Famous Writer, Turned Country Paper Editor, Boosts the Town Band


In the late 1970s or early 1980s, someone in the Chamber of Commerce office in Marion, Virginia, called me to say that they had heard from an individual in Olathe, Colorado, who had a copper plate that had some connection with Sherwood Anderson. They gave me the name and phone number of the individual, and I called to inquire.

The gentleman told me he had found a metal plate with printing type on it in a hole in the barnyard of a farm he had bought near Olathe. He stuck the object between a couple of boards in the barn where it stayed for a few years, before he got around to trying to identify it. He took it to a newspaper office in Olathe. Someone there was able to make out some of the writing and told him it was about someone named Sherwood Anderson in Marion, Virginia. He then got in touch with the Marion Chamber of Commerce to help make contact with someone who might be interested. He asked if we might be interested in it. I asked him what he would take for it. He responded that he would take $60 for it and would mail it as soon as he received a check.

I contacted one or two of the officers of the Smyth County Historical Society and Museum, Inc., and they agreed that the Society should buy it. They provided a check to me and I mailed it to Colorado.

When the metal plate arrived, I took it to Marshall Guy at Guy Brothers Printing. He recognized it as a plate prepared to print a large sheet. He said he would mount it on a wooden frame and print a few sheets. A few days later he brought it to me, along with four printed sheets. He refused to take any payment, saying he did it for the Historical Society.

Some time later, Howard White, a member of the band, identified all the persons in the photograph at the top of the sheet. They are, from left to right, Frank Lieto, Trigg Scott, Gene White, Joe Stephenson, Howard White (partially obscured), Bill Robinson, Mack Wingo, Porter Snider, Ern Francis, Byron Groseclose, William Francis, Tack Jennings, Lynn Johnson, R.S. Sprinkle, Bill Sclater, Joe Lotario, Bill Snider, Arthur Slear, Casey Widener, Paul Thompson.

I do not know where this printed page originally appeared; however, the date was apparently 1928 because of the reference to Sherwood Anderson’s purchase “last fall” of the Marion newspapers. The first newspaper under Anderson’s ownership was the Marion Democrat, dated November 1, 1927. –Don Francis

No wonder the Marion band of Marion, Virginia, considers its troubles are over, says the Conn Music Center, Elkhart, Ind. Sherwood Anderson, who is reported to get a nickel a word for his short stories, is championing the band with a half to a column article every week in the Marion papers, which he recently bought.

Not only has this highly paid writer stirred up support in Marion, but many national figures have come to the support of the band.

Otto Kahn, international banker and donor to the Metropolitan Opera, has contributed $100. H.L. Mencken, “cussed” or praised by perhaps more people than any other writer in America, chipped in $12. So did Horace Liveright, well-known publisher. Alfred Knopf, another publisher of New York City, came across with $5, as did also Fred Black, Ford Motor Co., Detroit, and Brig. General Rosenbaum, Washington, D.C.

Sherwood Anderson says he is not an uplifter. He claims he took up the band cause from his own selfish desires. He says he likes a band. Band music just suits him. He would like to play the biggest horn in the band himself but lacks ability. He would like to be the drum major best of all, he confesses, but he doesn’t have the figure. It’s in his system, I guess, as his father used to play a cornet in the same town band with the late President Harding.

His First Story

“What does a band mean to a town?” Anderson asks in one of his first stories. “Better ask what is a town without a band? Life in a town goes on, just so. You know how it is. Merchants selling goods, lawyers fighting their cases, farmers coming into town to buy goods, spring, summer, fall, winter. People in their houses, women cooking, making beds. Life is dull enough.

“Days come. See, the men of the band have put on their uniforms and are coming up along the street. The big drum is booming, the horns going.

“Just suppose now, in our town, we are visited by some great man. Hurrah now, let’s give him a big day. It may be the governor of the state or some other dignitary. Our principal men are going to meet him down at the station. They have their best cars there, the biggest and best cars we have in town, all our leading citizens. And no band. Pshaw! What a frost.

“And what about Armistice Day and the Fourth of July?

“Or when the fair is on.

“Older men, staid citizens of a town, may be able to get along without a band, but what about the boys?

“When I was a boy my one great yearning was to play the biggest horn in the town band. I never made it.

There never was much music in me.

“Still and all, I’m not a jealous man. What I can’t have I don’t want to take away from the other fellow.

Fond of the Band

“I still like a band better than almost anything else in a town. Band music just suits me. There they come up the street. Lately I have only seen the Marion band in action a few times and then they didn’t have any drum major. I hope they get one again soon. I like to see the fellow in the big bearskin hat with his staff, stepping high and wide. I’d like to do it myself but I havenĀ¹t got the figure for it.

“And how faithful and devoted the band members are. Then men of our Marion band, for example, go off to practice twice a week. Far from getting paid for their work they do it without pay. The members even pay dues to keep the band going.

“Recently, until these last few weeks, our Marion band has had a band leader who was paid a good salary because he was a good man. He was there to keep the boys up to snuff and would be there now but that he is sick.

Sacrifices of Band Men

“There are men in the Marion band who make a sacrifice every time they go out to play. Bear this in mind. When we want our band most, other towns, that haven’t any bands, would like one too. Our band gets offers to go all over the Southwest. Such offers almost always come when we need them here and they stay at home. Instead of going out and raking in money they stay here and give their services.

“And there are individual members of the band who make a sacrifice every time they go out to play. Do they kick? Not they.

“The boys of the band like their band, and so do we. Hurrah, here they come. Music floating on the breeze. every heart jumping. Life. Music. Zipp.

“We like that.

“The people of Marion owe it to their band to give it the heartiest kind of support. Get back of them. When they need a little money to keep going, shell out. A good band is the best investment a town can make.”

Join the Glory List

“Join the Glory List,” Sherwood Anderson headlines another story, and continues. “The Marion Publishing Company doesn’t intend to become a crusader. You know how city papers are. Well, we make no pretensions of being a big city paper. We are just a little old country weekly, that’s what we are.

“Still and all, as Mr. Ring Lardner is so fond of saying, we do not want the big city papers to hang it all over our eyes. City papers are always getting up a crusade for some good cause. They uplift this one or that one. Sometimes whole sections of society get uplifted like that. It’s wonderful.

“We aren’t, however, quite so ambitious. Up to date we have taken up but one cause and that is the Marion band. It may be the only one we ever will take up. And we are not doing that out of any altruistic purpose. It’s just because we like to hear the band play. We like to see them parade. When a big day comes, we like to see them put on their uniforms and come blowing their head off up Main street.

“Flags flying, everyone feeling fine. Life is drab enough on ordinary days. We have never found any way to be a canary bird ourselves.

Summer Night Concerts

“What we want is to see the band boys have a little money in the treasury. We want band concerts on summer nights.

“O, hearts of gold, who will put up $5.00 a year over a period of five years to get and keep our band in bang-up financial condition? We are making this appeal not only to Marionites but to all people in the surrounding country who read this paper and who like to come to our town when there is something stirring, or on summer nights to hear the band play.

“The King of England, President of France, President of the United States, Senators, Politicians, Millionaires, Rich Authors, Poor Ones, Farmers, Merchants, Anyone welcome.

“If you do not want to sign up for more than one year or cannot give $5.00, do not let that stop you.


Spirit of the Band

Anderson says he would like to be the drum major in the band but doesn’t have the figure. Well, he may be a bit stiff but we’ll vote for him, anyway. He catches the spirit of the parading band. That’s what it takes to be a drum major.

“The band represents the town on its gay days,” he says. “When the fair comes, when there is a celebration, Fourth of July, any kind of a jamboree when every citizen becomes a boy again, then a good band, stepping gaily out, the drums beating, flags flying–what is a town without a good band?

“You cannot have a good band in debt. You cannot expect the boys to blow gaily, step out with real gusto, when they are in debt. To have a good band requires sticking to it. What can you expect when the boys have to come to band meeting and plunk down a dollar just for the privilege of working to be good when we want them good?

“The boys got a little discouraged. Their leader got sick. A lot of them are working boys. They got a little in debt. This paper is no uplift paper. It is just a good, little old country paper. But we like a band. We began writing about the Marion band in our paper.

“Well, don’t you worry about old Marion. We will rake in many a five-dollar bill for the boys.”

Viewpoint of the Band Men

Few have gotten the viewpoint of the small town band as has Sherwood Anderson. He has learned from the band men what they are up against. He also appreciates what the band really means to any town.

“One of the first signs of the decay of a town is when it cannot get up enthusiasm to support a band. The Marion band needs support. Most people don’t know it.

“In order to keep themselves up to snuff the boys practice twice a week. They pay a dollar a month out of their own pockets. This isn’t fair. They should not be asked to do that. The money goes to pay rent for a hall in which to practice, and other incidental expenses.

“Who will pay the yearly dues for one band boy? This paper will receive it for them. Some of the boys have got behind in their dues. A good many of them work hard for their money. When they get behind they do not feel like coming around to practice and the band suffers.

Loyalty of the Band

“Only last Armistice Day our band had an offer to go to another town. They could have got $250 for the day. They stuck to Marion. They have always stuck. We ought to stick to them.

“There is soon to be a show put on in town a part of the proceeds of which go to the band. Support that when it comes along. If you feel like chipping in to pay some fellow’s dues for a year, we will be glad to hear from you.”

When the campaign has run its course, the Marion band will probably be completely outfitted with quadruple gold-plated horns and uniforms with gold braid three inches wide. Anyway, the people of Marion are assured of band concerts this summer and of having a snappy band to liven up all their gala days with music.