S. Co. Arranged #305491900
“Adlake March—Two-Step”Q. R. S. Co. (Apollo) #36421905
“A Florida Cracker—Two-Step”Q. R. S. Co. (Apollo) #32551905
“Rip Van Winkle Overture” Q. R. S. Co. (Apollo) #23311905

 

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Ellis Brooks’ Band, Chautauqua, ca. 1915
Author’s collection
Pictured: (standing L-R) Bert Haze, Arnold Herb, Carl Kulhman, Ellis Brooks, Mark Leach, Geo. Dunham, Oscar Born*, Clovis Salisbury**, Arthur Robinson, John Vleiken***, (seated L-R) Michael Richter, George Balcom****, Claude Lewis, Geo. Espey, John Jarasch, Clarence Yaeger, Robert Yaeger, Edward Heald, Ralph Herrick.
*Oscar Born was a member of the Kalamazoo Boys Band (ca. 1905), said to be the largest band of its kind in the world (130+ members), and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra’s 1914 Chautauqua tour.
**Clovis Salisbury was a member of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra (ca. 1914) and manager of the orchestra’s 1914 Chautauqua tour.
***John Vleiken was a member of the Kalamazoo City Band (ca. 1881), the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra (ca. 1894-95), Kalamazoo Philharmonic Orchestra (ca. 1895), and the Kalamazoo Second Regiment Band (ca. 1895-96).
****George Balcom was a member of Kalamazoo’s Academy of Music Orchestra (ca. 1894) and Fischer’s famous World’s Fair Orchestra (ca. 1907).

Chautauqua Bands

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During the 1912 fall and winter season, Brooks was in Hamilton, New York, directing the Hamilton Military Band. By 1915, Brooks was leading his famous Chicago Band on annual summer tours with Lincoln Chautauqua, performing from Chicago to New Orleans, and all points in between. Brooks was featured as a guest conductor during a February 1915 performance by the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, and his compositions were performed many times during that organization’s formative years. Brooks’ band also performed for twenty consecutive seasons at the prestigious annual Chicago Auto Show.

In May 1918, Brooks moved to Quincy, Illinois, where he became director of the Illinois State Band. Brooks passed away on 10 November 1920 following a brief illness. He was 72.

Sources

Books

History of the Second Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry

Bands of America

Pioneers in Brass 

The Music Men : An Illustrated History of Brass Bands in America, 1800-1920

  • Hazen, Margaret Hindle.
  • c1987
  • 789 H429

The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa 

Articles

“Ellis Brooks and his Band”

  • Ludington Daily News. 12 August 1903, p. 2

“Benefit of Ellis Brooks”

  • The Music Trade Review. 9 December 1905, p. 45

“Obituary”

  • Jacobs’ Band Monthly. January 1921, p. 6

“Making the Band: The Formation of John Philip Sousa’s Ensemble”

  • American Music [0734-4392] vol.24, 2006

Websites

The Library of Congress: Chronicling America (Newspaper Search)

Old Fulton New York Postcards (Newspaper Search)

Local History Room Files

History Room Subject File: Music.

Learn More

Related reading from Kalamazoo Public Library’s Local History essays.