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Historic Moment
In Memoriam

History 1978-1989

Williams J. Phillips, the 6th Leader of the Navy Band, joined the Navy in 1957 as a trombonist. He attended the Navy School of Music in Washington, D.C., finishing in April, 1958. Assignments in his enlisted career included stations at the Naval Air Force Atlantic Band in Norfolk, Virginia, the First naval District Band in Boston, Massachusetts, faculty at the School of Music and Leader of Unit Band 108 onboard the USS Pacific. After promotion to Warrant Officer in 1967, Phillips served as Assistant Head of the Music Branch at the Bureau of Naval Personnel and Leader of the Atlantic Fleet Band. In 1970, Phillips received his commission to Ensign and joined the Naval Academy Band as Assistant Leader in 1971. This move brought a promotion to Lieutenant Junior Grade.

Commander William J. Phillips

Commander William Joseph Phillips
Leader, 1978-1984

Eventually, Phillips moved up in two respects, becoming Leader of the Naval Academy Band and rising to full Lieutenant. In December of 1979, Lieutenant Phillips took command of the United States Navy Band. He received a promotion to Lieutenant Commander at the same time, something that reflected the trend that took place in the 20th Century towards Navy Band Leaders gradually rising in rank. He would later have the opportunity to further this trend in his second tour with the Navy Band. Shortly after Phillips's arrival at the Navy Band, a special concert was presented in honor of the Tenth Anniversary of the Commodores Jazz Ensemble. The Commodores had a banner year, performing for the Left Bank Jazz Society in Baltimore, the National Association of Jazz Educators Convention and were the first military band to perform at the famed Newport Jazz Festival.

This period proved to be a fruitful one for recordings. Phillips was responsible for the 1979 release of two record albums for the Navy Recruiting Command. The first, by Port Authority was entitled "Dance the Night Away." The Commodores recorded "From the Nation's Capital." Unfortunately, neither of these recordings were available to the general public. Nevertheless, the following year in 1980, the Concert Band recorded the album "In Concert," as well as a few records for the Robert Hoe series, "Heritage of the March." Country Current did their part, recording the 1980 album "We Pick the Navy."

1980 also brought a significant change to the makeup of the Navy Band. After roughly 24 years of the same voice structure and all-male membership, the Sea Chanters expanded to include women for the first time. Aside from bringing in new talented soloists, this helped change the repertoire and the approach of the Sea Chanters. Traditionally focused on sea shanties and pre-classical music, the Sea Chanters expanded in exciting ways to include a widely variety of classical music that required female voices. This change also gave the group the opportunity to experiment with more popular genres and Broadway music, both of which have become vital to the identity of the ensemble.

Another continuing trend was the increased ceremonial commitments and the high-profile nature of those commitments. In 1980, the Band performed the arrival ceremony for Pope John Paul II, an honor usually reserved for the United States Marine Band. The following year, the Navy Band performed the welcome home ceremony for the return of the 52 American hostages who had been held captive in Iran. While it would have been a memorable event no matter what, one of the hostages ensured its place in Navy Band lore as he hugged Commander Phillips as the band played "Tie a Yellow Ribbon." The Navy Band traveled to Chicago that same year to also welcome home the crew of the space shuttle Columbia.

Phillips was also instrumental in establishing the Navy Day, or Navy Birthday, Concert. Phillips wanted the annual celebration of the anniversary of the Navy's establishment to have the cache and stature it deserved. He spoke with the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Watkins, about sponsoring the event. Watkins agreed and his successor Admiral Hayward honored that commitment in October, 1981. The Navy Birthday Concert continues to this day and is always heavily-attended as a result of its sponsorship by the Chief of Naval Operations.

While Phillips' assignment to the Navy Band was intended to last only three years, no less than three one-year extensions allowed him to stay until 1984. Phillips was not required to retire, however, and became the director of the Navy Military Personnel Command's Music Division. He would eventually find his way back to the Navy Band as the first Leader to serve two different assignments. Overall, Phillips's first six years as Leader of the Navy Band can best be summed up by his own reflections in 1987 that the greatest challenge was to stay involved with all the band was doing. At the time, the Concert and Ceremonial bands, the Commodores, the Country Current, Port Authority and the Sea Chanters were seemingly always busy with high-profile jobs. He estimated that the group played somewhere between 1,800 and 2,000 annual engagements. If changes that were reshaping the Navy Band had slowed down a bit, what had not slowed down was the visibility and sheer amount of commitments of the Navy Band.

Commander Allen Beck

Commander Alan Beck
Leader, 1984-1989

Phillips's successor, Commander Allen E. Beck, may not have had difficulty following all of the jobs the Navy Band was doing at any given time, but he was familiar with them himself. Cmdr. Beck began his active duty career in 1957 as a clarinetist at the U.S. Navy Band. At the time, the Navy Band was made up of only 90 total personnel, meaning musicians were routinely called upon to do any type of job on any given day. The Navy Band had changed significantly between Beck's departure in 1960 and his return in 1984, but Beck himself had taken on a number of different roles. After serving as a woodwind instructor in at the School of Music and in various other station as an enlisted musician, Beck attained Warrant Officer status as director of the Naval Air Station band in Corpus Christi, Texas.

After returning to the School of Music as a training officer, he received his commission to Ensign in 1969 and held positions as both assistant and branch manager of the Bureau of Navy Personnel's Music Branch.

Following a successful tour that began in 1979 as Leader of the U.S. Naval Academy Band , Beck became the first Navy Bandmaster to be selected by a Commander Selection Board. He took command of the U.S. Navy Band on November 30, 1984. Beck's stated goals for the organization were focused on musical excellence and satisfaction, reflecting his own musical background. Prior to entering the Navy, Beck attended the Eastman School of Music where he worked closely with musical icons Howard Hanson and Frederick Fennell. In fact, he always attributed his acceptance to the Navy Band to a letter that Fennell wrote on on his behalf to Lt. Charles Brendler. Whether or not that was true, this connection served the Navy Band well in 1987 when he invited Frederick Fennell to rehearse the Navy Band in preparation for the premier performance of Fennell's edition of Percy Aldridge Grainger's "Lincolnshire Posy." This collaboration proved to be gratifying to the musicians and featured the band on one of the major wind band stages, the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic. Other musical highlights of those years included opening the "Greatest Bands in the Land" series on National Public Radio in 1987 and taking control of the Eastern Trombone Workshop in 1986. The latter brought the event to the National Capital Region, close to its roots at Towson State University in Towson, Maryland. Now under the stewardship of the United States Army Band, the event has remained in the area ever since.

Adding to the growing number of high-visibility engagements of the Navy Band were a number of events on the East Coast over these years. The Navy Band performed at the Statue of Liberty Rededication Ceremony in New York City, New York in 1986 and had the honor of marking another significant milestone with the Bicentennial of George Washington's Inaugural Celebration in the same city in 1989. Further south, but also marking 200 years, the Navy Band performed in the nationally-televised Constitutional Bicentennial Parade in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. With less pageantry but perhaps even more gravity, the Country Current entertained Chinese officials in Beijing, China at a dinner hosted by President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush.

Cmdr. Beck left an important musical legacy with the Navy Band by the time of his retirement in 1989. His most lasting impact, however, may have been an operational one as he established a Navy Band National Tour Operations Department. This department, managed by Navy Band members, enabled the Navy Band to tour with government funds. Tours had been a part of the Navy Band in one way or another stretching back to its infancy, but this Tour Operations Department would establish a routine of tours that would prove to be fundamental to the Navy Band's identity in the years to come. The department exists and operates to this day.