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The Lawrence City Band is a beloved community ensemble in Lawrence, Kansas that has been entertaining audiences for over 150 years. Comprised of volunteer musicians from all walks of life, the band performs a wide variety of music, including classical, marches, show tunes, and pop hits, at free concerts throughout the summer months. With a strong commitment to promoting music education and fostering a love of the arts, the Lawrence City Band is a cherished tradition in the Lawrence community.


Our History

Lawrence has had band music almost before there was a Lawrence.  In 1854, eight men left rural Vermont for Kansas, bringing with them their musical instruments, and became the nucleus of the first band in Kansas. This pioneer band played for funerals and often provided martial music to aid enlistment in the local militia. After these musicians performed for the Kansas Conference of Methodist churches with their old, battered instruments, Governor Charles Robinson became interested in improving the quality of the band. After much practice with their newly acquired silver instruments, the bandsmen gave a concert on August 20, 1863. The next day, Quantrill and his gang raided Lawrence.  Four of the bandsmen were murdered. For the remainder of the war, the survivors went on to serve as a military band.


In about 1875, a band was organized and presented its first concert under the supervision of Professor William Alden Bolles. This ensemble was followed in 1884 by Bell’s Military Band. Then came Buch’s Military Band, which consisted of two drummers and eight brass instrumentalists. By 1900, the band had grown to twenty-eight members and needed a permanent place to present concerts.  With donations of materials, money, and labor, the gazebo in South Park was dedicated in 1906.


This version of the Band disbanded, but the Haskell Band, the University of Kansas Band, and the Lawrence High School Band attempted to take up the slack. These ensembles were not always able to provide the sociability and conviviality associated with concerts in the park, however. In 1965, the Lawrence City Band made its appearance, under the direction of Ken Bloomquist, Director of Bands at the University of Kansas.


In 1969, the summer concert series expanded, and the gazebo in South Park again became the home of the Lawrence City Band, with William L. Kelly as organizer, librarian, custodian, and conductor.  The band and Bill Kelly established a reputation for presenting excellent and enjoyable music in the style of turn-of-the-century Sousa Band concerts. The Band developed a large and loyal audience.  In 1988, the city named the well-preserved South Park gazebo in honor of Bill Kelly and the Lawrence City Band.


In 1989, the Lawrence City Band was presented the Sudler Scroll, the nation’s most prestigious award for community bands, sponsored by the John Philip Sousa Foundation.  Afterward, the band underwent financial reorganization under the leadership of Robert E. Foster, Director of Bands Emeritus at KU. Under the previous leadership of Mr. Foster and the current leadership of the present Director of Bands at KU, Dr. Paul Popiel, the Band has maintained its standards of artistic excellence and cultural leadership in the Lawrence community.

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