The following is a guest post from Archivist Jane Cross. Leonard B. Smith (1915-2002) was an American cornetist, concert band conductor, and band music publisher. Though he is regarded as one of the finest cornet soloists of the 20th century, Smith is primarily known as the leader of the Detroit Concert Band, which performed and recorded from the mid 1940s through the 1980s.
I’ve not tried to acquire quantity for its sake; I’ve sought out the music I want to play. There are manuscripts in the hands of Herbert L. Clarke, Mayhew Lake, John Philip Sousa, and Edwin Franko Goldman, among others. I only hope whoever acquires my library will share my sentiments with respect to its musical significance and take decent care of it. It’s the quintessence of the heritage of the music of the American classic concert band.”
-Leonard B. Smith
When I opened a folder to find Jaime Texidor’s “Amparito Roca,” arranged for band in 1935 by Aubry Winter, I was instantly transported back to a sixth grade band rehearsal. Clinging to the clarinet through the driving, staccato opening, I hung on for dear life as the Spanish melody nearly swirled out of my reach and captured my imagination. This title and many more brought back fond memories as I worked through Leonard B. Smith’s concert band library and papers these past few months.
Leonard Bingley Smith was born in 1915 in upstate New York and began studying the cornet at age nine. Within two years he was under the tutelage of the eminent music educator Ernest S. Williams, which led to the formation of lifelong relationships with composer/arrangers Erik W. G. Leidzén and Mayhew Lake, and conductors Arthur Pryor and Edwin Franko Goldman. With Smith’s musical lineage thus established, he moved to Detroit in 1937 to assume the principal trumpet chair with the Detroit Symphony, which also included performances for the Ford Sunday Evening Hour radio broadcasts. His association with the radio did not stop there, however, as he was the trumpet soloist one heard when tuning in to each episode of the Lone Ranger, playing that iconic opening fanfare from the finale of Rossini’s William Tell Overture. Smith was also the solo cornetist with The Goldman Band during the summers of 1936 through 1942. In 1940, he married model and University of Michigan graduate Helen Rowe, who also became his very capable publicist.
After World War II, Smith added conducting to his repertoire, establishing in 1946 what became the Detroit Concert Band (DCB). Performing and recording for more than forty years, the ensemble established itself at the country’s preeminent civilian concert band during the latter half of the 20th century. In order to support their demanding schedule, Smith began acquiring music to form the concert band’s library, which eventually encompassed approximately 3,200 works. One of his first acquisitions was George W. Stewart’s collection, which contains many holograph arrangements by Emil Mollenhauer and William C. Rietzel. Smith also acquired music from the libraries of Frank Scofield, Ernest S. Williams, John M. Flockton, William Smith, William McEvitt, and the Germania Band of Boston. Several works in the library were prepared for The Goldman Band by Anton Weiss and Wilhelm Strasser under the supervision of Edwin Franko Goldman. Arrangers and composers Edgar L. Barrow, Mayhew Lake, Erik W. G. Leidzén, L. P. (Louis Philippe) Laurendeau, and Paul Van Loan are also notable and prevalent. In time, Smith began contributing his own compositions and arrangements. He also acquired part of the Ford Sunday Evening Hour orchestra library, approximately 225 titles largely comprising manuscripts for custom arrangements created for performances with soloists such as Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz, and conductors Percy Faith and Fritz Reiner.
As a cornet soloist, one who performed a world record 525 solos in 1939, Smith also amassed a collection of solo works, brass ensemble music, and method books, including two early editions of Jean-Baptiste Arban’s Method for the Trumpet. When he was not playing, conducting, teaching, or publishing, Smith was still heavily engaged in the world of music, as evidenced by the news clippings, photographs, and concert programs he collected, as well as the lively correspondence he maintained with the industry’s leading figures.
Leonard B. Smith loomed large on the American concert band stage for most of the 20th century. Now fully processed and described, the Leonard B. Smith papers are now open for research.