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The Milwaukee Police Department Band- America's Oldest Police Band

In the fall of 1897, a number of officers who were rather proficient whistlers came together and started to practice at the old Second District Police Station located at South 6th Street and West Mineral Streets. This led Milwaukee Police Officer William Stupenagel, to organize several officers into a small band. Officer Stupenagel had a musical background and was appointed bandmaster by Chief John T. Janssen. The band grew in both stature and size to the point where it needed more space and moved to the abandoned morgue on Broadway Street. Chief Janssen gave the band the official status as the Milwaukee Police Band.

On April 9, 1898 the Band gave its first performance before members of the department. The selections that were played included “El Capitan”, “Yankee Doodle”, “The Girl I Left Behind Me”, “St. Patrick’s Day”, “The Star Spangled Banner”, and a number of other selections which were reported to have been rendered “in the most creditable manner.”

The first public appearance of the Police Band was on May 10, 1898, before the annual convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which was held in the City of Milwaukee. It should be noted that the City of Milwaukee had the distinction of having the only police band in the United States in 1898. The original members of the police band were: Police Officer William Stupenagel, Police Officer Rygh, Police Officer W. Green, Police Officer Thoms, Police Officer Fisher, Police Officer Larson, Police Officer Shea, Police Officer Kendzerski, Police Officer Anderson, Police Officer Schlueater, Police Officer Kocher, Police Officer Bennett, Police Officer Krueger, Police Officer Tophofen, Police Officer Doerr, Police Officer Grimm, Police Officer Jones, Police Officer Murphy, Police Officer Hutchinson, Police Officer Longley, Police Officer Solverson, and Police Officer Myers. A Professor Winkler became the instructor for these early members.

The first formal Director of the Police Band was Herman A. Zeitz, son of a German bandmaster. Zeitz grew to become a national figure in music and was Professor of Music at Marquette University. It is believed that he assumed those duties in the year 1902 when he returned to this country from Germany.

In 1922, Herman Zeitz passed the baton to his brother Charles, who conducted until 1923. He was the director when the Band made its first appearance with the famous John Philip Sousa. On October 7, 1922, the Police Band met Sousa and his band at the train station, where they played for him. Later that evening, the Police Band was invited to perform Sousa’s march “Gallant Seventh” with the Sousa Band at the Auditorium.

On November 1, 1923, Frederick W. Brunkhorst assumed the podium of the Milwaukee Police Band.

On November 17, 1923, the Band made its second appearance with John Philip Sousa, who presented a beautiful, large silk American Flag to the Police Band at the Milwaukee Auditorium, following a concert given by John Philip Sousa. Immediately at the conclusion of the last number on the regular program, a curtain was raised behind Sousa’s Band and disclosed the sixty-seven-man band of the Police Department with Fred Brunkhorst, in regimentals of a Police Lieutenant, in command.

Commander Sousa smiled and gave a signal. In response the Sousa Band of eighty men and the Police Band of sixty-seven men played in beautiful accord and tuneful rhythm the inspiring “Sabres and Spurs”, one of Sousa’s fond compositions. The mighty combined band of 147 instrumentalists produced a volume of tone that shivered the myriad incandescents in the dome of the Auditorium.

When the music ceased, Police Sergeant John W. Polcyn (who later was promoted to Chief of Police on August 1, 1945) approached with a magnificent silk flag, with appropriately inscribed streamers. Sgt. Polcyn handed it to Commander Sousa, who summoned Chief J.G. Laubenheimer before him and made the presentation of the Flag. This flag is currently on display at the Safety Academy outside of the band room where the band presently rehearses.

In November of 1924, the police band made its first appearance at the Municipal Christmas Tree Lighting and has been performing at every Tree Lighting since that time.

The New York Police Band made a national tour in 1925 to foster stronger relationships with other cities in the nation. On March 22, 1925 a benefit concert was held by their band at the auditorium and, according to the Milwaukee Sentinel, 8,500 people attended. A photo of the combined Milwaukee Police Band and the New York City Police Band is also on display at the Safety Academy.

The connection with Marquette University continued under Director Brunkhorst with the Marquette Chorus as guests in a concert in November of 1934.

It was during that time that a local composer, Howard B. Weeks, wrote the “Milwaukee Police Band March”. The manuscript rests in the archives of the Police Band located at the Safety Academy. Weeks was born in California, became a circus bandmaster, and moved to Milwaukee in 1926. He composed many sacred compositions for both band and orchestra. Weeks is buried in an unmarked grave in Pine Lawn Cemetery.

On February 2, 1940, Dr. Robert O. Brunkhorst became Director. He was a dentist by training, but was highly respected as a musician. He conducted not only the Police Band, but also the Tripoli Shrine Band. It was under Dr. Brunkhorst that the Band made its second appearance in front of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Also during that period, the Band became a regular feature on WISN radio. Several 78-rpm audiodiscs from those broadcasts are on display at the Safety Academy.
In 1962, John M. Paulish became Director of the Band. John was a City of Milwaukee Maintenance supervisor and had much musical talent, having played in the Tripoli Shrine Band and the American Legion Band. He studied music at Milwaukee Vocational School. Director Paulish started the band grade school concert program, which has become a very important part of our present schedule.

In 1964, Perry F. Chalifoux became the Director. He was a trumpet player by profession and had led his own orchestra in the City since the mid-twenties. During the tenure of John F. Kennedy as President, the band was asked to greet him at the Mitchell Field Airport. The Band was at the hanger waiting for Air Force One to land when the President was called back to Washington and the Band never did play for him. During that period, the Band made annual day trips to the Veterans Home at King, Wisconsin and also played Christmas concerts at the boy’s home at Plymouth, Wisconsin.

In 1980, Chief Harold A. Breier appointed Police Officer Dennis Benjamin Band Director. The elementary school program was modified to include a “McGruff” character and an Elvis impersonator to carry an anti-crime, anti-drug, and personal self -esteem theme to area school children. In the spring of 1990, a high school awards program was developed with the help of Marquette University and Dr. Nicholas J. Contorno. Students from area high schools were selected to perform together with the officers in a concert at Marquette’s Varsity Theater.

From the earliest days of the band, there has been an annual fall concert and dance held at the auditorium. In 1986, this format was changed to a concert only, and the location was changed to the Historic Pabst Theater. In the mid 1980’s, a jazz ensemble was added to provide a more versatile program performing big band swing music of the 1930’s and 1940’s.

In July of 1988, the Minneapolis Police Band traveled to Milwaukee for the first time and a joint concert was held at the Milwaukee County Zoo grounds. In July of 1989, the band traveled to Minneapolis to perform with police bands from Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Winnipeg, Ontario. All three bands combined to march in that city’s famous Aquatennial parade.

On November 15, 1991, Chief of Police Philip Arreola presented the band with a Chief of Police Superior Achievement Award.

On May 16, 1992, the Milwaukee Police Band appeared in Cleveland, Ohio at the Greater Cleveland Peace Officers Memorial Dedication Ceremony. Police pipe bands, choruses, military bands, and dancers from throughout the United States and Canada took part in this event.

In October of 1993, the Band was invited to appear at the Wisconsin State Music Conference in Madison, Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Music Educators Association sponsors this event. The concert demonstrated the bands approach to youth programs and emphasized the fact that music serves as an emotional outlet from the stresses of police life.

In July of 1998, the 100th anniversary of the oldest police band in the country, the Milwaukee Police Band appeared in Washington D.C. for the Independence Day Parade down Constitution Avenue.

In May of 1999, Police Chief Arthur L. Jones appointed Police Officer Bobby R. Lindsey and Detective Karen M. Dubis as Co-Directors of the Milwaukee Police Band. This is the first time in the band’s history that a two-director format was utilized. Detective Dubis, is the band’s first female Director and Officer Lindsey is the band’s first African American Director.

In March of 2000, the Milwaukee Police Band Youth In Arts Program was implemented combining the concert at Marquette Varsity Theater with additional activities. Younger children were included in the program and mentoring of the youth as well as an additional performance with the police officers was implemented. The band performed for the very first time at the All City Biennial Music Festival in cooperation with Milwaukee Public School Music Curriculum Specialist Barry Applewhite. The band then presented the student award recipients with a special award at the Milwaukee Auditorium.

On July 16, 2000, the Milwaukee Police Band marched in Milwaukee’s own Great Circus Parade. This is the first time in the band’s history that the band had ever marched in this event.

On July 14, 2001, the Milwaukee Police Band marched in the South Shore Water Frolics Parade and was awarded an award for the best band in the parade.

On July 15, 2001, the Milwaukee Police Band marched for the second time in the Great Circus Parade along with Police Chief Arthur L. Jones and the Mounted Horse Patrol.

On Thanksgiving Day, in the years 2001, 2002, and 2003, the Milwaukee Police Band traveled to Chicago, Illinois, to march in their Holiday Parade, representing the City of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Police Department.

In December of 2002, Detective Karen Dubis assumed the duties as sole Director of the Milwaukee Police Band. She was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in 2006. Director Dubis received her musical training from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.

On April 2, 2003, the Milwaukee Police Band traveled to Orlando, Florida. The band performed in Walt Disney World in concert at the Tomorrowland Stage as well as in a parade through the Magic Kingdom.

On June 24, 2007, the band traveled to Eagle, Wisconsin to participate in the Kettle Moraine Days Parade.

On July 29, 2008, the band performed at the Midwest Airlines Center for the F.B.I. National Academy conference.

On February 22, 2009, the band performed at the Artists In Music Benefit in support of a crime victim as part of a local fund-raiser.

In 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 the band, along with several other local musicians, recorded Christmas songs that were put on CD’s. The CD’s, entitled “Sing For Your Supper”, are sold as a fund-raiser to support a meal program at the Agape Community Center.

On September 24, 2011, the band performed in concert with the Aalborg, Denmark Police Orchestra in Racine, Wisconsin. This was a historic event and an incredible experience for the members of both musical groups.

On March 17, 2012, the band traveled to Savannah, Georgia and performed in concert at the Esther F. Garrison School of the Visual and Performing Arts as well as marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

In May, 2013 the Milwaukee Police Band Jazz Ensemble performed at Discovery World in Milwaukee for the Police Executives Research Forum (PERF) Conference.

The band members also perform regularly to show their support for the citizens of Milwaukee at the Mass of Blessing at St. Josaphat’s Basilica and Church of the Gesu, the police picnic, recruit graduations and other civic ceremonies.

The members of the Milwaukee Police Band under Lieutenant Karen Dubis, a 36 year veteran of the band and department, continue in their role as “goodwill ambassadors” to the citizens of Milwaukee. They cherish the opportunity to do their part in improving the quality of life in this fine City of Milwaukee.