Americana [dropcap2]T[/dropcap2]he Pensacola Civic Band is proud of where we started and the process to get where we are now. This journey has had its ups and downs, good and not-so-good, and many players have come and gone. All in all, there has been alot of great music shared through the years. With over 90 members currently playing in the band, the Pensacola Civic Band has the largest membership in its history opening up opportunities to play selections of music that require a more diverse set of players.

Take a look at the sections below to learn more about the history of the Pensacola Civic Band.

“History of PCB written by Gary Beadle”


[su_spoiler title=”1969-The Beginning” style=”fancy”]In 1969, James Etherton came to Pensacola Junior College from Escambia High School as an instrumental music director. One of his goals was to create a band, sponsored by the college, in which adults from the community could continue to perform on their instruments. When he moved to Pensacola in 1958, there was not an organization for high school band graduates, who did not attend college, to continue enjoying their instruments. He also found many “adult” musicians who were not performing simply because there was no outlet for them. After establishing a college band and jazz ensemble at PJC, he decided it was time to start a community band.

The concept of a community band composed of adults was discussed with Laurel Brownlee, then band director of Escambia High School, and the late Dr. Eugene Gonzalez, of the music faculty of the University of West Florida. In the spring of 1971, they decided to form such a band calling it the Pensacola Civic Band.

One of the problems of starting a band was how to inform musicians of its existence. Between the three they knew most musicians in the Pensacola area. So, on a Sunday morning, they met at the old Howard Johnson’s Restaurant on Mobile Highway. After compiling a list of known musicians in the area they divided the list and started contacting prospects. With the help of college students and high school students, the band began rehearsing for an outdoor concert for the “Fiesta of Five Flags” in June of 1971. The next problem was to find a conductor. Since the band members were finally getting a chance to perform, no one really wanted to conduct. Therefore, the early concerts had many different conductors.

The first attempt of the adult band also had its “memorable” moments. The band did not sound as it does today. After the final rehearsal for the first concert, Jim Etherton, Laurel Brownlee, and Gene Gonzalez went straight to the Red Lobster (the closest bar) and ordered martinis. They discussed whether the band would ever get through the concert.

During the first performance, which was outdoors in Plaza Ferdinand in downtown Pensacola during the Fiesta of Five Flags celebration, several unexpected events occurred. First was the deafening “fly over” by the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels, followed by a high school band marching by, and finally, a man running from the police was caught, arrested, and handcuffed behind the percussion section. Even with all of these distractions taking place, the band finished the concert.


[su_spoiler title=”1971-1978 – The Early Years” style=”fancy”]

During these early years plans called for two “formal” indoor concerts each year to be held in the Fine Arts Auditorium at PJC (the Saenger Theatre had yet to be renovated) and an informal outdoor concert each spring. The first “formal” indoor concert was performed by 51 members and was held on Sunday afternoon, November 7, 1971. The concerts were free and continued to be held on Sunday afternoons. The three original conductors Jim Etherton, Laurel Brownlee, and Gene Gonzales conducted these concerts until the fall 1975.

In order to give band members a voice in the organization and operation of the band, elected officers of the band were established. The band members elect these officers from the band membership annually. Their duties are similar to other such volunteer organizations.

Still faced with the problem of conductors wanting to play in the band, in the fall of 1975 several band members were asked to conduct. Dr. Joyce Sidorfsky, former Tate High School Band Director and a new Pensacola Junior College music teacher, John Henley, Gulf Breeze High School Band Director, Richard Neimeyer, King Middle School band director, and Dr. Robert Whitmore, head of the PJC Music and Theatre Department, also conducted during the next few years.

During those early years the band was faced with a fairly big annual “turnover” in personnel since the band utilized quite a few Pensacola Junior College, University of West Florida, and local high schools students. In the spring of 1978 the band had grown to some 60 players and we could already start to see a more “stable” membership evolving.


[su_spoiler title=”1978-1987 – The Growing Years” style=”fancy”]Jim Etherton and Gene Gonzalez also conducted the Pensacola Intercollegiate Band, a combined University of West Florida and Pensacola Junior College band. At this time the University was a Junior/Senior level institution only. Since both the Intercollegiate Band and the Civic Band were growing and demanding more time, it was decided to reorganize the duties of the conductors. In the fall of 1978 Jim Etherton became the primary conductor and Gene Gonzalez the associate conductor of the Civic band (the duties were reversed for the Intercollegiate Band). Of course, guest conductors were utilized including band members Gene Gonzalez, Laurel Brownlee, Tim Willis, John Henley, and Tom Ewing.

In 1979 the band played its first concert in the Saenger Theatre downtown. Thanks to the University of West Florida, who had an agreement with the city, we were able to get the theatre at no cost. Of course, the theatre had not been refurbished and was not the theatre you see today, but still a wonderful place to perform.

In 1981 Jim Etherton became the sole conductor of the band and concerts were moved to Tuesday evenings since it was easier for the membership to hold all Tuesday evenings open and the Sunday “beach” weather was becoming a problem. An outdoor “pops” concert was added in July of 1981 and a “Holiday” concert in November of 1982, with Christmas and Festive type music. In February of 1982 the Civic Band performed a special “Nostalgia Concert” in the downtown Saenger Theatre. Most of the music, which was out of print, came from the Chatfield Brass Band Music Lending Library in Chatfield, Minn., including music of the 1800’s to early 1900’s. Jim had wanted to do such a concert in the old theatre for several years. The band only had 5 rehearsals to prepare the concert, due to an “unusual” Tuesday “snow fall” in Pensacola. It was a difficult concert but the band performed well in spite of the lack of rehearsal time.

In the fall of 1982 John Henley became conductor when Jim Etherton had to step down because of illness, but did continue to play in the trumpet section. It was in 1983 that, with the help of the University of West Florida, the major concerts were moved to the Saenger Theatre. This made possible the opportunity for larger audiences, a bigger stage, and great acoustics. John continued to conduct until the fall of 1984.

In the fall of 1984 James Ball, of Atlanta, Georgia, joined the music faculty of Pensacola Junior College, becoming the director of the Civic Band. The band still numbered in the 60’s but was becoming much more stable in it’s membership. Jim Ball remained conductor until the spring of 1987 when he took a leave of absence to continue his education in St. Louis.


[su_spoiler title=”1987-present – The Present Band” style=”fancy”]

With the “growing pains” subsiding, the band began to take its present shape in the fall of 1987 when Don Snowden was hired by Pensacola Junior College to take over the instrumental groups. Don came from PJC from Foley, Alabama where he had an outstanding high school band program. He brought to the Civic Band new and more concerts, more guest artists, and the performance of more difficulty music. Don later became the Department Head of the Music and Theatre Department and continues in that capacity.

The Civic Band was finally becoming a truly community band and participating in many community events. During Don’s 19 years as conductor, the band had grown in numbers and ability. Finally, the band had a stable membership. In 2006 the membership has grown to 91 members with some members who have played for over 25 years and many with 10 and 15 years of service.

Also under Snowden’s leadership a charge was added for concert tickets with the proceeds going to scholarships for college and high school students. Added were two summer concerts for the “Evenings in Seville Square,” and a Christmas concert in Seville Square as well as two Christmas concerts at the PJC Fine Arts Auditorium.

Pensacola Civic Band receives the 2002 “Sudler Silver Scroll Award”
The Sudler Silver Scroll-an international award recognizing a community band program of very special merit was awarded to Pensacola Civic Band, Pensacola, Florida (Endowed by Louis and Virginia Sudler of Chicago, Ill. and administered by the John Phillip Sousa Foundation.)


[su_spoiler title=”Special Concerts and Recognition” style=”fancy”]
“Special Concerts” performed:

  • Concert with Choral Society of Pensacola
  • Association of Concert Bands National Convention in Lafayette, Louisiana in May 1997 (this concert marked the first time the band performed outside the Pensacola area)
  • Several Concerts for the Gulf Shores Concert Series in Gulf Shores, Alabama
  • A performance for the Alabama Bandmasters Association Summer Convention in Gulf Shores, AL
  • Hosting and performing at the 23rd Association of Concert Bands National Convention in Pensacola in March of 2001. (Featured soloist was jazz tenor saxophonist Plaz Johnson, of “Pink Panther” fame.)
  • A Patriotic Evening in Olde Seville Square (after 9/11/2001)This concert represents a good example of the ability and community service of the band. After several years of preparing for the hosting of the 2001 Association of Concert Band National Convention, the band took a much-deserved summer off. The band had just returned from this long summer vacation and had had just one rehearsal for their fall concert when the September 11 tragedy occurred. The community planned a special “Patriotic Evening in Olde Seville Square” for Tuesday, September 25th. The Civic Band was invited to perform the concert but would just have one rehearsal to prepare for the concert. The band performed very well at the outdoor concert, which according to the Pensacola News Journal, was attended by 13, 000 people.


The Civic Band performed on April 4, 2003 at the 25th Association of Concert Band Convention in Gainseville, FL (it’s 3rd concert for an ACB convention). The guest conductor was Thomas Knox. Mr. Knox conducted his own composition, “American Pageant,” which was commissioned for the inauguration of President Richard Nixon in 1973. Featured soloist on the concert was Bob Havens, the Dixieland trombonist who played for years with the Lawrence Welk Orchestra.

Another first for the Pensacola Civic Band occurred in 2005. The band hosted the Mobile Pops Band (Community Band in Mobile, AL) as part of our first park concert in Seville Square on May 26th. Each band played a complete concert for a large crowd in Seville Square. A party at Seville Quarter followed the concert. On June 6th we were to play a concert in Mobile with the Mobile Pops Band at Langan Park in Mobile. Unfortunately, the concert was rained out and rescheduled. The Civic Band performed at Langan Park in Mobile on October 10, 2005.

In 2005 the Civic Band was added to the Concert Series at Saint Sylvester Catholic Church in Navarre, Florida (a part of the greater Pensacola area).

In 2006 the Civic Band performed at a Park Concert with the Baldwin Pops Band at Fairhope, Alabama. (The Baldwin Pops Band will perform at our “Evening in Olde Seville Square” concert in Seville Square in May, 2007.)

Sacred Heart Hospital became the bands first corporate sponsor. In December the band performed at the Sacred Heart Hospital employees Christmas party luncheon. The well attended and well received concert will certainly be continued.

Hosting and performing at the 29th Association of Concert Bands National Convention at Pensacola Beach in March of 2007. (This was the 2nd ACB Convention hosted by the band and was the 4th concert by the band at an ACB Convention.) Featured soloist was William Kisinger, Euphonium, Kisinger recently retired as Associate Professor of Bands at Purdue University as well as Musical Director of the Lafayette Citizens Band. Guest conductor was Commander Allen E. Beck (retired), the seventh leader of the United States Navy Band in Washington, D.C. Since the convention was held at Pensacola Beach, the band played a concert entitled “Power of the Sea,” a program of “sea” related selections.

Conductor, Don Snowden, was elected President of the Association of Concert Bands and was inducted at the 2007 convention at Pensacola Beach.

Don celebrated his Silver Anniversary as conductor of the Pensacola Civic Band in the 2012-2013 season.  He was awarded a proclamation by Mayor Ashton Hayward for his dedication and service to the Civic Band and his contributions to the musical culture of the Pensacola area. The proclamation was presented at the spring concert at the Saenger Theater on March 5, 2013.