Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Story of Disneyland's Original Music Man

By Keith Mahne

In more than a half-century as one of the world’s greatest bandmasters, Vesey Walker’s proudest achievement was his Disneyland Band. Vesey organized and directed more than 50 college, military, school, and youth bands over his career, but at Disneyland, the master “music man” finally found the one place in the world to organize a thoroughly professional band, performing daily throughout the year—not just for Saturday football games or annual parades. This is the story of Disneyland's original music man, including a rare 1956 Disneyland concert recording, that you won't want to miss...

(While you read the history of Disneyland's original music man, click on the Disney Avenue Music Player's playlist button at the top right-hand corner of the page and scroll down to the last track, number 192 and enjoy the sounds of the Disneyland Band recorded in 1956. Remember, the Disney Avenue Music Player is only accessible on the desktop version of our site. If you are on a mobile device you can find the recording at the end of this article.) 

Vesey Walker's Disneyland engagement started as a two week run for the Park's opening in 1955. After those two weeks were up, Vesey and the Band found themselves as a vital part of Walt Disney's Disneyland. The Disneyland Band, under Vesey's leadership, had performed for more than 50 million people from all over the world, including dignitaries ranging from prime ministers to presidents.

Vesey Walker and the Disneyland Band has been seen on television shows and heard on records around the world. The band had one of the largest repertoires with more than 250 numbers memorized and hundreds of other unique arrangements in its musical library.

Born in Sheffield, England, in 1893, Walker mastered the clarinet and saxophone when he was just eight years old. At 11 he joined the Sheffield Boys Brigade Band. In 1912, he decided to come to the United States because "all the famous bands were here." After World War I, Walker traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and organized a small combo which played in the Appleton-Green Bay area. "It snowed a lot back there," Vesey once recalled, "but the warm response of Wisconsin people sure made up for it."

Within ten years he organized bands in 30 schools surrounding the Milwaukee area. He also established and became head bandmaster of the Marquette University Band in 1930. But it was the Milwaukee American Legion Band which he organized in 1925 that brought Vesey his greatest honors. Under his skillful leadership the band won seven state and four national contests, then entered the International Band Contest in Geneva, Switzerland where it won two first prizes... one for the world's best band and the other for Walker as world's best band director.

In his mid-thirties, bandmaster Walker moved to Hollywood where he conducted musical scores for such films as "May Time," "Annie Get Your Gun," and many others. But the sound of the marching band remained his first love. A year after his arrival on the West Coast, Walker organized the Los Angeles Elks Club "Troppers" marching band of Rose Bowl Parade fame. He personally led them for twenty years in the annual event.

A legend in his profession, Vesey Walker has won more than 50 awards plus honorary titles of colonel in Wisconsin and national commander of the All American Band Corps and Judges Association. Walker once reminisced about his achievements and always considered coming to Disneyland as the high point of his career. "Here I have the finest musicians in the United States, most of whom have been with me for more than ten years," he proudly recalled.

This love of his band helped Vesey defeat an attack of a rare and crippling spinal virus that almost took his life and paralyzed him for months. Doctors told him he would never walk again, but he would not accept it. "I wouldn't give up," he once recalled. "I had to get back to my band." He spent weeks learning to move just one finger. Gradually, after months of painful effort, he regained control of everything except his legs. The great bandsman spurned crutches "because I was afraid I would begin to rely on them too much." Just one year after he was stricken, reluctantly using a cane he lead the Disneyland band down Main Street, U.S.A., once again. A few weeks later he threw away the cane.

Vesey Walker retired in 1970, and passed away in November 1977. He became a Disney Legend in 2005 and will always be Disneyland's original music man...

And now friends, you can hear Vesey Walker and the Disneyland Band in this amazing time capsule that was recorded live, in Disneyland, upon its very infancy in 1956. Under the direction of the band leader extraordinaire himself, the album contains several of the Disneyland Band's most requested arrangements, including memorable Disney tunes, early 20th century standards, and popular marches. Enjoy...

(For your listening pleasure, please remember to pause the Disney Avenue Music Player at the top left-hand corner of the page prior to playing the video below if you are on a desktop computer.)


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true everyday.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful story, and what an outstanding name "Vesey Walker" every marching band leader should be named "Walker" !