The United States Air Force Band, though over 70 years old, is the youngest of the Washington, D.C.-based military bands. It has made numerous recordings, appeared frequently on radio and television broadcasts, and given countless concerts at home and abroad.
The USAFB was founded on September 24, 1941, with Alf Heiberg serving as commander and conductor. Initially, the ensemble consisted of four players, but grew to 48 within its first year and steadily improved its musicianship thereafter. Heiberg was succeeded by George S. Howard in 1943.
Howard led the band on its first major tour (six Canadian cities), in 1944, formed an auxiliary symphony orchestra in the postwar era, helped establish the regular hour-long radio show The Air Force Hour, and increased the band's resources to include a 100-piece marching band, an 85-piece concert ensemble, and a 90-piece symphony orchestra. The band also had a 25-member glee club and other smaller offshoots.
Tours of Europe in the early and mid-'50s were great successes, as were the Far East tours in 1956-1957. Howard made many recordings with the band in a variety of works that included Sousa marches, symphonic transcriptions (Goin' Home, from Dvorák's Symphony No. 9), and various patriotic pieces.
Captain Harry Meuser was appointed conductor of the band from 1963-1964, with Lieutenant Shale Tulin serving as commander. Arnald D. Gabriel succeeded them as commander and conductor in 1964 and held the dual position until 1985. During his tenure, the USAFB gave concerts with noted guest artists, including Melba Moore and Doc Severinsen and were led from the podium by Aaron Copland, Henry Mancini, Leroy Anderson, and other famous composer/conductors.
In 1973, the USAFB took on Karen Erler as its first female instrumentalist. Succeeding Gabriel in 1985 was James M. Bankhead, who led the band on its first tour of China in 1987. Amy R. Mills was appointed commander and conductor in 1990, becoming the first woman ever to hold the post. She was succeeded the following year by Alan L. Bonner (1991-1995). 1995 saw three men in the post of commander and conductor: Mark R. Peterson (January to May), Keith R. Lance (May to September), and Lowell E. Graham (1995-2002). Dennis M. Layendecker was appointed commander and conductor in 2002. The USAFB still regularly records and concertizes throughout the United States and abroad. ~ Robert Cummings