Formed just before the Civil War, the Brazil Concert Band is the oldest continuously performing concert band in Indiana. The collection of amateur and professional musicians that brings the Forest Park Bandshell to life Sunday evenings each summer got its start in 1858. Founded as the Brazil Cornet Band by the onetime director of the Royal British Navy Band, one of its first engagements was to provide entertainment during the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
In time, founder/director John Davis passed the baton to son J. Gus Davis, a multi-instrumentalist and composer. The younger Davis’ works were published by the Worthington-based Jewell Music Company, run by “ Indiana’s March King,” Fred Jewell.
But it was the third generation of Davises that put Clay County’s community orchestra on the map. Johnnie “Scat” Davis joined the band as a cornet player in 1924, at age 13. Still in high school, Johnnie played professional gigs at the Grand Opera House in Terre Haute, as well as its Trianon and Orpheum Ballrooms. After graduation, Davis moved on to spots in big bands in Louisville, Cleveland and New York. As a member of the Fred Waring Band in the mid-1930s, Davis relocated to Hollywood, where he appeared in a string of fifteen movies and composed hit songs. His anthemic number “Hooray for Hollywood” received a lavish treatment by the Benny Goodman Orchestra in Busby Berkeley’s 1937 musical, Hollywood Hotel . (In a humorous continuity glitch, “Scat” Davis appears blowing his trumpet in the orchestra and simultaneously singing along in the audience.) Davis went on to lead his own band in the 1940s, and eventually moved to Texas.
In the meantime, the band that launched him has sustained a commitment to the classic march repertoire of Fred Jewell, Karl King and John Philip Sousa. The Brazil Concert Band’s preservation of this American musical tradition has been recognized by the John Philip Sousa Foundation, which in 2006 presented it with the Sudler Silver Scroll Historic Community Band Award.
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