The history of the U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet Band is vague at best. Indeed, it is difficult to find much in the way of historical documentation of the U.S. Navy's musical program at all. Perhaps we can contribute something tangible while our memories are still fresh. The following is some of what we know.
The Band's History
"Remembering The Coach"
"Back in the 1950's, Reader's Digest published a series of articles entitled 'The Most Unforgettable Character I ever met'. For me that person was Vice Admiral Gerald E. Miller, the Commanding Officer of the United States Sixth Fleet from 1971-1973......" and so begins a wonderful testimony by Tom Wholley MUCS (Ret) who, as a brand-new Apprentice Seaman worked for two years under Admiral Miller.
To read the Tom's recollections Admiral Miller's efforts to make the 6th Fleet Band the premier big band in Europe during the 1970's, Click HERE!
We know that the Singers and Dancers were added to the Sixth Fleet Band in 1972, but what exactly was, and who participated in the "Sixth Fleet Music Show", sometimes referred to as the "Sixth Fleet Band & Singers"?
The Sixth Fleet Band in the 1970's
We received the following email from Jon Mattison who was involved in the start-up of the mega-group known as the Sixth Fleet Band and Singers:
"I thought I would shed some information on the 6th Fleet singers.
My name is Jon Mattison. From 1971-74 I was stationed with the 6th Fleet Band in Gaeta.
I was asked by Admiral Gerald Miller, ComSixthFlt, if I would organized and start a choral group made up of enlisted, officers and their spouses. As a third class PO I said I would, and the end result was a group that accomplished a lot of positive PR in the Med.
The Navy in it's Wisdom came to the conclusion that a Third Class PO wasn't rank enough to conduct an ensemble this quality, so they replaced me with a E8 from The Sea Chanters. Most of my tour was on the USS Springfield, and the last year was on the USS Little Rock.
The music program got so big they replaced Chief Charlie Cardwell, with CWO Clements.
Through the music program, the Navy was able to get our ships moored in Barcelona, more updates for Sigonella, and a higher degree of positive presence in the Med.
I hope I have provided some more information than you have at present.
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Finding places to perform never seemed to be a real problem for the Sixth Fleet Band and Singers. In addition to the parade ground and the dance floor, there was and endless list of hospitals, schools and orphanages to entertain, not to mention the official functions typically requiring services of first rate Navy musicians. Click HERE to see a list of some of the places visited by the band as U.S. Navy ambassadors of goodwill.
The Sixth Fleet Band, the "Singers", and the "Dancers"
Perhaps the best description of this great group of shipmates and entertainers is from an article in the U.S. Naval Station Rota, Spain's unofficial bi-weekly newspaper the "Jack Tar". Here is what the January 24, 1974 edition had to say:
Music Show to perform here Sunday
The Sixth Fleet Music Show will perform at the station theater on Sunday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. Admission Free.
The 21-piece Sixth Fleet Band, under the direction of Master Chief Musician Jerry S. Clements, USN, is the U.S. Navy's largest seagoing musical group.
Stationed aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Little Rock CLG 4, flagship of the Commander, U.S. Sixth fleet, the Band has appeared in public concerts and on radio and television in every major port city visited by the Sixth Fleet in Europe and North Africa.
In addition, it has won applause on the parade ground, from the dance floor, and at hospitals, schools, and orphanages throughout the Mediterranean area.
The Band continually demonstrates that the international language of music easily overcomes all barriers; that location and nationality make little difference when the Band presents its stage band music, swings out with American jazz, or plays a local favorite from its large repertoire of popular tunes.
Versatility is necessary in a musical organization which plays so many varied forms of music. The majority of band members have mastered at least two instruments. This coupled with an intensive practice schedule enables the band to perform as a full military band, 21-piece stage and concert band, or as a jazz, rock and Dixieland combo consisting of three or more players.
Every man in the Sixth Fleet Band must be well-qualified in the field of music prior to entering the Navy. To qualify as a naval musician, he is required to pass an examination demonstrating his technical proficiency of a major instrument and his ability to sight read music.
The musicians are then enrolled at the U. S. Navy's School of Music, where they study music theory, receive additional instrumental training, and perform with concert and dance bands. Upon graduation from the School of Music, the musicians are assigned to afloat and shore-based Navy bands throughout the world.
The fifty members of the Sixth Fleet singers are not professional performers. They are Navy men and Navy wives. The commissioned officers and enlisted men of the group all have full-time jobs in the crew of USS Little Rock, the Fleet Flagship, or on the staff of the fleet commander. The women all have husbands aboard the Little Rock. Their homes and families are in Gaeta, Italy, which is homeport for the fleet flagship.
For a music show in a Mediterranean city, the men arrive on the flagship and the women travel by plane to join the show.
When performances are completed, the ladies return to their homes in Italy to await the return of their husbands in the ship.
The singers have varied backgrounds. They claim as birthplaces 24 different states within the United States. Others of the group are from Germany, Greece, Italy, Costa Rica, Sweden, and France.
Most of the Singers play some musical instrument, and many have college degrees in Music. Still others have special training in language, art, education, chemistry, nuclear engineering and nursing. One singer has had advanced training in speech therapy for the deaf.
All the singers are volunteers. They are not paid to perform, nor are they ordered to any area. They decide among themselves where and when they will stage a show. They average about three performances a month.
Since the first performance in Gaeta in December 1971, the Singers, in company with the Sixth fleet Band, have performed in the 1972 Munich Cultural Olympics; Spain; Greece; Portugal; Turkey; Yugoslavia; France; Belgium and various islands and ships in the Mediterranean.
Despite their differences in background, the Singers are bonded together by the pleasure they receive performing together and communicating in the international language - music.
The Friday, October 18, 1974 edition of USS Little Rock's "Tiger Rag" newspaper ran the following:
THE SIXTH FLEET Singers is an all volunteer group of about 35 dependent wives, whose husbands serve aboard the USS Little Rock or for the Staff of COMSIXHFLT.
The chorus is an integral part of the SIXTH FLEET Music Show along with the SIXTH FLEET Band.
The Music Show is geared to the performance of American music and includes rock and roll, ballad, folk music, and Broadway hits. The Singers also offer an all-girl Barbershop Quartet and the Flappers , a group of dancers who feature the Charleston and the Can-Can.
The ports and capitals of Europe are the stages for the Singers. Since, June1974, the singers have appeared in Toulon and Nice, France: Maastricht, Holland; Rota, Barcelona, and Tarragona, Spain. Their lively spirit and sincere goodwill have endeared them to audiences throughout the Mediterranean.
If you have the desire and the ability to sing, please contact Senior Chief Musician Reinhardt, Director at Box 160, Gaeta.
The chorus rehearses in the NSA Detachment building eery Tuesday and Thursday evening at 7 p.m.
Add your voice to this fine group and see more of Europe in the process. You ll be glad you did.
The "Sixth Fleet Band" Today
" Naval Forces Europe Band is the U.S. Navy's official band in Europe. Stationed in Naples, Italy, and under the operational control of Commander, Naval Forces Europe and Africa......... The Band reaches a combined audience of more than 60 million people throughout over 35 countries in the course of over 500 engagements annually.......
Uniquely, the NAVEUR Band is comprised of active duty Navy and Marine Corps musicians, augmented by foreign-service musicians from the United Kingdom, Greece and Italy who unite to fashion dynamic specialty units designed to fulfill almost any possible request for musical support. These units include the Wind Ensemble, Ceremonial Band, Marching Band, Brass Quintet, Woodwind Quintet, a Brass/Show Band, Jazz Ensemble, Pop Music Ensembles, and Protocol Combo.
Whether performing traditional American marches, Top-40 hits, or authentic renditions of local international favorites, the Naval Forces Europe Band delights audiences, proving time and time again that music truly is the universal language appreciated by all."
(From Facebook's U.S. NAVAL FORCES EUROPE BAND web page.)
The "U.S. Navy Band" Washington DC
"The dusty, long-forgotten logbooks of our early American men of war tell us little about the evolution of music in the Navy. What we do know is that the United States Navy Band has an exciting and rich history that is steeped in the great traditions of our emerging nation. The Navy and Navy music literally "grew up" together to each become a powerful force in our nation's history. The rich traditions of Navy music stem from the historic Washington Navy Yard......"
(From the U.S. Navy Band website.)
|The Singers and Dancers||The
Places they Played
|Music they Performed
||The Groups & Ensembles