J. Nolan Wilton's Boy and Kid Bands
Wed, 01/26/2022 - 11:52am admin
Several years ago, I was invited to the home of Ron White to look at a small, maybe five by seven-inch scrapbook made one hundred years earlier by Willow Springs businessman J. Nolan Wilton. I've written about Wilton before, and it would take another dozen articles to detail the many accomplishments of this multi-talented man. The scrapbook Ron wanted me to see depicted in news clippings and a couple of photographs Wilton's creation of two unique youth bands that immediately received local and regional acclaim.
Jason Nolan Wilton grew up in Willow Springs, briefly left for a job in Arkansas, and returned to his hometown in 1904 to start a store. His variety store called the "Cyclone Racket" was very successful, and Wilton became the most active citizen promoting Willow Springs. At the end of 1904, he married Lucy Campbell, and the couple took up residence in the back of the store. The couple had three daughters; Winifred, born 1906; Nola Louise, born 1911, lived only five days; and Lenore, born 1916.
At the busiest time of their lives, the Wiltons took up the demanding task of creating a boy's band. Wilton was an accomplished amateur musician and active in his church's choir. Lucy was also talented musically, and soon after their marriage, they were engaged in sharing that talent in the community.
The Willow Springs Republican reported in April 1913 the first concert of a boy's band. The couple had single-handedly recruited, trained, and uniformed the "Marine Band" composed of young boys in a remarkably short time. The article read, "The concert on the streets last Saturday afternoon by Wilton's Marine Band was almost remarkable and drew a large crowd out to hear them. The boys, considering the time they have been organized, played like old band men. It has only been about six weeks since Nolan Wilton began getting the boys together, and some of them, at the beginning, did not know one note from another."
The article reported the band "played four good pieces on the street," including a march, overture, and waltz. The paper continued, "This only shows what boys can do when they have the proper training, and they should be encouraged as well as their director. They were dressed in their white sailor uniforms and put up a fine appearance. A collection was taken, and it amounted to about $10, which goes to paying the expenses and to buy music. This is one of the best advertisements Willow Springs can have."
Nolan Wilton wasted no time using his band to advertise Willow Springs, utilizing the train to take them to surrounding towns to show off the boy's talents. When Cabool hosted a regional Odd Fellow's Club Convention in October 1913, their Texas County President wrote, "When we say that it is a perfect wonder for a man to train small boys in such a short time to be as perfect in rendering music, is putting it very mild. I also wish to say to the parents of these boys, that we thank you very kindly in allowing the boys to come here, and we can say that no father ever took better care of his own boys than Brother Wilton did of the boys composing the band. And Willow Springs should feel proud that they have a man that is capable and willing to use sho much of his time for the general benefit of the public."
In April 1914, the West Plains Gazette announced that the Boy's Band had appeared at the local Boy Scout Jamboree in the Famous Theatre downtown after a long day of being entertained as guests of the Scouts. They wrote, "When it comes to making music, this band delivers the goods. The overtures and solos were in perfect unison, showing the good training the boys have been given." The boys were dressed in blue and white sailor suits for this event."
In May 1914, Wilton received a letter from the Star Chautauqua System based in Kansas, offering to engage the band on a ten-week schedule playing for crowds throughout the Midwest. That would be an impossibility considering the band was already had a heavy local commitment, and the offer was declined, though the group did play at least one engagement.
Several postcards exist documenting the band's appearance in area towns. One shows the band marching in a parade in Alton, Missouri, and another shows the group assembled for the Birch Tree Missouri Fair in 1913. All in these photos have a severe expression, including Wilton.
In 1916 Nolan Wilton had started another business, a Willow Springs Ford automobile and farm tractor dealership, but he still found time to spend with his boys.
During America's participation in World War I, the band was by necessity rationed like the rest of the country to less travel. The 1918 Influenza Epidemic also halted the band's activities through 1920. When those restrictions were lifted, Wilton returned to action.
In 1921, J. Noland Wilton abruptly switched gears and changed his band to include girls and boys. By then, Wilton had also formed and sponsored his own town basketball team, a glee club, and was serving as the Mayor of Willow Springs. The West Plains Journal predicted the band to be a "Big Success" and wrote in May 1921, "Music hath charms even for the savage, but Wilton's Kid Band of Willow Springs will charm anybody. There are twenty-four members in this band of boys and girls, all from the Willow Springs school, under the leadership of the wide awake mayor of Willow Springs. The members of this musical organization wear white uniforms and attract much attention, and their music is greatly enjoyed wherever they play. Mayor Wilton, who is an enthusiastic musician, deserves much praise for organizing this splendid band which furnishes fine music."
Also, in 1921, The Mountain View Standard noted of the new band, "J. Noland Wilton of Willow Springs, who several months ago conceived and carried out the unique idea of organizing and instructing a 25 piece band, composed of young boys and girls of his home town, from 12 to 18 years of age, and who has borne practically all the expense of same, brought them down to make music for the Farmers' Picnic last Wednesday, and it was certainly a treat to hear them. Mr. and Mrs. Wilton, both accomplished musicians, have worked hard, giving their time and money freely, and they have produced a musical organization that should be, and is an honor to any town. Willow should be proud of them, as is Mr. and Mrs. Wilton."
In November 1921, the band headed a funeral procession as the bodies of Guy M. Holloway and Clyde Holloway were returned from Europe and interred in the Willow Springs Cemetery. They had also supplied music for the Willow Springs July 4th celebration at the City Park, and in 1922 the West Plains Journal reported that in Willow Springs, "Memorial Day was observed with a parade headed by the Wilton Band and soldiers in uniform, who marched to the cemetery and decorated the soldiers' graves. There was also a program given at the Star Theatre in the afternoon and a picture show in the evening for the American Legion."
The Wilton's continued to invest in Willow Springs for the remainder of their lives. Though their businesses were successful, they put the money back into their community and church and were not wealthy monetarily late in life. Their wealth was in the community and the people they served, especially the kids. Nationally known circus entertainer Earl Shipley, who played in Wilton's first boy's band, attributed the experience to his start in show business. Looking at the band member lists published in the newspaper articles and show programs included in Wilton's scrapbook, I recognize names of civic leaders and business people who also impacted their community for good. Perhaps someday we can recognize the Wilton's by naming a community youth center in their honor.