Bowen R. Church 1860-1923, founder of The American Band of Providence, one of the great symphonic brass bands of the late 19th century. Compared often with the U.S. Marine Band of John Philip Sousa, it was led by one of America’s foremost conductors, David Wallis Reeves.
The band was accorded even more acclaim for its soloist cornet player, Bowen R. Church. Born in the Cumberland village of Valley Falls in 1860, Church was a musical child prodigy by the age of nine when his family took up residence in East Greenwich. Encountering young Church on a train, and then listening to an impromptu audition, Reeves became Church’s mentor and eventually made him the headliner of the band.
The period between the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876 and the advent of World War I was the heyday for brass bands. They were the favorite entertainment at all the annual reunions of Civil War veterans. Chapters of the Grand Army of the Republic from all over New England convened at Rocky Point, Warwick to exchange memories of the Civil War while listening to the fanfare and maudlin soliloquies of martial
Far from Rocky Point, however, Reeves and Church wowed the visitors of the Chicago Columbian World’s Exposition in 1893. The cornet, which was Church’s solo instrument had been developed in France in 1825. What made it distinctive from a coach horn and a bugle was that, like a trumpet, it was a valved instrument, but unlike a trumpet it was capable of a sweeter, more melodic tone. Church’s use of it made him one of the master solo performers of the day.
Following Reeve’s death in 1900, Church briefly directed the American Band of Providence, but then went on to conduct the famed orchestra of the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company in Jersey City, N.J. He died in 1923. The sculpture of him in Roger Williams Park, donated by his friend William G. James near the bandstand where Church frequently and flawlessly performed, was executed by Aristede Berto Cianfarani and cast by Gorham in 1928.
–Albert T. Klyberg, L.H. D.