Go to Content
Columbia College Chicago
Discovering Alton Augustus Adams
Print this PageEmail this Page

Discovering Alton Augustus Adams

A CBMR Research Project

Alton Adams

Alton Augustus Adams (1889-1987) was the first black bandmaster in the United States Navy - an incredible fact since his service in that capacity began with an all-black band in 1917, when blacks could serve in the armed forces only in such positions as steward and mess attendant. He also organized three Navy bands that toured the U.S. mainland during 1924, and in 1942 he founded the first integrated band in the United States Navy.

Born in St. Thomas, Mr. Adams became one of the Virgin Islands - most celebrated sons. His musical career began as a child performer in the St. Thomas Municipal Band, and in 1909 he founded the Adams Juvenile Band. In addition to performing, conducting, and composing, his professional accomplishments included politics, journalism, commerce, and humanitarian service. As a journalist, he was published in Metronome, Music Bulletin, Pittsburgh Courier, Amsterdam News, Life magazine, the New York Times, and Sports Illustrated. He began the first public school music program in the Virgin Islands in 1918 and served as the Superintendent of Music until 1931; he was a leader in the Associated Negro Press and served as president of the Virgin Islands Hotel Association, the Virgin Islands Press Association, the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts, and the St. Thomas Power Authority. He was cited in the U.S. Congressional Record for outstanding military service and discipline and received numerous awards from within the Virgin Islands and from around the world.