R.A. Fountain home page
African-American Navy Bands of World War II
U.S. Navy B-1 Band

B-1 HISTORICAL MARKER INSTALLED IN CHAPEL HILL

B-1's service and historical significance was commemorated with the installation on May 27 of a permanent historical marker. Nearly 200 attended the formal marker installation ceremony, at the intersection of West Franklin Street and South Roberson Street in Chapel Hill.

B-1 vets Calvin Morrow and Simeon Holloway were the stars of the day, and they had a strong supporting cast of friends and family who'd traveled from all over the United States for this special event. Special guests included Captain Kenneth Collins, Commanding Officer of the U.S. Navy Band, Master Chief Derek Werner, band director of the Mephis Navy Band; Secretary Larry Hall of the NC Military and Veteran Affairs; Sen. Valerie Foushee, and a dozen other state and local elected officials.

Photo of Captain Collins (left) and Master Chief Werner with B-1 vets Simeon Holloway (second from left) and Calvin Morrow by Eddie Price, who has produced a beautiful scrapbook of the day's events.

B-1 was feted before the installation with a breakfast hosted by the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau and after the ceremony with a luncheon and reception afterwards at the Hargraves Center--which had served as their barracks during their Chapel Hill service. They marched daily from Hargraves to campus to play for the raising of colors for white cadets, who were housed at Alexander Hall; their route passed the spot where the marker was installed 75 years to the date after B-1 became the first African Americans to serve in the modern Navy at regular rank.

A brief history of B-1
U.S. Navy B-1 was comprised of the first African Americans to serve at rank higher than messman in the modern Navy. B-1 was also the first of over a hundred bands of African-American musicians the Navy used during World War II at postings stateside and in the Pacific.

Formed from a nucleus of North Carolina A&T College students and graduates, the band was comprised of "the best, most talented musicians in North Carolina." Bandsmen trained at Norfolk and served at Chapel Hill with the Navy's pre-flight school from August 1942 to May 1944, when they were transferred to Manana Barracks at Pearl Harbor, the largest posting of African-American servicemen in the world.

In October 1945, the men of B-1 began mustering out, replaced at their Hawaiian barracks by a new band of African-Americans that included another North Carolinian, saxophonist John Coltrane.

The first 44 to join B-1 did not include the Carlson brothers, John and Walter, who were able to skip basic training and join up with their A&T buddies as replacements, after the band got to Chapel Hill. As many as four others did not complete re-assignment to Pearl Harbor, where four new members were added.

B-1 began holding biannual reunions about 1954, and in the 1980s these reunions became annual affairs.

B-1's history is told in the 2013 book The Forgotten First: B-1 and the Integration of the Modern Navy, which was written by the band's official historian, Alex Albright.

Archival records related to the band are housed in East Carolina University's Special Collections in Joyner Library.

Articles & videos about B-1:
Chantelle Statham's documentary on B-1
Watch it!

Miranda's "Tuesday Afternoon Thread: The Music of World War II--the Navy B-1 Band," May 28, 2013
Read it!

Leslie Barbour's short documentary on B-1's 65th reunion in Chapel Hill:
Watch it!

Muster list

Chronology

Gallery of Images:
Chapel Hill
Hawaii
post-World War II

back to top
Chapel Hill Photos

U.S. Navy B-1 Band on the steps of their barracks in Chapel Hill.
larger image

high resolution image


U.S. Navy B-1 parades in downtown Chapel Hill in August 1942.
larger image

high resolution image


U.S. Navy B-1 Band plays while the American flag is raised at the UNC Pre-Flight School.
larger image

high resolution image


U.S. Navy B-1's basketball team, in Chapel Hill.
larger image

high resolution image


Bandleader James B. Parsons teaches trumpet to a Chapel Hill kid.
larger image

high resolution image

back to top
Hawaii Photos

U.S. Navy B-1 Band parades in Hawaii.
larger image

high resolution image


Bandsmen perform in Hawaii:
from left to right, Charles Woods, Thomas Gavin, Walter Carlson, Clarence Yourse
larger image

high resolution image

back to top
post-World War II Photos

The first reunion of the B-1, in 1954, when members gathered again on the steps of their barracks.
larger image

high resolution image


Charles Woods plays bass at the 1985 reunion while classmate/pianist Carl Foster of the Great Lakes Experience looks on.
larger image

high resolution image


Lou Donaldson performs at the 1985 reunion. Donaldson, Foster, and Jehovah Guy were all N.C. A&T students who served at Great Lakes, but after the war, they returned to Greensboro where they formed, with several of their B-1 buddies, the Rhythm Vets.
larger image

high resolution image


Abe Thurman plays trumpet at the 1985 reunion.
larger image

high resolution image


Thomas "Buck" Gavin, in 1985 at a Rhythm Vets reunion in Greenville, NC.
larger image

high resolution image