Note: These history pages are a collection of stories about the Singer Band compiled from a variety of sources, including items from personal collections, books and newspapers. We are researching a more complete and accurate history of the band and hope to publish it soon.
The historic Singer Band of Mechanicsburg is the modern-day extension of a band formed sometime in 1854 or 1855. Known as the Keystone Cornet Band, the group changed its name to the Seventh Pennsylvania Voluntary Infantry Band, led by Harry Greaves, when the members joined the service during the Civil War.
The Keystone Cornet Band was one of the earliest musical organizations in central Pennsylvania, and it performed at all public festivities.
The Keystone Cornet Band became The Singer Band in 1862, named for David S. Singer, a cornetist of the time, and enjoyed an excellent reputation for at least three-quarters of a century. There are a few references to the band at least ten years earlier using the name of the Silver Cornet Band, though the historical connection to The Singer Band cannot be established with certainty.
Following the war, David Singer was named director and the band became known as the Singer Cornet Band and later the Singer Band. I.S. Eberly, founder of Eberly Lumber Yard in Mechanicsburg, was the band's next director. During his years at the helm, the band was recognized as one of the finest in the state and performed at the Centennial Celebration of the United States in Philadelphia in 1876.
The band had procured new uniforms in keeping with the Centennial and there were solicitations for donations to help defray the cost. The new uniform was in the style of the dress of the Continental Army of 1776. The coat was dark blue with tails turned back and the broad lapels were faced with buff; the bright brass buttons of the coat shone like gold. The waistcoat was buff colored. Knee breeches were of blue cloth, and there were leather leggings and shoes with silver buckles. To top it all was a tricorn (three-cornered hat) with a black pompon.
The band had traveled to Philadelphia on Saturday, the first of July, and was quartered at Grangers' Encampment, which was located at Elm Station on the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, about five miles west of the Centennial grounds. On Tuesday morning, July 4, the Singer Band was in the city early and took up the line of march with thousands of others who trod the cobblestone streets of the city that day.
About eleven o'clock in the morning, as the parade was moving down Chestnut Street and nearing Independence Hall, a happy thought came to the Singer Band leader as to the most appropriate music to render on this occasion and so, just as they reached Sixth Street, the lively strains of Yankee Doodle" burst out to delight the huge crowd around the old State House. The tune caught the ear and the uniforms caught the eye, and immediately thousands began to shout themselves hoarse with patriotic fervor. Certainly no one who witnessed that stirring spectacle will ever forget it.
The bright and happy week for the Singer boys was unfortunately to have a sorrowful ending. On Wednesday afternoon a terrific thunderstorm passed over that section of the country. Roger Heffelfinger, one of the drummers of the band, went into the corridor of the hotel to assist in closing a ventilator. While he was in the act of loosening the wires that held it open, a bolt of lightning struck the wire and passed through his body, killing him instantly. His body was brought home that same evening, arriving here on the ten o'clock train. Almost the entire town was at the railroad station upon the arrival of the train and a feeling of sadness pervaded the community for many days.
The band had eighteen members in that day, and at the time this article was written (July 3, 1901), there were but two old-timers remaining, Mr. I. S. Eberly and Dr. R. M. McGary, both 25-year members.
During Mr. Bender's tenure in office, several concerts were given for the prisoners in the Cumberland County Prison on East High Street in Carlisle. Fire Companies were very active in these times and the band played for all of their summer festivals held at the rear of the firehouses. The fire companies sponsored a lot of parades to show off their trucks, equipment and uniforms and the Washington Fire Company frequently hired the Singer Band to travel and play in these parades in towns as far away as Sunbury, PA and Winchester, VA.
The band rehearsed in a large room on the second floor of a building directly to the rear of the First Bank and Trust Company (Now PNC). A similarity to today's band schedule, rehearsals were on Thursday nights, but started at 8:00PM. This band room was very convenient to the town square in front of the bank and many concerts were given there. It was also fairly close to the Rakestraw Ice Cream factory and one Thursday night each summer was always set aside for a concert in the little lot in front of this building. This concert was very popular with the band members and there was always a good turnout because at about the halfway mark, the civic minded Roy E. Rakestraw would send employees out of the factory with pint boxes of ice cream for each member.
By 1930 a local electrician, Lloyd A. Bender was the band's director and solo cornetist. His electric store and shop were located where Reid's Instrument Shop was, on West Main Street. He later ran for Cumberland County Sheriff, and the Singer Band played at political meetings throughout the county to help him get elected several times.
In the 1950s, interest in the band faded as high school bands became more popular.
The Singer Band was not fully revived until December 1980 with the help of the late Leonard Reid, former owner of Reid's Instrument Shop in Mechanicsburg. George Shaffer, a former musician in the U.S. Army Band in Washington, D.C., became the new director and lead the band until his retirement in December 2000. Miss Vanessa Murawski is the present director.