Army Band Member Reflects on 35 Years of Service


(Saturday, November 25, 2006 7:42 AM EST)

In his 35 years with the U.S. Army Band - “Pershing's Own” - Sgt. Maj. Dallas Smith backed up Bob Hope, entertained soldiers around the globe and performed at the White House countless times.

But most close to his heart was his farewell concert with the U.S. Army Blues Jazz Ensemble, which took place on Nov. 16.

Smith began his career when Richard Nixon was in the White House and an unpopular war was raging in Southeast Asia. He will formally retire from the Army next May, but the recent Jazz Ensemble concert was his last scheduled performance.

“I'll miss working with such fine musicians every day,” Smith said in an interview. “There are so many guys in the band who are better than I am. It's been an honor to be on stage with them.”

The beginning of Smith's career as a military musician was unconventional.

Already in Washington, D.C., for basic training, Smith decided to try out for the Army Band at the suggestion of his professor at the Eastman School of Music. He auditioned on clarinet and electric bass, was accepted for both, and joined the band in 1972.

Smith started on clarinet in the U.S. Army Ceremonial Band, and also played saxophone for the U.S. Army Blues Jazz Ensemble. After two years, he permanently switched to playing bass, both upright and electric, in the jazz group.

Though he has mostly fond memories of his time in the group, being part of a military band during the 1970s was not always easy.

“When I came in, it was towards the end of the Vietnam era. Soldiers weren't always welcome when they'd come back home,” Smith said. “And sometimes when we'd go to college campuses to play, we weren't really welcome.”

He has seen the sentiment change over the years. People understand that even though they may disagree with government policy, they should support members of the Armed Forces, he said.

Smith said he is very grateful for the experience he had with the Fort Myer-based Army Band. The opportunity to stay with the group for more than three decades allowed him to make Northern Virginia his home, and, unlike many military families, he could raise his family in one place.

Smith is ready to move on to a new chapter of his life, but the band will always remain a part of him.

“When I came in, the musicianship was really good. The musicians these days are phenomenal,” he said. “Every time someone leaves, we find someone better than the guy who just left!”

Sgt. Maj. Dallas Smith, left, performs in concert with former "Tonight" bandleader Doc Severinsen.

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