Army Band to March in Palisades Fourth of July Parade

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

Army soldiers will march through Pacific Palisades on the Fourth of July playing marches by John Philip Sousa and others to entertain paradegoers.

The 300th Army Band, Southern California’s only Army Reserve band, will be joined by members of the 191st Army Band from Camp Parks, California and the 395th Army Band from Mustang, Oklahoma. Together, the group of about 50, who will have played the day before at Disneyland, will offer traditional marches, including “The Washington Post March” and “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” their official song.

The citizen soldiers, who spend one weekend each month and two weeks in the summer honing their songs, have gone through basic training and remain up to date on weapons training and other Army protocol. But their focus is music.

The 300th Army Band, Southern California’s only Army Reserve band, will march in the parade.
The 300th Army Band, Southern California’s only Army Reserve band, will march in the parade.

“Our only job for the Army is to perform as musicians,” said commander and conductor Jeff Smith, a full-time vocalist who has sung everything from radio jingles to background vocals on television shows like “Glee.” For the Army, “the band provides music for recruiting and other events.”

Over the years, the 300th has played for presidents, governors, and heads of state. The band was also sent to El Salvador and Panama to offer musical support to the troops, and the group, which is also called “Hollywood’s Own,” even played recently on Fox TV’s MasterChef.

Although the marching band is their most well-known endeavor, it “is only one small part of we do,” Smith said. The 300th also has numerous smaller ensembles, including a brass quintet, woodwind quintet, jazz ensembles and pop ensembles. The latter helps with recruiting efforts among 18- to 24-year-olds.

“We certainly have music and musical ensembles that attract that age group,” he noted. The 300th also has a ska band (playing a musical genre that originated in Jamaica and was a precursor to reggae). “We have the only ska band in the entire Army. It’s become a really popular ensemble for us and is invited to perform at a lot of different events.”

The 300th first began playing in 1943 as part of the regular Army and was briefly disbanded following World War II. However, six months later, the band was back in action and remained an Army band until it was transferred to the reserves in 1968 with a home in Bell.

For about the last decade, new members have auditioned, gone through basic training and then attended 10 weeks of music training at the Army School of Music in Virginia. The military band needs this specialized training because they provide specific music and marching for military ceremonies and other events.

When Smith, who grew up in Kansas, first joined an Army Reserve band in 1990 as a bassoonist, he was just out of high school, where he also played in the marching band. He had been contacted by the local Army Reserve band about possibly joining its unit.

“I initially just decided to do it as a way to earn extra money for college, and I ended up enjoying it and have made a career of it,” Smith said.

College students continue to be a sizable portion of the 300th’s Reserve Band members, but most have full-time careers outside the band, Smith said. The varied group comes together at events like PAPA’s Fourth of July parade to perform the band’s official mission, which is “to foster the support of the American people for members of the Armed Forces, support diplomatic efforts around the world, and to instill in our soldiers the will to fight and win.”

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