The Pine Bluff Band Museum was the only museum in the United States dedicated entirely to preserving the history of band instruments and music.
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In 1970, Jerry Horne, a member of the American Musical Instrument Society, purchased the Wallick Music Company in downtown Pine Bluff and began collecting unusual instruments. Horne started his collection with an old helicon, a tuba family instrument designed to be carried in marching or horseback military bands, which he found in the Wallick family’s garage. The helicon was made in 1925 by the C. G. CONN Company, a popular American manufacturer of band instruments. Soon after, he became dedicated to finding more rare and unusual instruments with historical significance.
He scoured flea markets, examined trade-ins at his store, and attended liquidation sales. His collection quickly outgrew its glass display case at the Wallick store. Pine Bluff’s city fathers soon got involved, giving Horne a three-story building on Main Street with the stipulation that he renovate it and open a museum.
In 1994, the Band Museum officially opened its doors. The Museum housed an array of instruments from the 1700s to the 1950s. These instruments were used in a variety of performances, which included the circus, vaudeville, military, schools, concert halls, or dance halls. Among these rare instruments were a few standouts, which included a hard-rubber clarinet, several five- and seven-key Noblet clarinets, a C-melody saxophone, piccolo trumpets, and double-belled euphoniums. Popular in the 1900s, the euphonium was a regular feature in concerts held by John Philip Sousa, a military composer known as the “American March King.”
Other instruments in Horne’s collection were well-known because of their famous players. There was a saxophone that belonged to early jazz great Sidney Bechet and a tiny customized cornet played by Merle Evans, a famed band leader in the Ringling Brothers Circus. The collection also included two saxophones, a soprano and an alto, that were made by the Belgian inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax.
Many novelty instruments designed to entertain concert audiences were also part of the collection, including a self-player clarinet, a self-player sax, and a “walking stick” flute made in London circa 1850. Overall, the Band Museum housed an extensive collection of wind instruments that told the story of the American band movement. Under Horne’s careful eye, the museum grew to include approximately 1,500 antique instruments. During its time the Band Museum was the only museum in the United States dedicated entirely to preserving the history of band instruments and music.
The Band Museum offered the occasional concert, sponsoring performances by the Russian Red Star Review, the Happy-Times Jazz Band, the Pine Bluff Community Concert Band, and the Sonny Land Big Band. The museum also gave educational tours to schools and music students. There was also a research library for the serious music student and a gallery of "People You Might Have Known," which includes high school bands from across Arkansas dating back to the late 1800s. The library also housed information on many well-known Arkansas band directors and musicians.
Unfortunately, in early 2010, the museum closed and at that time approximately 8,500 people visited the museum each year. Many in the city felt sad to see such a unique asset to our community become a memory.
Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard