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In Memoriam

Navy Band History 1968-1978

Cmdr. Donald Stauffer

Commander Donald W. Stauffer
Leader, 1968-1973

On December 30, 1968, Commander Donald W. Stauffer became the forth leader of the Navy Band. While all of the previous leaders of the Navy Band were highly respected and gained tremendous experience and stature, perhaps none took command with such an established career and resume. A native of Canton, Ohio, Stauffer attended the Eastman School of Music and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in 1941 and 1942, respectively. Upon leaving Eastman, Stauffer joined the Navy Band in 1942 as a string bass and tuba instrumentalist. Over the course of the next decade, Stauffer left the Navy briefly, returned very soon after in 1946, rose to the rank of Chief Musician and earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Music Education from the Catholic University of America in 1954. In fact, that very degree was the first Ph.D. in Music to be awarded by a university in the Washington, D.C. area.

The Navy rewarded these credentials and training by appointing Stauffer a Warrant Officer in 1956. Stauffer took command of the New York Naval Base Band. A following appointment included a tour as Head of Academic Training at the U.S. Naval School of Music in Washington, D.C. from 1958 to 1960. 1960 saw Stauffer's return to the U.S. Navy Band as Third Leader. Following an assignment as director of the Atlantic Fleet Band from 1964-1966, he was named Assistant Leader of the U.S. Navy Band in September 1966. He held that post for just two years before taking command of the ensemble in 1968, bring full circle a career that began with the same band.

Stauffer's wide range of academic and professional achievements is reflected in his membership in a number of professional musical societies including the American Bandmasters Association, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity, the National Bandmasters Association, Toastmasters International, American Society of Composers and Publishers, the American Institute of Physics and the Acoustical Society of America. Stauffer's membership in the last two organizations was a direct result of his status as a leading authority on the acoustics of musical instruments. Along with numerous articles published in professional journals, Stauffer authored a widely-referenced book entitled Intonation Deficiencies of Wind Instruments.


Fugue 'n Swing by Cmdr. Donald W. Stauffer

Fugue 'n Swing (1970 original composition from the Album On Tour)

Cmdr. Donald W. Stauffer

Though Stauffer was extremely knowledgable about and proficient in conducting wind bands, one of his most lasting impacts on the Navy Band came in his expansion of the ensembles and musical offerings of the band. Stauffer took command during the end of the 1960s, a time that was dominated by political divisiveness and a growing hostility towards the military. The younger, baby boom generation was becoming a huge force in popular opinion and was also the very age group the military needed to recruit. In a desire to appeal to a younger generation and use music as a recruiting tool, Stauffer initiated the creation of the Navy Band Specialty Units. In what was perhaps his most lasting legacy, Stauffer oversaw the creation of the Commodores Jazz Ensemble in 1969, the Ceremonial Band, the Port Authority rock ensemble in 1970 and the Country Current in 1972.

The Commodores Jazz Ensemble began life as the U.S. Navy Dance Band in 1966. The Dance Band's first director was Lieutenant Junior Grade Ned Muffley who would later go on to succeed Stauffer as Leader of the Navy Band. Originally, this Dance Band split duties as a performing ensemble and a ceremonial band. Members of the ensemble would serve as a ceremonial band during the day and perform as a dance band in the evenings. Eventually, however, the escalation of the war in Vietnam increased the commitments of the Navy Band, necessitating the creation of a separate, standalone Ceremonial Band in 1968.

With the freedom to focus on rehearsals and big band concerts, the Dance Band was ready for a more permanent and defined role within the Navy. Less than a month after assuming command, Stauffer oversaw the renaming of the Dance Band as the “Commodores Jazz Ensemble.” The Commodores Jazz Ensemble also became the official jazz ensemble of the Navy. Since its inception, the Commodores Jazz Ensemble has become one of the most highly-respected jazz bands in the country. The group is a major part of the Navy Band's identity and outreach and has performed with the greatest legends in the world of jazz for nearly 50 years.

The aforementioned Ceremonial Band began life as a separate ensemble in 1968. Originally, it consisted of 30 members dedicated to providing music for military and state ceremonies, reviews, honors, funerals at Arlington Cemetery and other patriotic occasions. Because of the increasing needs during the Vietnam War, the Ceremonial Band differed from the Concert Band and Commodores in schedule. Whereas rehearsals and performances for those concert groups were scheduled in advance and largely predictable, ceremonial needs could change frequently and necessitated a daily, stand-by routine. Originally borne out of necessity, the Ceremonial Band would eventually grow to become one of the most visible elements of the U.S. Navy Band and the primary extension of its stated mission.

In 1970, a new contemporary music ensemble joined the Navy Band. In its early days, Port Authority was primarily a rock ensemble that was aimed almost exclusively at Navy recruiting. The groups's repertoire included current hits of the day, original compositions and arrangements of all types of popular music. Port Authority continued into the 1980s as a key recruiting tool. The ensemble's sound changed over time, shifting from rock to soul music and even funk. It's legacy continues in the much-loved recordings made over the years. Although the original ensemble did not last to present day, it is in many ways the aesthetic forerunner of the Navy Band Cruisers, a specialty group in today's U.S. Navy Band and the Navy's premier contemporary entertainment ensemble.

Country Current 1972

Country Current 1972
MUC Bill Emerson, Leader

Finally, the Country Current, formed by legendary banjoist Bill Emerson, is the premier country-bluegrass ensemble of the Navy. Following in the footsteps of the Commodores, the Country Current was intended to be a specialty group that could expand the reach and audiences of the Navy Band. In fact, in October 1972, the Country Current made its first guest appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. By the next year, the Country Current had achieved such status and level of demand that performances in the National Capital Region were hard to schedule. Bill Emerson was consistently rated one of the top banjoists in the country by magazines, and a proud tradition was born. In 1976, the Country Current even performed on the Academy of Country Music Awards Show, aired on ABC.

In addition to this legacy of smaller, specialty groups in the Navy Band, Commander Stauffer also left a legacy of inclusion of women in Navy music. During the summer of 1972, Evangeline Bailey became the first female member of the Navy Band. Formerly a Hospital Corps Wave at Bethesda National Naval Medical Center, Bailey joined the Navy Band as a vocalist. Her education at Norfolk State College in Norfolk, Virginia included a major in voice with a concentration in classical music. Bailey's skills went far beyond her classical training, however, as she was an accomplished gospel singer who was also comfortable performing rock and soul stylings. Just one year later, Nancy Stanley became the first female instrumentalist to join the Navy Band. Stanley earned a Bachelor of Science in Music Education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a concentration in flute and voice in 1972 and successfully auditioned for the Navy Band in August of 1973.

Lt. Cmdr. Ned Muffley

Lieutenant Commander Ned Muffley
Leader, 1973-1978

In 1973, Lieutenant Commander Ned Muffley became the fifth leader of the Navy Band. Originally a trumpet instrumentalist, Muffley entered the Navy in 1949. He distinguished himself early as solo cornetist with the Unit Band 151, stationed at the at the Naval Air Station in Kodiak, Alaska. Muffley's musical ability and leadership beyond the trumpet became evident as he passed through his many stations as an enlisted musician. While in Jacksonville, Florida, Muffley served as Leading Petty Officer and Assistant Leader. After attending the Navy School of Music for an additional two years and as a student band leader and rehearsal conductor, Muffley took charge as leader of Unit Band 129 in 1957.

Muffley reportedly had decided early on that it was his goal to become Leader of the United States Navy Band. He took his conducting seriously and even studied with Charles Brendler to gain the knowledge and skill necessary. After becoming a commissioned officer in 1965, Muffley served as Assistant Leader to Cmdr. Stauffer at the US Navy Band. Subsequent appointments in the Music Branch at the Bureau of Navy Personnel ultimately led to leadership of the Naval Academy Band in 1972. It was in 1973, however, that Muffley's work on developing his conducting paid off in full.

At the personal invitation of Arthur Fiedler, Muffley conducted the Boston Pops Orchestra in a concert on June 12, 1973. This marked the first time that a Navy Band Leader had conducted a major symphony orchestra. It was only weeks later that Ned Muffley became Leader of the United States Navy Band, achieving what he had set out to do. This was hardly the ending point for Muffley, however. Over the next several years, he returned to Boston annually to conduct the Boston Pops. Only a few years later, Muffley had the chance to return the gesture by having Arthur Fiedler conduct his own world-renowned ensemble at the Navy Band's 50th Anniversary Concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on March 4, 1975.

This 50th Anniversary Concert was notable not just for the inclusion of a person of Arthur Fiedler's status, but also for the incredible precedents that were first set. Claude T. Smith's "Eternal Father Strong to Save" was debuted at this concert and remains a staple of the Concert Band's repertoire today. Just as importantly, this was the first time that all of the US Navy Band groups were presented or featured together on the same stage, a synergistic experience that also continues to this day. Some of the largest and most high-profile concerts the Navy Band does today involve the combination of all of its ensembles.

Just as those concerts today are less academic and more accessible, so too were the concerts under Muffley. Shortly after taking command of the Navy Band, Muffley remarked that he was taking a “total entertainment” approach to music making. His vision was that of programing and performances that kept audiences extremely engaged and kept them involved throughout. The practical application of this concept came in a broadening of the band's literature that included not just concert band and orchestral literature, but also Broadway and movie selections.

1973 proved to be a year of transition and new ensembles in the Navy Band. Muffley continued the transition begun under Stauffer to add new, smaller groups that specialized in other music areas to expand the reach of the Navy Band. In July, a new mixed vocal group, the Aquarians, made their debut on the Capital steps with the Concert Band. The new ensemble performed several popular songs. The Aquarians eventually gave way to a reworked group named New Design. While these groups did not make a major impact on the long-term programming on the Concert Band, the concept of a mixed vocal group would be revived later.

One of the most enduring impacts of Muffley's command of the Navy Band might have been the birth of the International Saxophone Symposium. It was in July of 1977 that Muffley served as guest conductor of the Royal Guides Band during the World Saxophone Symposium in Brussels, Belgium. Also performing in the symposium was saxophonist and Chief Musician Dale Underwood. Underwood was already becoming a major force in the saxophone world, but what grew out of that symposium in Brussels would firmly establish the Navy Band as a cornerstone of that world. Upon Muffley's suggestion that the Navy Band could put on an event of similar or better quality, Underwood began the process of organizing the United States Navy Band International Saxophone Symposium. The first symposium took place at the Washington Navy Yard in March of the following year and has become the premier saxophone conference in Northern America. The symposium has always involved both the Concert Band and the Commodores, further reflecting the diversity of Navy Band musical programming since the late 1960s.


Fugue 'n Swing by Cmdr. Donald W. Stauffer

Fugue 'n Swing (1970 original composition from the Album On Tour)

Cmdr. Donald W. Stauffer