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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James and Nannie Pharis, December 5, 1978; January 8 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0039. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Playing in the company-sponsored community band

James Pharis discusses his role in the company band during the early twentieth century. Shortly before the passage begins, Pharis had described the band, sponsored by the local cotton mill, as a way "to boost community morale . . . community spirit." Here, he speaks in more detail about the ways in which the band accomplished that goal.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James and Nannie Pharis, December 5, 1978; January 8 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0039. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ALLEN TULLOS:
Let me ask you another question about the band. Did you ever go on the radio?
JAMES PHARIS:
Yes, we played on radio not too many times. We played once in Salem and Greensboro. That was the only two that had stations in this part of the country. We played maybe a couple of times each on both of them.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Do you remember the names of the stations?
JAMES PHARIS:
No I don't. Just Greensboro and Winston-Salem. As far as the numbers, I don't remember.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Would somebody sponsor you or they would invite you to come on?
JAMES PHARIS:
They'd invite us to come on. We didn't get nothing for it.
ALLEN TULLOS:
When would that be, what day of the week?
JAMES PHARIS:
No certain day. Whenever they had an opening they'd tell us when to come and we'd go. Picnics, we'd play for picnics. And land sales.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Do you remember any of the tunes, any of the songs you played?
JAMES PHARIS:
We played almost all of Sousa's marches. We played just about all the popular music that was coming out for bands back in those days. We would play overtures. The professor taught us all the fancy… These overtures would be very complicated to play and work on them all winter and come out in the spring. We studied the whole winter and come out. The only thing we wanted out of it was somebody's appreciation. We could play them pieces we worked all winter on so hard and get no applause at all and play a little old simple march or a little old simple piece of some kind that had a swing to it, and boy, they'd just go wild. I talked to the professor about it one time, why should we study trying to learn them complicated music when some we could pick it up and play it on sight anytime that they really liked. And that type of music is like today, that country music, got a swing to it, got a beat. That's what the people liked about it.
ALLEN TULLOS:
And he wanted to teach you all some of these others?
JAMES PHARIS:
He wanted to teach us this classical stuff. None of us cared too much about it.
ALLEN TULLOS:
What did he ever say when you asked him about it?
JAMES PHARIS:
He said that was the coming music. The only thing it was is to learn that. People would appreciate it in later years. Back in those days I would venture to say ninety percent of the people was uneducated. Nobody went to high school except the upper class, somebody that didn't associate with the other fellows and we didn't associate with them. In later years the working people got into going to high school. My kids, they all finished grade school. I got one working in the bank now. One of my daughters works in a bank down in Rocky Mount. She was educated by special schools after she growed up.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did you all have uniforms in this band?
JAMES PHARIS:
Oh yeah, man, we had classy uniforms.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Would the company help pay for the uniforms?
JAMES PHARIS:
Yeah, they at least made a great donation towards it. The biggest part they paid for. They furnished the big instruments, the expensive instruments.
ALLEN TULLOS:
What were the instruments you all would have in your band?
JAMES PHARIS:
Well, we'd have a tuba, and a baritone, alto, trombone, cornets, trumpets, drums. We had just about a complete assembly.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did the uniforms have anything written on them?
JAMES PHARIS:
No, they just had braids and all that junk.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did you ever use them in a parade?
JAMES PHARIS:
Oh, yes sir. We took a big pride in that.
ALLEN TULLOS:
When would there be parades?
JAMES PHARIS:
Sometimes on the fourth of July, some kind of a special something that the company would want to put on. I remember one time we was parading from Spray to Lynchville, and we got down to a forks of ahroad. and they made a moving picture. They've got it somewhere now. I'd hate to see it. I was playing trumpet that day. I took the wrong road, and the band went that-a-way and I….
NANNIE PHARIS:
Well, if you hadn't had a nip….