seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Death of Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, Composer & Bandmaster

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patrick-sarsfield-gilmorePatrick Sarsfield Gilmore, Irish-born American composer and bandmaster, dies in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 24, 1892. He lives and works in the United States after 1848. While serving in the Union Army during the American Civil War, Gilmore writes the lyrics to the song When Johnny Comes Marching Home, the tune taken from the old Irish antiwar folk song, Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye. This is published under the name Louis Lambert.

Gilmore is born in Ballygar, County Galway, on December 25, 1829. He starts his music career at age fifteen, and spends time in Canada with an English band. Already a fine cornet player, he settles in Boston, Massachusetts in 1848, becoming leader of the Suffolk, Boston Brigade, and Salem bands in swift succession. He also works in the Boston music store of John P. Ordway and founds Ordway’s Aeolians, a group of blackface minstrels. With the Salem Band, Gilmore performs at the 1857 inauguration of President James Buchanan.

In 1858, Gilmore founds “Gilmore’s Band,” and at the outset of the American Civil War the band enlists with the 24th Massachusetts Volunteers, accompanying General Ambrose Burnside to North Carolina. After the temporary discharge of bands from the field, Governor John Albion Andrew of Massachusetts entrusts Gilmore with the task of re-organizing military music-making. General Nathaniel P. Banks creates him Bandmaster-general.

When the war ends Gilmore is asked to organize a celebration, which takes place in New Orleans. That success emboldens him to undertake two major music festivals in Boston, the National Peace Jubilee in 1869 and the World’s Peace Jubilee and International Musical Festival in 1872. These feature monster orchestras of massed bands with the finest singers and instrumentalists, including the only American appearance by “waltz king” Johann Strauss II, and cements Gilmore’s reputation as the leading musical figure of the age. Coliseums are erected for the occasions, holding 60- and 120,000 persons. Grateful Bostonians present Gilmore with medals and cash, but in 1873 he moves to New York, as bandmaster of the 22nd Regiment. Gilmore takes this band on acclaimed tours of Europe.

On September 24, 1892, back in the United States preparing an 1892 musical celebration of the quadricentennial anniversary of Christopher Columbus‘ voyage of discovery, Gilmore collapses and dies in St. Louis. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York, where his wife is later interred.

In many ways Gilmore can be seen as the principal figure in 19th-century American music. He holds the first “Promenade Concert in America” in 1855, the forerunner to today’s Boston Pops. He sets up “Gilmore’s Concert Garden,” which becomes Madison Square Garden. He is the Musical Director of the Nation in effect, leading the festivities for the 1876 Centennial celebrations in Philadelphia and the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886. In 1888 he starts the tradition of seeing in the New Year in Times Square.

Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore is inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.

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