House of David Bands
The Israelite House of David musicians played to audiences all over the world. Through the years, it is likely that the numerous House of David bands had played to well over 1 million people!
The followers of Mary and Benjamin, believed themselves to be the vanguard of an elect people. By adhering to a set of beliefs, pursuing a pious lifestyle and by faithful endeavors they were to prepare the way for the elect. Music was a fact of everyday life for House of David Israelites. It was a part of their personal life and integral to their worship. It was used for social functions and commercial enterprise. Their music reflected their heritage and expressed their religious values. It enabled personal growth and the achievement of communal goals. Almost every Israelite was involved in some form of musical expression. Adults played in Men's Bands and Lady's Bands. Children played in children's bands. Israelites sang in ones, twos, threes, fours, and fives and in larger choral groups. They formed comedy musical acts, string bands, marching bands, jazz bands and dance orchestras. They hand-crafted musical instruments for sale and for their own use and taught generations of non-members how to play. Members played and sang for their own entertainment and they performed on public stages in Benton Harbor and across America. For over a half century the music of the House of David provided entertainment to the public and made the Israelites famous in the process. The colony's music industry was a major component of their economic success, which in turn had a significant impact on the development of Southwestern Michigan. During the first half on the twentieth century the fame of the House of David was based as much on it's musical talents as on any other facet of its organization.
The members of the House of David were followers of the Christian Israelite faith. They believed in the teachings of a succession of prophets. Following an evangelizing tour of Australia, on the return to Benton Harbor the following year, the converted Australians marched single file from the train station to the colony. They had brought brass instruments from Australia and formed a brass band that played as they marched. These Australian musicians were to become the core of the House of David bands.
Like the Salvation Army the House of David deployed street corner bands with their preachers. Bands and preachers traversed the country together. Israelite bands were often to be seen and heard around the colony's buildings and soon the colonists found a crowd of non-members hanging around on weekends to hear the bands play. A bandstand in the Pear Orchard and a large birdhouse to the north of Bethlehem were built to entertain their "Gentile" visitors. Always the opportunists when it came to making money for their cause the Israelites had soon constructed an ice cream parlor, this rapidly grew and expanded to their own resort, which they named "The Springs of Eden". The opening of Eden Springs provided a commercial outlet for the Israelite's music. Colony members entertained the huge crowds. When crowds grew too large to entertain from a single stage members performed at multiple stages throughout the park. Men's bands, women's bands and boy's bands all played regularly at Eden Springs. With all the musical talent at the colony and the Vaudeville contacts made when booking acts into the Eden Springs Park it was a short step to hiring the bands out.
By 1910 bands were loaded on trains and sent on road trips to appear in theaters across the country. Before the turn of the century the most popular band and dance music was the march. John Phillip Sousa was famous as the March King and new dances such as the Foxtrot and Ragtime with their syncopated rhythms were the latest fad. Large brass bands were the popular musical group of the time. The original House of David road bands were formed as twenty piece brass bands. The 20-member brass band began touring on the Vaudeville Circuits shortly after the Eden Springs Park opened in 1908. The band toured mainly during the fall, winter and spring. In the warmer months most band members provided entertainment at Eden Springs or went back on the road as baseball players in the colonies famous ball teams. By 1920 the 20-member march band had moved from marches to Jazz making the House of David Band a pioneer in the performance of early Jazz.
The House of David road bands are forgotten today because there are no surviving sound recordings of the bands. While there is evidence that they recorded professionally no recording of these famous bands has come to light over our investigation of several years.
This extract from the Israelite House of David - Musical Traditions
is by courtesy of the author, Tom Meldrim