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ASU professor’s scholarship leads to concert with 'The President’s Own' US Marine Band

Jill Sullivan

Associate professor Jill Sullivan

November 07, 2017

Jill Sullivan, associate professor in the ASU School of Music in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, has conducted extensive research on women in military bands. Her research has culminated in two book publications and an elite invitation to perform with the premier United States Marine Corps music ensemble, “The President’s Own.”

This year is the 220th anniversary of “The President’s Own” and the 75th anniversary of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve (MCWR) Band. In honor of the MCWR Band’s 75th anniversary, “The President’s Own” is planning a tribute concert in Alexandria, Virginia, to take place on March 11, 2018.

As the only scholar of the MCWR Women’s Band, Sullivan is invited to collaborate with the U.S. Marine Band to create the concert, serve as narrator and curate an exhibit of memorabilia for the lobby.

Sullivan discovered through her research that women were allowed into the military during World War II and to form all-female military bands as their job during World War II.

“I was shocked,” Sullivan said. “Throughout all of my music studies, I had never heard of any all-women’s bands! I discovered that young women from all around the country who had been in high school and college bands were eager to serve their country in a military band, and they did.” 

Sullivan’s interest in women’s military bands resulted in a research grant funded by the Herberger Institute to continue her research in Washington, D.C.

This research resulted in her critically acclaimed book, “Bands of Sisters: U.S. Women’s Military Bands during World War II,” published in 2011. The book includes a chapter on the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve Band, and because of this research, Sullivan is considered the steward of the history of the MCWR band.

Sullivan was contacted by the U.S. Marine Band’s female conductor, Major Michelle Rakers and invited to become the visionary for the tribute concert.

“We are thrilled that Dr. Sullivan has been invited to be a part of the 75th Anniversary Concert commemorating the musical contributions of women in World War II,” said Heather Landes, director of the ASU School of Music. “It is recognition of her significant and unique contribution to historical research on women’s bands in our country, which has truly been and continues to be a labor of love for her.”

The documentary concert will re-enact the Nov. 15, 1944 MCWR Band’s NBC national radio broadcast — a one-time event that replaced the U.S. Marine Band during the war.

Marine Corps Women's Reserve Band

Sullivan is writing the historical script, selecting the music and coordinating the media for the entire concert. She will also be on stage narrating the history along with the Marine Band’s professional announcer, who will recreate the male radio broadcaster’s words from 1944. In addition to the 90-minute program, she is selecting 1940s music for the pre-concert events and curating a lobby exhibition that includes ephemera, artifacts, poster-sized photographs, interview recordings, video and musical entertainment, and WWII uniforms from the Marine museum. The post-concert will feature a question and answer session with Sullivan and surviving WWII Marine Band members.

Sullivan visited many national libraries and archives when conducting research for her first book and discovered that all branches of the military had women’s bands during WWII. She located and interviewed 84 women who served in the U.S. Army, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard women’s bands during the war. Of the 84 women interviewed, 43 women were U.S. Marine Band members.

She said her research on World War II women’s bands also revealed that there were many women’s bands in U.S. history and that the conductors of the women’s bands were music teachers before the war. Her most recent book, “Women’s Bands in America: Performing Music and Gender” is a compilation of her latest research that broadens the topic to all styles of music where women have formed bands, such as women’s jazz and rock bands.

Sullivan also discovered that women in WWII were some of the first music therapists in the U.S. She said that the profession of music therapy began, in large part, during WWII with women’s band members being trained to work with injured men in the hospitals.

“Today, these women musicians who formed these women’s bands serve as historical role models to our young women who perform in today’s elementary, high school, college bands and military bands, and to the women who teach and conduct bands today,” Sullivan said.

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