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Henry Fillmore -

This week, in honor of the Month of Marches, we are taking a look at one of the most interesting characters in Wind Band Repertoire: Henry Fillmore. Fillmore’s life could easily be the subject of a classic American Novel by Mark Twain of John Steinbeck. The strangest thing about his life story is that it is ALL TRUE!!

Check out these fun facts about Henry Fillmore:


He was shunned by his father for his love of the trombone. Fillmore loved the sound of the trombone from a very young age, however, his father forbade him from playing it. He associated the instrument with risquee and “evil” establishments of the time, and even considered it to be the instrument of Satan (okay… given some of the trombone players I know, not much has changed…). It was Fillmore’s mother who purchased a trombone for $8 and gave it to him to learn how to play. He had to hide from his father for some time while practicing. Fortunately, one day his father (also a musician, composer, & publisher) overheard him playing a hymn on the instrument and could tell he had a lot of potential. His father gave in to the notion of his son playing trombone and even got young Henry lessons.


Henry Fillmore ran away from home to join the circus--actually, he did it twice!!! When Fillmore was 16 years old, the frustrated teen had grand ideas of traveling the country and thought he could fend for himself on the road as a circus musician. Unfortunately at the age of 16, his trombone skills were not up to the level needed and he spent much of the time cleaning up after the animal acts…


Henry Fillmore married an exotic dancer! When Fillmore traveled to the 1904 St. Louis Expo, he met the beautiful Mabel Jones. The two fell in love and eloped, which caused Henry to fall out of the good graces of the family once again. Fortunately, the circus is not as judgemental as Henry’s father and the two lovers found work for the next 5 years with the Lemon Brothers Circus: Henry as a musician and Mabel as a dancer.


Henry Fillmore wrote under several pseudonyms throughout his lifetime. Some estimate that under all of his alter egos, Henry Fillmore wrote and arranged over 700 compositions in his lifetime. Here are some of his pseudonyms:

* Will Huff (until he encountered the real Will Huff - who also happened to be a composer…)

* Harold Bennett (This name often identified music which could be played by younger bands as that was "Harold's" talent.)

* Al Hayes

* Harry Hartley

* Ray Hall

* Gus Beans (...yep… Gus Beans...)

* Henrietta Hall (Yes, he even had a woman alter ego!!)


Henry Fillmore helped found the Florida Bandmasters Association and the American Bandmasters Association. In 1938, Fillmore’s doctor gave a him a diagnosis that he would live another year if he kept going at the pace he was going. He decided to heed the doctor’s warning and “retired” to Florida. Fortunately, the sunshine state was just what the remedy for his condition. Fillmore’s career (and health) continued up until his death in 1956. During his time in Florida, Fillmore was a huge advocate for school music programs. He regularly asked to guest-conduct ensembles, and was even a strong supporter of the bands at the University of Miami and wing of the music building honors him to this day.



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