Alton Adams Sr., a musician, composer, educator and the first African-American U.S. Navy bandmaster, was recognized nationally for the second time in as many years Monday morning, in a posthumous ceremony in Millington, Tenn., where a building was named in his honor.
The state-of-the-art building houses the prestigious Navy Band Mid-South, called Navy’s "Oldest and Finest Musical Organization in the Mid-South." The band is responsible for a 12-state area of operation.
Though slow to receive national recognition, Adams was also honored last year at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., in a presentation at the Baird Auditorium as part of a program of "Navy Pioneers: A History of African-Americans in the Navy Music Program."
Adams is part of the educational and cultural fabric of the Virgin Islands. Not only a bandmaster and composer, Adams was a journalist, founder of the V.I. Press Corps, a writer for several music periodicals, a hotelier, co-founder of the first local hotel association, founder of the local Red Cross and creator of the first public school music curriculum.
His son, Alton Adams Jr. attended the ceremony with his son, Alton L. Adams, and two nieces, Gail Adams Campbell and Sandra Watson.
"The program was very well done,” Adams Jr. said Monday. “I am very proud of my father and his recognition in this building. It is state-of-the-art, extremely modern, with different rooms for rehearsals and programs."
Adams Jr. said, "It’s quite unusual to name a building for an individual,” noting that the Navy names ships but not buildings for people.
Lt. Cmdr. Ken Collins, who is head of the national Navy music program, came from Washington, D.C., for the ceremony, as did V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen.
Christensen was enthusiastic about the occasion, where she had flown after Saturday’s local primary election, where she once again received the Democratic nomination for her seat.
"The ceremony was wonderful, beautiful," Christensen said Monday afternoon. "It was right outside of the building (named for Adams). The Ceremonial Band played the Virgin Islands March and several other Adams’ compositions. Rear Adm. Cindy Covell gave a wonderful speech outlining Mr. Adams’ involvement in the Navy."
"It was wonderful to have his family here, and a great honor to have this building named after him, to see his legacy being given the recognition it deserves in national history,” Christensen added.
"I am so proud as a Virgin Islander to see him being lifted to the top for all of us to see," Christensen concluded.
Covell told the Source how the selection of Adams’ name for the building came about. "It is a huge honor to have the building named after Mr. Adams," she said. "Our Navy band historian looked through our files and discovered Mr. Adams’ huge career with the Navy music program, and we asked permission to name the building after him.”
“I’ve read his memoirs,” she added, “and he was a cultural activist. He represents what we call our core values: honor, courage and commitment. He truly embodied those values in his life."
Navy Band Mid-South performed at the ceremony, joined by Overton High School choir students. Overton High is this Navy Band’s Fall 2012 "Partner in Education."
As a composer, writer and prodigy flutist, Adams was at the forefront of the band movement during the early part of the 20th Century. It was in 1917 that Adams’ Naval career began.
On the brink of entering World War I, the United States purchased the Virgin Islands from Denmark. As the new Naval Administration took control of the Virgin Islands, there was a need to bridge the social gap between the U.S. Navy and the local population.
To do this, the Navy enlisted Adams and his community band. On June 2, 1917, Adams’ “Juvenile Band” was renamed the U.S. Navy Band of the Virgin Islands and his musicians became the first African-American rated musicians of the modern Navy.
Adams’ autobiography makes for fascinating reading, not just for Virgin Islanders, but for anyone with a curiosity about the history of American music..
Formerly NSA Mid-South’s Child Development Center, the facility was transformed into the new band building in just six months. Construction began in January 2011, when the building
was completely gutted.
Features of the building include a large rehearsal facility to accommodate all bands, a popular music group rehearsal space, a sound booth, brass quintet rehearsal room, instrument supply room, eight state-of-the-art Wenger practice rooms and a music library with more than 6,000 titles.
There is also office space where band members perform all of the units’ support roles including administration, operations, travel, public affairs, purchasing and instrument issue.