Tribute to 125 years of Omaha music makers

By | November 20, 2022

Omaha has impressed many songs. Take a look at six of our favorites.

From symphonic live shows to proms, Omaha’s skilled musicians have been holding the beat going for practically 140 years.

Since 1897 they’ve been beneath the auspices of the Omaha Musicians Affiliation. The union has been Native No. 70-558 since 1967 when town’s white and black unions merged.

Stu Pospisil

Stu Pospisil

Clarence “Shorty” Vest was in all probability probably the most well-known union chief as secretary-treasurer for 30 years earlier than his demise in 2000. However earlier than him there have been Bobby Bowman, Charles Williamson and Henry G. Cox.

A lot of the early years was chronicled for The World-Herald in 1931 by August Borglum, the paper’s music critic and brother of Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum.

August Borglum wrote that “The Knights of Labor” was the primary group of musicians, in 1886. A number of members of this group shaped in 1889 the Omaha Musical Mutual Protecting Union with 35 members beneath Native 22 of the Nationwide League of Musicians .

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Borglum: “Omaha started to take music in a giant means within the early Eighteen Nineties, when three-day music festivals have been introduced within the exposition constructing at fifteenth and Capitol Avenue, a big native choir cooperating with orchestras visiting beneath the route of the well-known conductor Anton Seidl.

On November 19, 1897, 125 years in the past, Native 70 of the American Federation of Musicians was shaped. The officers have been all singing lecturers – Mrs. Clara Cotton as president, Miss Lillian Terry as vice-president, and Thomas J. Kelly secretary.

“A motion has simply begun on this city to unite singers and gamers who usually are not within the Orchestral Musicians’ Union (Native 22) beneath a pact by which they pledge to not sing or play for any efficiency public at which an entrance payment is charged except they’re paid for his or her providers,” wrote the Omaha Every day Bee.

The Trans-Mississippi Omaha Exposition of 1898 was the primary time, however not the final, that the native union protested navy bands employed on the expense of its members. The three organizations listed included the USA Marine Band. For a month on the truthful, the well-known Theodore Thomas Orchestra, performed by ‘concertmeister’ Arthur Mees, collaborated with the truthful’s choir of a number of hundred voices beneath the route of union secretary Kelly.

The 2 unions – singers and instrumentalists – shortly consolidated. One of many supporters was Julius Meyer, who had been one in every of these “knights of labour” and had been on town’s music scene because the 1870s. His story is value telling on one other event, it is so attention-grabbing. Meyer turned Treasurer of Native 70, together with President FD Patton, Vice President Ernest Nordin, Recording Secretary HH Rohrs, and Monetary Secretary Emil B. Hofmann.

Omaha hosted the seventeenth annual conference of the American Federation of Musicians in Might 1912. Among the many attendees have been members of the Exalted Order of the Nice Canines. Musical canine. Every canine weighing greater than 200 lbs. All members holding the AFM card. The World-Herald wrote: ‘A number of massive canine must stroll to the kennel and scratch to achieve admission, and the initiation ceremonies will definitely induce yelping.

In a extra severe vein, the conference at Washington Corridor (410 S. 18th St.) raised $1,000 for the households of orchestra musicians who perished within the sinking of the Titanic just a few weeks earlier.

The primary try and help an Omaha symphony orchestra dates again to 1896, when musical director Hans Albert assembled 50 of town’s best musicians. Not an oboist or a bassoonist on the town for the primary live performance on the Boyd Theater. Over the subsequent 25 years, a number of symphony teams adopted each other, together with the Omaha Philharmonic (1906), the Omaha Symphony Examine Orchestra (1910) and the Omaha Symphony Society (1917).

Right this moment’s Omaha Symphony counts 1921 as its founding. In that case, his solely efficiency was a 5 p.m. “twilight live performance” on the Brandeis Theater on March 29. With two oboes and two bassoons within the orchestra. Cox was the conductor, Ernest Nordin first violin.

However its true founding 12 months ought to be 1924. It was then that the Enterprise and Skilled Ladies’s Division of town’s Chamber of Commerce supported, with a legal responsibility assumption of $1,000, a symphony supported by guarantors. Underwriter Herold Okay. Mansfield of the Metropolis Live performance Membership composed the symphony of 54 native musicians taking part in in downtown theaters. Engelbert Roentgen of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra was visitor conductor for the Might 9 inaugural program, with Nordin and Rudolph Seidl making ready the orchestra.

Earlier than that, the black musicians of Omaha organized their Native 558 in 1920. Within the weekly Omaha Monitor of March 6, 1925, it’s talked about {that a} 15-piece orchestra shaped by “the cracks of the Adams, Desdunes, Melody 5 and Turner” will present the music for the Syndicate’s Grand Ball at Dreamland Corridor. William Countee was secretary-treasurer of 558 for 35 years.

Charles Williamson (1891-1978) was the best-known chief of Native 558. He was its president and headed the Midwest Convention of Musicians. Born in Memphis, he performed lead trumpet for WC Useful’s blues band. He got here to Omaha in 1929 to play within the Ted Adams band and 4 years later began his personal band. Sickness compelled him to retire from music in 1942, however he remained energetic in his union. He was Vice President 70-558 when he died.


Dan Cerveny took over as Secretary-Treasurer of the Omaha Musicians Affiliation in 2000. He holds a photograph of his predecessor Shorty Vest who held the place for 30 years.


Bobby Bowman (1900-1974) led Native 70 from 1943 – by its merger with Native 558 on January 1, 1967 – till 1969, when he left to simply accept a place with the Nationwide Federation American musicians. The saxophone participant was one other Omaha transplant. The New Haven, Connecticut native was married to Omahan Hortense Geest and moved right here in 1934 whereas recovering from a bout of colitis. After taking part in sax for Rudy Vallée’s band, amongst others, he organized an orchestra that was the home band of the well-known Chez Paree membership/playing home in Carter Lake from 1937 to 1949.

When “Shorty” Vest (1926-2000) received the election to succeed Bowman, of Hoopeston, Illinois, gave up his 11-year drum gig with the Paul Moorhead band. He actually took over Bowman’s chair. They have been about the identical peak.

“They employed me so that they did not have to vary the workplace furnishings,” Vest stated in 1980. Amongst his many framed images within the workplace was Paul Williams, a local of Bennington, additionally small, who wrote: “I seemed low and weak for you. Vest, who wore vests and was a famous cigar smoker, had enterprise playing cards that learn ‘Introducing Shorty Vest, that SOB from the union’, which have been talked about within the autobiography of singer Kenny Rogers.

Since Vest’s retirement on New Years Day 2000 (he died later that 12 months of a coronary heart assault), Dan Cerveny has held the place. The keyboardist, too, is approaching 1 / 4 century of service to Native 70-558.

So, a tribute immediately to the skilled music makers of Omaha. Congratulations on 125 years. Go honk. Particularly oboists and bassoonists. The town is glad we’ve got you now.