In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Community and School Marching Bands

Community bands, historically comprised of male musicians, embraced diverse heritages, different languages,, and culture-specific instruments, such as the Penobscot Nation’s touring Penobscot Band; the Passamaquoddy Pleasant Point Indian Band; the Franco Fanfare Sainte-Cecile in Lewiston; and the Scottish Highlands Caledonian Pipe Band in Portland.

Johnny "Basshorn" Susep and the Penobscot Band

Penobscot Band, circa 1925
Penobscot Band, circa 1925Courtesy of the American Philosophical Society

Members of the Penobscot Nation toured the country as The Penobscot Band. During this time period, Indigenous bands often performed in full regalia, both celebrating their Indigeneity and meeting the audiences’ expectations of what Native peoples looked like. Band members wore typical Penobscot-style upright feather headdresses and beaded collars and cuffs.

Singing, dancing, performing reenactments and showcasing their artwork were major sources of income for many Indigenous peoples. John Susep stands on the far left in the second row.

John Susep at the Maine Centennial, Portland, 1920
John Susep at the Maine Centennial, Portland, 1920
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

John Francis Susep (1880-1964) was a member of the Penobscot Nation. Susep attended the infamous Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania from 1902 to 1904, organized to assimilate Indigenous youth with a mission to “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” He returned to the Penobscot Nation at age fourteen, where he worked as a guide, basket maker, moccasin maker, musician, and carver. He worked and lived on Sugar Island, harvesting fire wood for the Penobscot Communities on Olamon and Indian Islands.

John Susep played the bass horn in the Penobscot Band and the Indian Island Orchestra, gaining the nickname Johnny Basshorn. In 1926, Susep traveled with the Indian Island Orchestra to Philadelphia to play at the US Sesquicentennial (150th), entertained at Strawbridge and Clouthier department store, and played vaudeville stages in New York.

Franco Bands

Alphonse Cote, Lewiston, 1918
Alphonse Cote, Lewiston, 1918
Franco-American Collection, University of Southern Maine Libraries

Alphonse Côté, a professional recording musician and church choir director from Lewiston wrote the Sainte-Cécile March and Two Step for The Fanfare (Band) Sainte Cécile Band in 1907, at a time when preserving the French language in oral and written forms was important for passing cultural traditions to the next generation.

Côté worked as the organist and choir director at St. Louis Church in Auburn. He sang the tenor lead in several Lewiston operas and was an early recording artist for Victor Records.

Often sponsored by the Catholic church, Franco band formed to provide “wholesome entertainment” for boys and young men.

School Bands

Most Maine schools did not have instrumental music programs until the early 20th century, so children often learned to play instruments by participating in community bands.

As late as 1930, the Maine state statutes stated, “ancient or modern languages and music shall not be taught except by direction of the Superintending School Committee.” Changes gradually occurred and schools established thriving music programs. By 1965 National standards commended Maine for the state’s music education programs.

Portland musician George T. Goldthwaite composed The Purple and White for Deering High School. The score, in march tempo, begins, "Deering felt the duty to own A flag, not for its beauty alone, She took a color that her aim And noble purpose bid her claim..."

Goldthwaite wrote other school songs, including one for Portland High School.

Film of band festival, Portland, ca. 1940
Film of band festival, Portland, ca. 1940
Watch high school bands including Portland, Deering, Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, Berwick Academy, and Sanford parade down Park Avenue in Portland as part of a band festival.Maine Historical Society