History of the Milwaukee Police Band
“The Oldest Police Band in America”
1898 to Present
The Early Years
In the fall of 1897, a number of police officers came together at the original Second District Station to practice whistling. Subsequently one of the whistlers, Officer William Stupenagel, organized some of the officers into a small band to which he was appointed bandmaster. Soon the band, having grown in size and stature, was too large for the district station and relocated to the abandoned morgue on Broadway St. where it was granted official status by Chief John Janssen. On April 9, 1898, the band performed its first concert as the “Milwaukee Police Band” before members of the department.
During World War 1 (1914-1918), the Milwaukee Police Band suspended band activities due to hardship until the war was over and then reconvened in 1919. It has been in continuous operation ever since.
On October 7, 1922, the band met John Philip Sousa at the train station and performed for him when he came to Milwaukee to perform with his band. Later that evening, the Milwaukee Police Band performed Sousa’s march “Gallant Seventh” with the Sousa Band at the Milwaukee Auditorium. On November 17, 1923, the band, under the direction of Frederick W. Brunkhorst, performed a second time with the Sousa Band, again at the Milwaukee Auditorium. The Milwaukee Police Band, then comprised of 67 officers, joined the 80 member Sousa Band in playing a Sousa favorite, “Sabres and Spurs”. Sousa presented Chief J.G. Laubenheimer and the Milwaukee Police Band with an American flag with streamers embroidered with Sousa’s name and date of presentation. This flag is currently on display the Milwaukee Safety Academy along with other items and photographs depicting the band’s rich history.
In November 1924, the band made its first appearance at the municipal Christmas tree lighting ceremony. To this day the band continues to perform at tree lighting ceremonies downtown. On March 22, 1925, the band was joined by the New York City Police Band, who was on a national tour, for a benefit concert before an estimated 8,500 people at the Milwaukee Auditorium. It was during this time period that a local composer, Howard B. Weeks, wrote the "Milwaukee Police Band March". The original manuscript rests in the archives of the Police Band located at the Safety Academy.
The 1940’s – 1970’s
On February 2, 1940, Dr. Robert O. Brunkhorst became the director of the Milwaukee Police Band. He was a doctor by profession, on the surgical staff of St. Joseph’s Hospital for 33 years, but also a highly respected musician. He conducted not only the Police Band but also the Tripoli Shrine Band. Under Dr. Brunkhorst’s direction, the band became a regular feature on WISN radio. Several 78-rpm audio discs from those broadcasts are on display at the Safety Academy.
From 1956 – 1974, in addition to the concert band, 6 band members also performed in the “Police Combo”. The combo performed at various civic locations, including hospitals and schools, as well as special occasions, including concerts at the Milwaukee Auditorium, the children’s Christmas party, Chiefs of Police conventions and on PBS – Channel 10.
In 1962, John Paulish, a city maintenance supervisor, became director. Director Paulish was an accomplished musician playing in the Tripoli Shrine Band and the American Legion Band. During Mr. Paulish’s tenure the elementary school concert program began. In 1964, Mr. Paulish was succeeded by Perry F. Chalifoux, a professional trumpet player who had led his own orchestra in the city since the mid 1920’s. Under Mr. Chalifoux, the band made annual trips to the Veterans Home in King, Wisconsin and also played Christmas concerts at the boy's home in Plymouth, Wisconsin.
The 1980’s – 1990’s
In 1980, Officer Dennis Benjamin was appointed director by Chief Harold Breier. While Officer Benjamin was director, the elementary school program was enhanced to include a "McGruff" character and an Elvis impersonator carrying an anti-crime, anti-drug, and positive self-esteem message to area school children. In 1986, the format of the band’s annual fall concert and dance was changed to a ‘concert only’. For years, the concert and dance had been held at the Milwaukee Auditorium. With the change in format came a change in venue; the concerts were now held at the Historic Pabst Theatre. The Milwaukee Police Band Jazz Ensemble was also formed to offer a more versatile program by performing big band swing music of the 1930's and 1940's.
In July of 1988 the Milwaukee Police Band played a joint concert with the Minneapolis Police Band at the Milwaukee County Zoo. In July 1989, the band traveled to Minneapolis where the band combined with the Minneapolis Police Band and the Winnipeg, Ontario Police Band and marched in the famous Aquatennial Parade. In 1990, a high school awards program was developed with the help of Dr. Nicholas J. Contorno and Marquette University. Students from area high schools were selected to perform with the Milwaukee Police Band in a concert at Marquette's Varsity Theater. 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 1993, the Band was invited to appear at the Wisconsin Music Educators Association Music Conference in Madison, Wisconsin where they demonstrated their approach to youth programs.
In July 1998 the Milwaukee Police Band celebrated its’ 100th anniversary as the “Oldest Police Band in America”. They were invited to Washington D.C. for our nation’s Independence Day Parade, and proudly marched down Constitution Avenue.
In May 1999, Lieutenant Karen Dubis and Officer Bobby Lindsey were appointed co-directors of the Milwaukee Police Band by Chief Arthur Jones. This was the first time in the band's history that a two-director format was utilized. Lieutenant Dubis was the band's first female director and Officer Lindsey was the band's first African American director.
2000 – The Present
March 2000, saw the expansion of the Milwaukee Police Band Youth in Arts Program to include a concert at Marquette Varsity Theater with new activities. Younger children were included in the program and paired with police officer-musicians who mentored and performed with the students at the All-City Biennial Music Festival. The band members presented special awards to the student participants.
Since 2000, the Milwaukee Police Band has achieved several great milestones including marching in Milwaukee's own Great Circus Parade (July 16, 2000 and July 15, 2001), the South Shore Water Frolics (July 14, 2001 – received “Best Band in Parade” honors), Marshall Field's Jingle Elf Parade in Chicago (November 21, 2001 and November 28. 2002) and Kettle Moraine Days Parade (June 24, 2007). The band also traveled to Florida to perform on Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland stage in the Magic Kingdom and marched in the “Share a Dream Come True” parade (April 2003). On July 29, 2008, the Band performed at the Midwest Airlines Center for the FBI National Academy Conference. In 2012 the Milwaukee Police Band marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and other venues in Savannah, Georgia. In 2015 the band traveled to New Orleans, Lousiana and performed in their St. Patrick’s Day Parade and other venues to continue to spread goodwill across America.
The Band continues to perform regularly at the Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial, recruit graduation ceremonies, the Law Enforcement Mass of Blessing at St. Josephat’s Basilica, Special Olympics Opening Ceremonies, an annual free community concert at the Pabst Theater in February and an annual free summer community concert at the Peck Pavilion in August and other civic functions as requested.
Retired Lieutenant Karen Dubis (retired since 2015) has been the sole director of the Milwaukee Police Band from 2003 to the present. Under Lieutenant Dubis’s baton, the band continues in their efforts as “goodwill ambassadors” for the Milwaukee Police Department. They cherish the opportunity they have been given to do their part in contributing to the quality of life in our community.
Milwaukee Magazine chose the band to be featured among other entities as one of the “Reasons to Love Milwaukee” and listed them in the October issue in 2015. This same year the band continued their elementary school program. A breakout group of police band members calling themselves the “Bluecoats” (a reference from a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article of the band in the 1920’s) returned to the schools to spread goodwill through their music.
The Band is funded solely by the Milwaukee Police Band Association as a 501©3 non-profit organization with private donations. No city monies are utilized to fund the Band's operations. The police and civilian members who perform with the band volunteer their time and talent.
If you would like to contact the Milwaukee Police Band, check our schedule or if you would like to make a donation you can contact us at our:
Mailing Address: Milwaukee Police Band
6680 N. Teutonia Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53209
Phone: (Office) 414-935-7933
(Cell) 414-405-8288 [Director Karen Dubis]
Milwaukee Police Band in 2022
Milwaukee Police Band in 1898