Arthur Pryor


Born: September 22, 1870; St. Joseph, MO   Died: June 18, 1942; St. Louis, MO  
Beyond doubt, Arthur Pryor was the foremost trombonist of his day and one of that instrument's most fervent advocates for all time. Although it is largely associated with the military band, the trombone's potential for poetry could be divined as early as Mozart's Requiem and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5; Berlioz waxed eloquent on the instrument's "noble" quality in his orchestration treatise. It remained only for Pryor to reveal in the instrument Read more an eloquence to match that of violin or flute. In addition, he became one of the great bandsmen in the band's golden era and, incidentally, the composer of one of the best-known lighter tunes in music.

Early on, Pryor's musical education was nurtured by his father, a local bandmaster and music director. Grounded in myriad musical instruments, young Arthur was a boon to father, able to deputize for an absent player in the elder's band. Not until he was 15 did young Pryor turn to the slide trombone, when his father received one as payment for a debt. Within a few weeks, he had mastered the instrument. His prowess must have indeed been astonishing, for he went three years without applying oil to the slide, not aware of this facet of maintenance.

At 18, Pryor joined Allessandro Liberati's noted band, three years later returning to become conductor and pianist with the Stanley Opera Company in Denver. His sense of loyalty was so great that he declined an invitation from no less than Patrick S. Gilmore to perform as soloist with the latter's band. Here was an indication of how rapidly the young man's star had ascended in the brief Liberati stint. Arthur's loyalty was soon to be rewarded tenfold. In 1892, word of the young man's virtuosity had reached John Philip Sousa, who extended an invitation to audition for his newly forming civilian band. At rehearsals for the premiere concert, Pryor amazed all present, including the elder trombonists and Sousa himself, with the sounds he produced. Before long, Pryor's solos were one of the highlights of a Sousa concert. In 1895, Sousa appointed Pryor assistant conductor. In 1903, Pryor left Sousa to form his own ensemble and soon Pryor's band came to rival the best in an era when the wind band was omnipresent. Over the years, the band played at numerous World's Fairs, expositions, and other prestigious events, culminating in a performance before President Woodrow Wilson.

Pryor also composed more than 300 compositions. His best-known, even among those who have never heard of Pryor, is The Whistler and His Dog. Pryor also copiously recorded in the dawn of that industry's era, both as soloist and conductor. Indeed, a number of the Sousa band's early recordings were under Pryor's baton, Sousa showing distaste for the new medium. In later years, Pryor enjoyed a more leisurely pace, enjoying picnicking, fishing, dogs, and motor jaunts in convertibles. An easygoing, ready-to-laugh man, he continued practicing the trombone and composing until the end. Read less

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