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date: 19 February 2020

Circus Musiclocked

  • Charles Conrad


The first American circus was presented in Philadelphia by English equestrian master John Bill Ricketts. The Philadelphia Federal Evening Post dated May 15, 1793 is the first known newspaper mention of circus music: “He dances on the rope, at the same time plays several pieces of music on the violin in concert with the band.” A little more than a year later, the same paper announced: “Mr. Ricketts has provided a Grand Band of Music, under the direction of Mr. Young.” The makeup of these bands are as yet unknown. An 1893 newspaper article quotes a player from the 1833 Bailey’s Circus as mentioning that “clarionet bands” (generally 7–10 piece bands of clarinets, natural horns, and serpent or ophicleide) were used. Local brass bands were employed in the 1830s, and with the advent of convenient railroad travel, bands began to tour with the circuses. The earliest “star” circus musician was keyed-bugle virtuoso Edward “Ned” Kendall....

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