-by Greg Hoots-
As the small towns of the Flint Hills began to develop between 1880 and 1900, one of the needs felt by the early settlers was to have a city band to play for public events and celebrations as well as for dances and private affairs. By 1900 there were a half-dozen city bands in Wabaunsee County. Often, bands would hold charity events to raise funds for uniforms and instruments. As the towns entered the 20th century, the cities of Alma, Eskridge and Alta Vista all constructed bandstands while others had stage-like platforms.
Perhaps the most overlooked of the city bands was the “Alma Colored Amateur Band,” a group of local African-American men from the Alma area who performed at public events, parades, parties, and dances. From the reports in the local papers, the group was very popular and performed frequently in Alma.
The existence of the “colored band” is a fine example of how subtle and not-so-subtle segregation flourished in Kansas in the early 20th century. This writer is perplexed with the theory behind the segregated band. Certainly, Caucasian Wabaunsee County residents patronized the colored band and held it in high esteem as an organization. Even more curious, there was one member of the colored band who was a Caucasian, the bandleader, Ferdinand Herrmann, Alma’s shoemaker. Herrmann was also the only non-brass-playing member of the band, playing a clarinet and leading the group. Herrmann was an accomplished musician, and performed with several bands in the Alma area.
Another curiosity surrounding the “city bands” is that they were, almost entirely, comprised of adult men. In fact, in almost a dozen different photographs of different city bands from Wabaunsee County, there is not a single view in which a woman appears as a member of any of the bands.
By 1940s the city bands had disappeared, replaced entirely by local high school bands for parades and country string bands and orchestras for dancing.