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In Memoriam

Navy Band History 1942 -1968

Considering the impressive accomplishments and vast scope of Charles Benter's tenure as the Leader of the United States Navy Band, it would be hard for any successor to live up to the standards set for him or her. Remarkably, the second Leader of the Navy Band ended up having a lasting legacy of his own and an equally long stewardship. On February 17, 1942, Chief Musician Charles Brendler became the second Leader of the Navy Band, taking the reigns from Lt. Charles Benter.

Charles Brendler was born in 1898 and joined the Navy at the age of 15 in 1913. His enlistment began in two peculiar ways, as he was living in New York City at the time and auditioned on board the USS Florida, anchored in the New York Harbor. Brendler was the only musician to pass the physical, but had to hide his age, telling the recruiters that he was 18 years old. While serving on the Florida, he ended up seeking out clarinet teachers at the various foreign ports where the ship would dock. Brendler's assignment on board the Florida ended up being the only such assignment of his career when, upon his re-enlistment in 1917, he was transferred to the Navy Yard Band to fill a clarinet vacancy. Brendler remained in this band for the rest of his career, meaning he experienced all of Lt. Harold' changes and the growth that took place under Benter.

Commander Charles Brendler

Commander Charles Brendler
Leader, 1942-1962

Brendler, as a Chief Musician, was a featured clarinet soloist on national tours from 1925 to 1937. In 1938, Lt. Benter appointed him Assistant Leader of the Navy Band. Brendler became the Leader of the Navy Band in January of 1942, took the rank of Lieutenant and soon after began making his mark. With the nation locked in the middle of World War II, Brendler took the opportunity to take advantage of the many musicians who were facing the draft. Brendler requested and was given an extra allowance of 14 members to the Navy Band, bringing the total number of musicians in the organization to 90, a number that became permanent in 1945. A number of notable big band and orchestral musicians of the day joined the Navy Band. As a result, the Navy Band could now play for dances, formal concerts, other governmental functions and funerals at Arlington Cemetery. During this period of time, the Navy band's involvement with Arlington Cemetery increased, as they were there nearly every day honoring Navy personnel.

The creation of the Navy Band Symphony Orchestra in 1945 opened up new opportunities for the Navy Band. The same year, the nationally broadcast program "The Navy Hour" began, featuring Robert Taylor as master of ceremonies and Gene Kelly as guest narrator. The program ran until 1968, becoming the longest-running show in radio at the time. The program featured a number of ensembles and was carried on NBC, CBS and Armed Forces Radio. With radio as an established medium for spreading the Navy Band's music, Brendler's organization took the next step in 1955 when it appeared on national television for the first time on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Later that year, the Navy Band performed at the Sugar Bowl before an audience estimated at 20 million people.

Navy Band Orchestra 1943

United States Navy Band Symphony Orchestra, 1943, at Departmental Auditorium
Cmdr. Brendler, Leader

In many ways, another example of taking the next step was the creation of a new ensemble within the Navy Band organization. In 1956, Assistant Leader Johann Harold Fultz organized a group of singers from the Navy School of Music to sing sea shanties and patriotic songs for the State of the Nation dinner. The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Arleigh Burke enjoyed the group so much that he transfered them to the Navy Band and gave them the name that they carry to this day. The Sea Chanters is the official chorus of the United States Navy. Originally a 16-member all-male chorus, the Sea Chanters initially sang traditional music, including sea shanties, madrigals and motets. The Sea Chanters immediately expanded the nature and identity of the Navy Band, an evolution that would continue in the years to come.

For all of the highlights of Charles Brendler's career at the Navy Band, the tragedy that he was unable to erase from the minds of the musicians occurred near the end of his tenure. On February 25, 1960, 19 members of the Navy Band were killed in a plane crash over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, including Assistant Leader Lt. Fultz. The transport plane collided with a Brazilian commercial airliner, marking the largest tragedy in the history of the Navy Band.

The Navy Band was in the middle of a diplomatic mission to South America in support of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In an effort to ward off the spread of communism to South America, President Eisenhower traveled to South America as part of "Operation Amigo." The Navy Band accompanied the President to provide whatever support might be needed. While still in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Brazilian President invited President Eisenhower to an unplanned reception at the U.S. embassy in Rio de Janeiro. The Navy Band was asked to provide "semi-classical music," for the reception. A small chamber orchestra was assigned to the event. The transport plane carrying the musicians never reached its destination, however, as it collided with the Brazilian airliner in the heavy fog over a bay outside of Rio de Janeiro. A devastating tragedy to the families and anyone close to the Navy Band, the effects would be felt long afterwards as the Navy never replaced the instrumentation lost.

Cmdr. Charles Brendler's service in the Navy Band eventually came to an end in 1962 after a number of extensions allowed him to remain in service up to age 64. At the time of his retirement, he had served an astounding 49 years in the Navy, nearly all of which was with the Navy Band. He also became the first Navy musician to be given the rank of Commander. His leadership through World War II and the early days of the Cold War saw an expansion from 76 to 134 musicians. With 20 years as Leader of the Navy Band, he had served in that capacity for just a little less time than his predecessor, Lt. Charles Benter. This type of longevity would not be duplicated in the years to come.

Tchaikovsky's "Humoresque"

Humoresque (1955 recording by the United States Navy Band Symphony Orchestra)

Peter Tchaikovsky


Following concerns over the selection process in the Navy Band, a 1949 inquiry led to a suggestion by Lieutenant M. A. Shelden that lifetime appointments be limited in the U.S. Navy Band and the Naval Academy Band. This suggestion also included the provision that the selection of future Leaders should not fall to those who had spent time training them. While not all of the suggestions were heeded, a new era of term limits began following Commander Brendler's retirement. In order to prevent a "dynasty-like" succession, most of the Leaders from that point on would only serve about 5 years in that capacity, rotating the way that officers in the rest of the Navy do. After a 1947 law that specified that light duty officers were required to retire upon 30 years of active duty service took effect, most officers who assumed command of the Navy Band were approaching retirement anyway.

Lieutenant Commander Anthony Mitchell

Lieutenant Commander Anthony A. Mitchell Leader, 1962-1968

The first Leader who took command under these new rules was Anthony Mitchell. Mitchell joined the Navy in 1936 and started at the Navy School of Music in Washington, D.C. After graduation in 1938, Mitchell did not have to go far for his second assignment. He auditioned successfully for the Navy Band and joined as a clarinetist in April of that year. Within time, he was appointed solo clarinetist with the Concert Band, a very similar position held by his predecessor Charles Brendler. During this period of time, Mitchell also served as director of the Navy Dance Band. He was appointed Third Leader in August 1956 and given the rank of Warrant Officer. He would eventually be promoted to Chief Warrant Officer in 1959 and soon took the position of Assistant Leader after the loss of Lt. Fultz in the tragedy over Rio de Janeiro. As Assistant Leader, Mitchell became known for composing the official march of Washington, D.C., "Our Nation's Capital," and the "National Capital Parks," the official song of the National Park Service.

Mitchell's primary legacy may have been his commitment to educational outreach. His own son, Anthony E. Mitchell had benefited greatly from studying piano with Navy Band pianist Anthony D' Amico and done well in competitions. Perhaps seeing the influence Navy musicians could have on students, Mitchell instituted a few important events. During his first summer concert series as Leader, he inaugurated the first annual Washington Area Soloist Festival, a competition featuring outstanding high school students in the National Capital Region. The same summer, the Navy Band debuted a new series of children's concerts that would run for years.

In 1968, near the end of Mitchell's leadership of the Navy Band, the total allowance for manpower had increased to 175 members. This increase paved the way for the specialty groups and dedicated ceremonial groups that would take shape in the next few years.


Fugue 'n Swing by Cmdr. Donald W. Stauffer

Overture to Candide (1964 recording from the album A Musical Salute to You)

Leonard Bernstein