Municipal Band Owes Much To Longtime Director ‘Doc’ Witt
By DAYNA WORCHEL
In 1908, the Tyler Kid Band had been invited to play at a reunion of Confederate war veterans in Mobile, Ala. But there was a problem -- they had no director.
An advertisement appeared in the
Dallas Morning News
asking for the services of an experienced military bandmaster. A 24-year-old Tyler man and experienced musician named John Franklin "Doc" Witt saw that ad, applied for it, and got the job, leading the group of about 25 young boys who played brass instruments and drums at Tyler events.
He took the young musicians on to Mobile, Ala. and points beyond to play at more Confederate reunions and other events throughout Texas and in other states. As the youngsters aged, they became the Tyler Municipal Band in 1916, according to the
Chronicles of Smith County
A faded black and white photo of a group of about 25 young boys shown posing with drums, trumpets and cornets, appeared in a 1967 edition of the
The ages and names of the boys, most of who appeared to be between the ages of 8 and 10, were not available, according to the publication.
But the photo could not capture the way "the organization played with fervor and was frequently cheered," according to the
The newspaper called it is an "amateur band and its work is declared decidedly creditable"
Witt had experience with various military bands, including playing with the John Phillips Sousa band. He was born in May 1884 near Omaha, an East Texas farm town. At the age of 18, he joined the Gus and Mollie Bailey Circus, and later received a formal education and training at Grayson College in Whitewright.
"It would be difficult to recall any Tyler project, whether civic, political or athletic that did not have the band present to lend its pomp and ceremony," an article in the
stated. The Municipal band gave concerts on Friday nights during the summer months on the courthouse plaza in Tyler, and in later years at
In a 1951
Tyler Courier-Times Telegraph
article, Witt was called the "bandmaster supreme who is as much a Tyler institution as the old
LeGrand pre-Civil War home."
Until his death in 1952, the respected teacher and band director organized and directed the Tyler Municipal Band in 1916, the Tyler High School Band in 1921, and the Tyler Junior College Apache Band in 1947.
Witt was awarded a Doctor of Sunshine degree by the Friendly Bible Class at Marvin United Methodist Church. The framed, large, multi-colored certificate sits in one of the Smith County Historical Society display cases, along with Witt's tarnished cornet and his white military-style band director's uniform trimmed in gold.
A piece of sheet music Witt composed called "Tyler Triumphal," which his band played at the dedication of the Tyler Women's building in 1932.