Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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March 15, 2009

Memories from inside Colonial Theater stand strong

BLUEFIELD — On Friday when the city of Bluefield acquired the old Colonial Theater with intentions of razing both the theater as well as the old Matz Hotel building that stands beside it, another chapter in Bluefield’s colorful history neared an end. The theater’s incredible art deco entrance is already gone, but the memories of events that took place inside the theater live on.

When he learned that the partial collapse of the Milner-Matz Hotel had destroyed the marquee and front lobby of the Colonial, Mel Saunders, retired Bluefield High School Beaver Band director, went in search of some correspondence a friend had sent to him about a year ago.

The research materials Saunders was excited about concerned a Nov. 15, 1926 appearance in the Colonial Theater by “the march king,” America’s premier composer of marches, John Philip Sousa. Saunders said that Sousa appreciated the members of his band so much that the great band leader did not record his music, so the band could earn a living performing at concert dates.

“Bluefield music lovers are promised a treat on Nov. 15, when John Philip Sousa and his band will appear at the Colonial Theater in two concerts,” according to an advance article that appeared in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in October 1926. “This is the 34th season of Sousa and his band. Although the march king’s fame is such that he might have sent out other musical organizations trained and presented by him, the only Sousa’s band has been the one with which the great leader himself has appeared.”

Sousa was born in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 6, 1854 and died March 6, 1932. He was appointed to head the U.S. Marine Band in 1880, and authored some of his most memorable compositions during the next 12 years including “The Washington Post,” “Hands Across the Sea,” and his incomparable “Stars and Stripes Forever,” to name just a few. He toured with his band from 1892 until 1931, and performed 15,623 concerts during that period.

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