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Harry L. Alford and The Purple Carnival

alford

Harry LaForrest Alford (August 4, 1879 – March 4, 1939) was an American arranger and composer of dance band, concert orchestra pieces, and band marches.  Alford was born in Hudson, MI, probably on August 4, 1879. Alford’s birth date is uncertain. Some sources say August 3, 1883, others August 3, 1875. Alford’s daughter Ruth wrote in a letter that Alford was born in 1875, not 1883. In the 1920 census he is listed as being 42 years of age, and born about 1878. In the 1930 census he is listed as being 50 years of age and born about 1880. His funeral notice in the Oak Park-River Forest newspaper says he was born August 4, 1879.  His family moved to nearby Blissfield, Michigan two years later. As a boy Harry learned to play the slide trombone, piano, and organ. He also taught himself composition and arrangement.

Alford worked as a church organist and then as a trombonist in a theater orchestra. He recognized his deficiencies in formal training at this point. He studied at the Dana Musical Institute in Warren, Ohio (now part of Youngstown State University). Then, he became a trombonist with touring minstrel shows, wild west shows, and theatrical troupes.  Alford married Lucille H. Teetzel on October 1, 1902. Together they had a son Harold, who became an airline pilot for Eastern Airlines. One of Alford’s marches, Skyliner, was written for Harold. They also had a daughter, Ruth Marion (Mrs. Eric Bottoms). Lucy died on January 30, 1938.  By 1903, Alford was tired of the constant travel. He opened a custom arranging business in Chicago employing famous copyists and arrangers working in sound proof studios, composing and arranging various popular pieces.. The idea of arranging as a full-time career was unknown at that time.

Alford’s company was somewhat contemporaneous to Tin Pan Alley though he specialized in marches and novel concert pieces, and his company also foreshadows the later rock and roll and pop music production teams in New York’s Brill Building.  Alford’s pit orchestra music for Eva Tanguay made him famous, and created a demand for music scored by him. He became known as the composer and arranger of ingenious quirky music. The Harry L. Alford Arranging Studios moved into the entire sixth floor of the State-Lake Theater in the early 1920s. The firm operated until 1940, producing over 34,000 arrangements.  Alford was described in 1921 as being of medium height and build, quick and nervous and full of pep, and speaks rapidly in a high tenor voice. Music was his only hobby.

Alford’s first march for band was performed in Blissfield by a visiting show brass band when he was only fourteen. The success of this event encouraged him to compose marches and other works for the Blissfield band. He would continue to compose band music for the rest of his life.  Alford’s best known work is likely that commissioned by bands. The director of the University of Illinois Band, Albert Austin Harding, commissioned him for some of the first football halftime extravaganza shows. These included his composition The World is Waiting for the Sunrise (1919). Another composition for Harding’s band was The March of the Illini (1928, originally titled The Battle of Tippecanoe). Alford also composed music for Northwestern University band halftime shows.

Alford conducted the Knight’s Templar Band of the Siloam Commandery in Chicago from 1927 until he died.  He composed over 100 pieces of music. Two of his band marches are well known: Glory of the Gridiron (1932; written for director Harding and the University of Illinois Band) and Purple Carnival (1933; dedicated to director Glenn Cliffe Bainum and the Northwestern University Wildcat Marching Band). Other marches include Law and Order, March of the Jackies, Skyliner, and Call of the Elk (official march of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks).  Another of his most popular works was Wedded Whimsies, for band.

Harry Alford resided at the Medinah Country Club in Chicago for the winter months to be near his offices in the Chicago Loop. It was at that facility that he died after suffering a fatal heart attack on March 4, 1939, in Chicago, IL. He is buried at the Mount Emblem Cemetery in Elmhurst, IL.  He is sometimes confused with Kenneth J. Alford, composer of Colonel Bogey March. Kenneth Alford, sometimes called the British March King, was the pen name of British bandleader and composer Frederick Joseph Ricketts. Amongst Alford’s closest friends were circus bandleader Merle Evans and John Philip Sousa. They were also clients of his arrangement company. When Sousa came to Alford’s house for a meal, Lucille insisted he take off his white gloves before he could eat.

My collection includes the following work by Harry L. Alford:

The Purple Carnival

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources

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