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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Paul Lavalle (1908-97)

Joseph Usifer was born September 6, 1908, in Beacon, New York. Joe played clarinet in his high school band and wanted a career in music but, in order to please his parents, told them he planned to study law at Columbia University and got a scholarship to go there. However, on the way there, he decided to go to the Julliard School to study music. He studied composition with Joseph Schillinger. In the 1930s, he moved to Havana, Cuba, to play clarinet and saxophone in bands down there. It was in Cuba that he became Paul Lavalle. After this, he changed his style of music and joined the newly formed NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. While working at NBC, he also completed a number of his own arrangements and compositions, most of which were heard on the radio.

In 1944, he became the composer and arranger for the Chamber Society of Lower Basin Street, heard on NBC. It was on that show, he met an up and coming arranger named Frank DeVol (1911-99), who would end up being one of the most famous composers and arrangers for television. He continued playing clarinet with the Symphony until 1948, when he organized the Band of America. The original sponsor was Cities Service service stations, today known as Citgo. The Band of America would have several sponsors. It would eventually move onto television and would function as a professional band until 1965, when it played daily at the New York World's Fair. Paul wrote a number of compositions for the band, including the march Big Joe, the Tuba. That march, written with melody lines in the bass (tuba) part, was especially written as a solo for Joe Tarto (1902-86). Joe was one of the few tuba players who played tuba with name bands during the Swinging Years (1936-54). Joe had a very special tuba made which was huge. He named it after himself, Big Joe. This was the tuba that Paul Lavalle wanted Joe to use when he was playing that march. Other tuba players in that band included William J. Bell (previously mentioned here).

When the Band of America disbanded, Paul Lavalle became the orchestra leader for the Radio City Music Hall in New York City. A few years after he took that post, he led the McDonald's All-American Marching Band. This was a band of 102 members, which featured two high school musicians from each of the fifty states, plus one each from the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The band performed at the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, and Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. The band had each of it's members wear his/her own school uniform, plus an overlay to go over it which listed the member's home state, plus matching shakoes (hats). In later years, the sousaphone players didn't wear the same hat as the others and wore berets. Paul Lavalle was succeeded by Dr. William P. Foster (1919- ), director of the Florida A & M University Marching 100 in 1980. The McDonald's band was last seen and heard of in 1992.

In his personal life, Paul Lavalle married late. He wed English singer and motion picture actress Muriel Angelus (born Muriel Angelus Findlay, 1909-2004). They had a daughter named Suzanne. Paul Lavalle died at home in Harrisonburg, Virginia, June 24, 1997, at the age of 88.

1 comment:

Justin Natvig said...

I am so happy to discover this. Paul Lavalle was my great uncle. Thank you for sharing.

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