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HomeNewsArchivesNew Book Shows V.I. History Through Eyes of Bandmaster, Booster

New Book Shows V.I. History Through Eyes of Bandmaster, Booster

March 31, 2008 — A unique and intimate glimpse of V.I. history, The Memoirs of Alton Augustus Adams Sr.: First Black Bandmaster of the United States Navy, is being published this month.
It is edited by Mark Clague, University of Michigan assistant professor of musicology, American culture and African-American studies. Clague calls the memoirs "a long-awaited and major publication on Virgin Islands life."
The book is published by the University of California Press, with an introduction by Samuel Floyd Jr., director emeritus of the Center for Black Music Research and series editor for Music of the African Diaspora. It is published under the George Gund Foundation imprint in African-American Studies.
Clague first became aware of the documents while working as an editorial assistant at the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College in Chicago in 1994, when Adams' papers were sent to the university for preservation. Clague says Floyd, a personal friend of Adams', encouraged him to explore the materials — "boxes upon boxes" — and later asked him to edit them for publication, a project Clague has pursued since 1998.
Adams was not only bandmaster and composer — he was also a journalist, founder of the V.I. Press Corps, writer for several music periodicals, hotelier, co-founder of the first local hotel association (where he served 19 years as president), founder of the local Red Cross, and creator of the first public school music curriculum. Those close to him say his life was directed by his belief in the basic goodness of the people in the community he loved.
Perhaps educator and historian Ruth Moolenaar says it best in the book's introduction: "The people of the Virgin Islands were without a feeling of self and had no sense of belonging. Alton Adams and his music inspired us to become Virgin Islanders."
Adams Sr. was, at long last, elected to the American Bandmasters Association by unanimous vote of the 132 members — the first posthumous election ever made — in March 2006. Last May, after more than 70 years, Adams was honored in a colloquium. (See "American Bandmasters Membership Finally Extended to Alton Adams at Colloquium Celebrating His Life.")
The memoirs will be formally presented to Gov. John deJongh Jr. in late April at a ceremony with Adams Jr., other family members and Claque. Local businessmen Ricardo Charaf, Neil Prior and Sebastiano Cassinelli Paiewonsky have each purchased 25 copies of the book, which will be distributed to all the territory's schools.
W.C. Handy and a Two-Finger Typist
Adams Jr. recently reflected on the senior Adams from his second floor office in the 18th century brick building where he was raised. As he begins to talk about his famous father, he easily digresses.
It's inevitable. The Navy's first black bandmaster had an outstanding musical career where he brushed elbows with everyone from John Phillip Sousa and W. C. Handy to Irving Berlin, but that just pushes open the door.
"He started his memoirs in 1970," Adams says. "He always said he wasn't a historian, he just remembered things, but he felt he owed a glimpse of the territory as he lived it."
The younger Adams can't remember how many years it took. It was a three-pronged process.
"He did it all with his own two-finger typing," he marvels. "He used a Smith-Corona portable — I think it was green. First, he taped it, then his good friend, George Tyson the historian, put it into written form, and then my father would edit that. It wasn't until after his death that we made the effort to have it published."
The room, a stone-walled sanctuary flooded with morning light, is filled with decades of memorabilia from both the Adamses. Bookshelves are stuffed; desks and tables are piled with papers of every nature. Adams moves books and papers about on a well-laden table to take a picture. He laughs.
"You see, it won't look like this in an hour. This is how I work."
Adams is a tall, contemplative man with a generous smile and the outgoing traits of his father.
He shares a profound sadness in his father's life.
"Dad was meticulous with his papers," he says. "He had accumulated reams of material. In 1933 he suffered a tragedy, a fire that killed my sister and destroyed all his papers. He was devastated; it took him a long time to recover from that."
A handmade mahogany grandfather clock has pride of place on a nearby table.
"It's the only thing my father had left after the fire," Adams Jr. says. "His father, Jacobs Adams, made it. He was a shipwright for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. on Hassel Island, where he worked for 37 years."
Adams gets up, gently running his hand over a stack of yellowing newspapers. They are the bulletins that Adams Sr. published in the 1940s.
"I'm talking to Robert Morone at the Enid Baa Library, where I want to donate them," he says. "They're so fragile they have to be scanned only once."
Reflecting on what he misses most about his father, Adams Jr. says, "His commitment to the islands, his music, which he believed was the best way of getting people together."
The book is now available at Dockside Bookshop or at Amazon.com.
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