b. Arthur Willard Pryor, 22 September 1870, St. Joseph, Missouri, USA, d. 18 June 1942, Long Branch, New Jersey, USA. Actively encouraged by his father, a professional musician, to take up music, in his early teens Pryor taught himself to play the slide trombone. Eventually he became an acknowledged master and in 1892, after a residency in Denver, Colorado, accepted a job offer from John Philip Sousa. In New York his astonishing technical command led to his becoming Sousa’s lead trombonist and a featured soloist. His skills helped lift the trombone’s status and incidentally helped pave the way for its place as a staple instrument in yet-to-come jazz bands. It was the advent of new music, such as ragtime and pre-jazz dance music, which boosted Pryor’s career still further. Sousa did not care for this music but, aware of public interest, incorporated it into his repertoire. He delegated to Pryor responsibility for its performance, and the trombonist not only took to the music, but also began composing in the ragtime idiom. Another of Sousa’s peccadilloes was that he did not care for the new-fangled recording of music and thus handed to Pryor control of recording sessions.
Unsurprisingly, Pryor was prompted to form his own band, doing so in 1903. For the next few years he toured extensively before settling into a succession of lucrative residencies in select resorts in summertime and as musical director of New York shows in winter. During the 20s he became one of the Victor Talking Machine Company’s most popular recording artists, giving up public performances. Before his retirement in 1933, Pryor made well in excess of 2, 000 records and orchestrated almost 1, 000 pieces of dance music, including several of his own compositions, the most famous of which was ‘The Whistler And His Dog’, although others, such as ‘Heart Of America March’ and ‘On Jersey Shore’ bear comparison with Sousa’s better known works. He continued to give trombone lessons and reportedly practiced daily and in 1942, with America now involved in World War II, he was called upon to help boost public morale by playing at a concert near his New Jersey home. He accepted the task but during rehearsal was felled by a stroke and died within a few hours, leaving his son, Arthur Pryor Jnr., to conduct the planned concert at which was played another of the veteran musician’s compositions, ‘We’ll Keep Old Glory Flying’.