The Memoirs of Alton Augustus Adams, Sr: First Black Bandmaster of the United States Navy

By Alton Augustus Adams Sr.; Mark Clague | Go to book overview

10
The Power of the Press (the 1940s)

Editor’s Note: In February 1940 Adams took over as owner, publisher, editor, and roving reporter for one of St. Thomas’s historic newspapers, the Bulletin. This venture, especially in its cultural coverage, recalled his St. Thomas Times (1921–23); however, unlike Adams’s first paper, the new publication was not attached to the U.S. Navy and thus could be a more independent as well as political voice. The paper had one important advantage over its rivals: Adams’s trusted position as welcoming coordinator for the islands’ governor gave him valuable access to visiting politicians and celebrities as he was frequently able to combine his hosting duties with interviews. Thus the Bulletin could scoop its competitors and offer unique perspectives on local happenings. In this way, Adams interviewed such figures as the Dominican Generalissimo Trujillo and composer Irving Berlin. His interviews reveal a fascination with childhood background—a line of questioning consistent with his notions about the cultural and social environment’s influence on the individual.Trujillo’s grandmother, for example, dutifully instilled in him virtues of discipline, learning, and hard work; as a child, Berlin escaped a violent Russia to realize his dreams. Berlin’s success further affirms not only the power of black music through his borrowings from ragtime and jazz but also the virtue of self-improvement. Both composers were largely self-taught talents, and Adams revels in the affirmation of Berlin’s success.

Adams’s newspaper proprietorship came to a sudden end with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and his recall to active duty from the Naval Fleet Reserve. Sent back to Cuba, Adams created what appears to be the navy’s first documented and official racially integrated band by combining eight of his former band members with an all-white unit already stationed at Guantánamo. Drawing on his connections in the Virgin Islands, Adams

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