Segregated 350th Field Artillery Band: ‘The Black Devil Band took well in York’
The (York, Pa.) Gazette and Daily previewed a performance of the 350th Field Artillery “Black Devil” Band, scheduled to perform at the Orpheum on April 17, 1919. Lt. J. Tim Brymn, led the band. The band’s performances impressed a large York audience. Background posts: When York County rolled up its red carpet to people of color and Yorktowne to continue as overnight success and York’s 221 E. Princess St. home to telling ironies.
The all-black 350th Field Artillery Band, known as the “Black Devils,” drew encores in two appearances in post-World War I York.
“Well, to make a long story short, the Black Devil Band took well in York, and it merited all the praise that it got,” a Gazette and Daily reviewer wrote.
That review, in itself, is a bit of an artifact of history, even going beyond the obvious reporting about a performance by a segregated band from a segregated military unit… .
The reviewer made light of the defeated Germans in the war that ended six months before that performance.
“It was something like playing a burial march for a Hun – so lively and jolly, you know,” the reviewer wrote.
Such triumphalism and post-war policies incensed the German nation, and history attests that the Nazis and World War II grew from the ashes of the “Hun” about two decades later.
The reviewer ended with a piece of information reported in a matter-of-fact tone.
Some officials wondered whether quarters could be found for a band-sized number of black musicians.
“But George W. Bowles and Samuel Armstrong, proprietor of the Belvidere Restaurant, got on the job and placed them with the best colored families of the city,” the reviewer wrote.
Readers at that time would have known that hotels were not open to blacks.
Voni B. Grimes has written that often visiting black musicians and other performers stayed at the home of Helen Peaco and others in the black community.
That caused a young Voni Grimes to make the vow that he would live in the Yorktowne Hotel some day – a goal that he later fulfilled.