Italians in America – Band Leaders


Encouraged by President Thomas Jefferson, musicians came from Italy to organize a brass section for the United States Marine Band.

Gaetano Carusi, the leader of a band in Catania, Sicily, had been persuaded to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps to organize and serve in a new brass section for the United States Marine Band. Soon after, and along with 13 other members of his band, Carusi sailed from Catania to America aboard the U.S. ship Chesapeake. They arrived at the Washington Navy Yard on September 19, 1805.

The names of his fellow Italian artists and new members of the Marine Band included: Ignazio DiMauro, Domenico Guarnaccia, Pasquale Lauria, Salvatore Lauria, Guiseppe Papa, Antonio Paterno, Francesco Pulizzi, Michele Sardo, Giacomo Sardo and Corrado Signorello.

Their party also included four children, three belonging to Carusi, now known as the first leader of the United States Marine Band, and several wives of the musicians.

The musical contingent returned to Sicily during 1816, but Carusi and his family came back to the U.S. a short time later. One of the sons, Lewis, established a dancing school in Washington. The works of another son, Gaetano, can be found in the Library of Congress. One of Gaetano’s sons, Eugene, became chancellor the National University Law School.

Five additional Italians have served as leaders of the United States Marine Band. They were Venerando Pulizzi (1816-1827), Antonio Pons (1843-1844 and again 1846-1848), Joseph Lucchesi (1844-1846), Francis Scala (1855-1871) and Francesco Fanciulli (1892-1897). Under Scala’s direction, open-air concerts began at the Capitol and on the White House grounds. At this time, the band became the finest military musical organization in the county. After leaving the military band, Fanciulli organized another that became the official band of New York City.

Other Italian-Led Bands

Many additional musicians of Italian descent followed their countrymen to the U.S. to organize bands of various kinds.

Around 1816, Francesco Masi’s Italian Band played at dances and assemblies in Boston. The first Italian band to tour the United States is believed to have been one known as The Comet.

Domenico Ballo, a Sicilian, is believed to have been a bandmaster at West Point and later in Missouri and Utah. Prospero Siderio was bandmaster on Admiral George Dewey’s flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay during 1898.

Lucian Conterno, a Piedmontese, was a bandmaster of Commodore Matthew Perry’s Fleet during his 1853 expedition to Japan. Conterno’s son, Luciano, led the U.S. Navy Band at the Brooklyn Navy Yard from the early 1870s until 1894.

The son’s death was reported in the May 6, 1910 issue of The New York Times: “Luciano Conterno, a bandmaster of the Twenty-third Regiment, N.G.N.Y., is dead at his home, 514 West 145 Street, in his seventy-second year. He was stricken with apoplexy on March 16 and suffered a second attack on Monday. He made his debut as a musician before King Albert of Italy as a flageolet player when he was 5 years old. In 1874, he was appointed bandmaster to the Navy Yard and introduced concerts at Brighton and Manhattan Beaches.”

New York Seventh Regiment Band Leaders

Claudio Grafulla was born in Minorca, an island near Spain, during 1810. He emigrated to the U.S., where he became a French horn player in Napier Lothian’s New York Brass Band in New York City that was attached to the band of the famous New York Seventh Regiment, a state militia unit. During 1860, Grafulla added woodwinds to a reorganized band and served as its director without pay until his death in 1880.

Grafulla was a quiet and unassuming man who never married. His entire life was about his music, and his skills as a composer often allowed him to write music upon request. Grafulla composed Washington Grays during 1861 for the Eighth Regiment of the New York State Militia. This work has been referenced as a march masterpiece, a band classic and the prototype of the concert march.

Carlo Alberto Cappa, another Piedmontese, succeeded Grafulla and became one of the most popular bandmasters of the 19th century.

Cappa was born in Sardinia on December 9, 1834 and, at the age of 10, he became a pupil of the royal academy at Asti to which only soldiers’ sons were admitted. His father was a major in the Sardinian army.

During 1849, Cappa enlisted in the band of the 6th lancers in Italy. Six years later, he joined the United States Navy on board the frigate Congress at Genoa. Cappa sailed for New York and arrived on February 22, 1858. He joined the Seventh Regiment band during 1860 and played trombone until he succeeded Grafulla. On January 7, 1893, The New York Times reported that Cappa died “shortly before 3 o’clock yesterday morning, of heart disease, at his residence, 123 East Ninety-second Street.”