William R. McKanlass - Our Own Music Man - He Made the Keystone Kops Scurry and Scuttle


William R. "Mac" McKanlass





His Music Stilled, But Will Live On In Hearers' Hearts2

Local Music Leader Dies

McKanlass Succumbs to Attack Early Today

[newspaper article includes his picture]

"William R. 'Mac' McKanlass, colored pianist, orchestra leader, composer and music teacher, is dead, but the music he taught, played and loved lives on in the fingers of hundreds of players and the feet of thousands of dancers.

He died unexpectedly at the age of 57 in his home, 610 Beers street, at 3 a. m. today. He complained during the last week of a cold and visited a physician several days ago. Friday night he conducted his dance band at an engagement at the Marysville clubhouse of the Thumb District Edison club. He complained during the dance program that he did not feel well and talked very little on his way home after the dance. He drank a hot lemonade before he retired.

After he coughed several times and did not answer his wife, Mrs. Bertha McKanlass, when she spoke to him, she called Dr. D. W. Patterson and Howard O. Thomas, one of his best friends and a member of his dance orchestra. He was dead when they arrived a few minutes later. Death was attributed to coronary embolism.

He Died Like A Trouper

Like the finished trouper he was, 'Mac,' as he was affectionately known, conducted his last dance program with a smile. 'It was an effort for him even to play, but he completed his job and continued to smile,' a member of the band said today.

'What is more lovely than to die in the profession you love?' he asked Mrs. McKanlass almost prophetically a few days ago when she chided him for rehearsing strenuously when he did not feel well.

The question indicated the deep affection 'Mac' maintained for the profession, which was just as much a hobby to him throughout his life. His passing caused keen sorrow among hundreds of persons who took piano, drums, trombone, guitar, accordion and other instrumental lessons from him.

His death will be particularly grieved among members of the local service clubs for which he has played since their organization. Thousands, too, who learned to dance to his music and frolicked in later years while his band played, will mourn his passing.

He was outstanding in the district as a music teacher. His pupils came from all parts of the city and the surrounding territory, including Sarnia. In recent years he became particularly noted for his instruction on drums and the piano accordion. Many persons who play musical instruments here today were taught by 'Mac.'

Born in Kansas

'Mac' was born in Manhattan, Kas., Feb. 27, 1879. His parents were accomplished musicians and he conceded most of his success to the training and teaching received at their hands. His father was a graduate of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and taught music in the public schools of the Ohio city many years. The elder McKanlass was the first teacher of W. S. Baxter, famous Chicago banjo player, and made a tour of the world as violinist and musical director after years of study in Paris and Leipsig.

'Mac' started his musical career as a banjo player, and after mastering that instrument, turned successively to trap drums, tuba, trombone, and piano, specializing on the latter. He perfected his knowledge of the piano at private lessons in the studio of Madame Carrie Hubbard Webb, Chicago, one of the famous teacher-pianists of the country.

He traveled for years with some of the big minstrel shows that were popular a generation ago, including Price's Georgia Minstrels3, and was co-worker with such famous blackface stars as Billy Kersand, Tom McIntosh, and Sam Lucas, all of whom occupied enviable positions in the minstrel world and afterwards on the vaudeville stage. He also traveled with the Uncle Tom's Cabin shows, organized by Ed. F. Davis, with headquarters in Kalamazoo.

He came to Port Huron in 1899 and married Minnie Harris, Sarnia, in 1902. She died in 1920. He married Mrs. Bertha Brown Jan. 22, 1932.

Composed Popular Airs

He composed several successful musical numbers, the first of which was 'Bags of Rags' published by Joseph M. Daly, Boston, Mass. He also composed 'The Jester Rag,'4 'Evening Glow Waltzes,' 'Huron Glide Rag,' and other pieces, many of which are still played by the nation's leading orchestras.

He was associated with the late Roxy Marone, violinist, in a musical publishing business here. 'Mac' maintained offices at 309 1-2 Huron avenue many years.

He had done little composing in recent years, but had concentrated on music teaching and playing. He was especially interested in hearing the newwest tones developed in radios and recently purchased a new radio phonograph to replace a 1936 model.

He had a complete music library of popular, standard and classical music, including a complete section of the history and theory of music.

He frequently taught others the pleasures in music at his own sacrifice. He gave lessons to underprivileged children and crippled boys and girls at little cost to them, often without charge. He directed a dance orchestra in Port Huron many years. Visitors to the old Windermere hotel will recall the many occasions at which his band played. He played continuously for 15 years at the Lakeside dance pavillion from the day it was opened in 1918 until 1933. He did not play there in 1934 and 1935, but returned last summer.

Band Concert Postponed

He was a prominent member of the Port Huron City band in which he played the bass drums. The first winter concert of the band, scheduled for Sunday night in Port Huron High school gymnasium, has been postponed because of his death, to Jan. 31.

'Mac' was known for his retentive ability. Having once heard a musical selection, he was able to play it on the piano - an ability which made him invaluable at the service clubs and other gatherings at which he frequently played where numbers were requested. For years he played the piano at dinners of meetings of Exchange, Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary clubs. He entertained with lively and popular music. He played piano accompaniment for group singing and featured entertainers on the programs.

He had probably played 'America' on the piano more times than any other local resident, playing it in accompaniment to group singing of the anthem at the close of each service club meeting.

He was accompanist for the Schubert-Exchange minstrel shows, since they were organized.

He was busier this winter than he had been in previous years. His dance band is booked for many engagements throughout the year. He was giving more lessons than ever before.

Mr. McKanlass is survived by his widow, a sister, Mrs. Patti Moultrie, Chicago; two step-children, Herbert Alexander and Mrs. T. O. Hewitt, and a granddaughter, Betty Ann Hewitt, all of Detroit.

He was fond of Betty Ann and was happy when she spent her summers with him here. He taught her the music she loved so well and accompanied her to church and other places.

Funeral Services Monday

The remains will be in the family residence, 610 Beers street, until Monday noon. Funeral services will be held at 3 p. m. Monday in the Arthur E. Smith funeral home. Rev. Jonathan Turner, pastor of First Congregational church, will officiate. The Port Huron City band, directed by D. V. Graziadei, will play the funeral march. Burial will be in Lakeside cemetery. Members of the McKanlass dance orchestra will be pallbearers.

'Mac' was a charter member of the local Chamber of Commerce. He was also a member of Chatham lodge, No. 9, F. & A. M., Chatham, Ont., the National Academy of Music, and Port Huron Musicians Union No. 33."



Musicians To Take Part In Funeral Of Veteran Pianist5

"William R. 'Mac' McKanlass, prominent colored pianist, music teacher, composer and orchestra leader, who died unexpectedly early Saturday in his home, 610 Beers street, will be buried Monday afternoon in Lakeside cemetery in the presence of local musicians and others with whom he was associated many years.

Funeral services will be held at 3 p.m. in the Arthur E. Smith funeral home. Rev. Jonathan Turner, pastor of First Congregational church, will officiate. The Schubert quartet, composed of George D. MacComb, Wesley D. Collins, Gerald F. Collins and Harold M. Orr, will sing.

The Port Huron City band,6 of which Mr. McKanlass was a member many years and in which he played the bass drum, will play the music 'Mac' had frequently played in the funeral procession. The band will march through the business district ahead of the funeral cortege. With muffled drums the band will play the 'Funeral March' (Chopin) and 'Death March in Saul' (Handel). The band will also play at the cemetery and a bugler will sound taps.

Members of Port Huron Musicians union No. 33 will attend the services in a body.

The City band will complete arrangements for its participation in the services at a meeting at 10 a.m. today in Port Huron High school gymnasium. The band's first winter concert, scheduled for tonight, has been postponed to Jan. 31 because of the death of Mr. McKanlass."



Hundreds Of Friends Pay Final Tribute To Well-Known Musician7

"The high esteem in which William R. 'Mac' McKanlass, well known colored pianist, music teacher, composer and orchestra leader, who died Saturday in his home, 610 Beers street, was held in all walks of life was attested at his funeral Monday afternoon.

Some 500 persons crowded into the Arthur E. Smith funeral home to hear the final rites for the man who was a friend of all - white and colored. They were young, middle-aged and old. White persons sat beside colored persons. Rich mingled with the poor. Officers and members of local service clubs, at which 'Mac' played many years; former pupils who had been initiated into the pleasures of music under his able tutelage; musicians with whom he had played, and others, who loved his gracious smile and kind demeanor, joined in a last tribute to him.

It was one of the most impressive funerals ever held in Port Huron. Music, to which 'Mac' devoted his life, played an outstanding part in the rites.

Rev. Jonathan Turner, pastor of First Congregational church, officiated. He was assisted by Rev. H. G. Simmons, pastor of St. Paul's African Methodist Episcopal church.

The Schubert quartet, composed of George D. MacComb, Wesley D. Collins, Gerald F. Collins and Harold M. Orr, sang. As the remains were taken from the funeral home, the Port Huron City band, in which 'Mac' played for many years, played 'Nearer My God To Thee.'

The band led the funeral cortege from the funeral home on Seventh street to Court street, to Military street, to Park street, where it boarded a bus for Lakeside cemetery. With drum muffled, it played 'Funeral March' (Chopin) and 'Dead March In Saul' (Handel) as it proceeded through the business district.

The procession was more than three blocks long.

The band played 'Playel's Hymn' as the body was lowered into the grave. Frank E. Needham, Dr. Donald H. Phillips, William H. McLeod, Howard H. Thomas, Walter C. Cumming and Frank Shepherd, Jr., all of whom played in McKanlass orchestras, were pallbearers. Rev. Turner and Rev. A. F. Martin, pastor of First Baptist church, southwest Detroit, formerly of Port Huron, officiated at the burial.

The services ended as D. V. Graziadei, conductor of the city band, played taps.

Among the out-of-town persons who attended were Mrs. Patti Moultrie, Chicago, sister of Mr. McKanlass; Herbert Alexander, step-son; Mrs. T. O. Hewitt, step-daughter; Mr. Hewitt, and their daughter, Betty Ann; Mrs. Geneva Howlett, Mrs. Carrie Curtis, Mrs. Rosebud DeWhite, Mrs. Louise Moseley, Mrs. Frances Cole, Mrs. Hattie Lonzo, Mrs. Roosevelt Ankton, Mrs. Sadie Bailey, Mrs. Hattie Sancos, Mrs. Viola M. Perry, Mrs. Lucille Thompson, Mrs. Nannie Walker, Mrs. Mattie Kenny and Mrs. Briscoe Howlett, all of Detroit; Mr. and Mrs. Guy Wright, Sarnia; and Rev. Lewis Lawrence, LaPort, Ind., formerly of Port Huron."



Circuit Court8

"Mrs. Bertha McKanlass today filed petition for appointment of an administrator for the estate of her husband, William R. McKanlass, prominent local musician, who died Jan. 9. The widow and a sister are heirs to real estate valued at $4,000 and personal property worth $1,000."



W. H. McKanlass
father of
William R. McKanlass

extracted from:
Lesser-Known Cornet Soloists111
Chapter 3
Names and Citations of Many Lesser-known Cornetists from All Walks of Life

McKanlass, W. H. (The Freeman, 30 December 1899; 29 June 1901; 22 November 1902; 24 April 1909)

Known as "The Great McKanlass" or "Captain W. H. McKanlass", he was described as "the greatest living colored violinist" He was born in 1858, graduated from the Cincinnati College of Music in 1883 and continued his musical education Leipzig, Germany. He was the first African American instructor of music in the Cincinnati public school system and the first African American to be offered the position of Chief Musician of the U. S. Army in the Ninth Cavalry under General Hatch.

His connection with the cornet is that he played two cornets, two banjos, two harmonicas, and a total of twelve instruments at one time on stage. His main instrument, of course was the violin, but he did study and teach voice as well. He was paid $1,000.00 dollars a week to play his violin at McDaniel’s Theater in Seattle, the highest sum ever paid to an African American to that date. He was a manager of his own group, "The McKanlass Alabama Warblers," and often gave concerts with Lizzie Perry, soprano and impersonator. He was the first violinist to own his own private car and his salaries were incredible. He received $500 a week at the Fountain Theatre, California, $1,000 week at McDaniel’s Theatre in Seattle in 1889, and $500 week at the Masonic Temple in Chicago. He was paid $500 day at Yellowstone Park, as well.


1 "Perfessor" Bill Edward, Professional Patriotic Purveyor of Pleasingly Pianistic Pyrotechnics, http://www.perfessorbill.com/.

2 Port Huron Times Herald, 09-JAN-1937, pgs 1-2.

3 Thomas Edison made wax cylinders capturing the music of his time. You can LISTEN to The Georgia Minstrels thanks to Thomas Edison as hosted by Glenn Sage's website on cylinders, http://www.tinfoil.com/cm-9707.htm.

4 Mississippi State University's Percussion Ensemble played "Jester Rag" in their April 19, 1999 concert, http://msuinfo.ur.msstate.edu/msu_memo/pdfs/memo23-32.pdf.

5 Port Huron Times Herald, 10-JAN-1937, p 1. On the same day, the Port Huron Times Herald, Second Edition, lists the following under "Announcements-Obituary" on page 7: "McKANLASS - William R., died Friday at his residence, 610 Beers street. Remains will be at the residence until Monday noon. Funeral services will be held at 3 p.m. Monday from the Arthur E. Smith Funeral Home. Burial will be in Lakeside cemetery."

6 Port Huron City Band, undated photo, http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot1975.jpg.

7 Port Huron Times Herald, 12-JAN-1937, pgs 1-2. It is sad to note that on this day of sorrow, 14 people were shot in Flint during a riot at the Fisher Body No. 2 plant on Chevrolet avenue. The riot followed when a crowd outside the plant, gathered in near zero temperatures, discovered that the 200 sit-down strikers were not allowed to bring in food.

8 Port Huron Times Herald, 29-JAN-1937, p 7. According to the Inflation Calculator, comparing currency values for 1937 to 2003, $4,000 would have been $50,769.50 and $1,000 would have been equivalent to $12,692.37, http://www.westegg.com/inflation/.

111 Richard I. Schwartz, The Cornet Compendium, The History and Development of the Nineteenth-Century Cornet, http://www.angelfire.com/music2/thecornetcompendium/index.html; Lesser-known Cornet Soloists, Chapter 3, Names and Citations of Many Lesser-known Cornetists from All Walks of Life, http://www.angelfire.com/music2/thecornetcompendium/lesser-known_cornet_soloists_2.html.