EXCHANGE: Joliet band was a New York hit in 1936

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JOLIET, Ill. (AP) - A 15-year-old Robert Moore helped put Joliet on the map 78 years ago when he and other Joliet Township High School musicians journeyed to New York to play on a historic stage.

“Nobody ever heard of Joliet before, so we were kind of a novelty,” said Moore, now 93, as he flipped through an aged scrapbook in his Joliet home earlier this month. “They were very much surprised that we played as well as we did.”

To this day, Moore fondly remembers the week of Easter in 1936 when he and 99 high school band-mates traveled to New York to play the famous Radio City Music Hall. Moore played the oboe with the band a total of 29 times alongside the Rockettes, a ballet troupe and symphony orchestra on the historic stage, he said.

The high school band won seven national awards in the 1920s. They were part of the era that gave Joliet its nickname as the “City of Champions.”

Moore holds onto the memory of the trip in the form of newspaper clippings, trinkets and photos, which he keeps in an 80-page scrapbook started several decades ago by his parents.

In the scrapbook, Moore is particularly proud of two special trinkets: a medal from then-New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and a pink-and-black feather given to him by one of the ballet dancers.

“It’s just a wonderful memory to have,” said Moore, who also made appearances with his high school band in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., during the trip. “It was a thrill. We were treated like celebrities, I guess you could say.”

Moore’s scrapbook also includes a small piece of paper that school officials used to track his daily allowance. His parents gave him $11 to last him two weeks, he said.

“Can you believe that? Eleven dollars for two weeks in New York City,” he said.

The Joliet Township High School band performed at various engagements under the director of A.R. McAllister, who died in 1944. They played at Madison Square Garden, Metropolitan Opera House, and even on the steps of New York City Hall for the mayor, he said.

“(The mayor) described us as ‘about the best band’ he’d ever heard,” Moore said, noting the band won several national contests in the years leading up to the trip.

Moore stopped playing the oboe in 1942 when he joined the Navy. It wasn’t until 1980 that he picked up the instrument again after members of the Joliet American Legion Band asked him to join because they needed an oboe player.

Tom Drake took over as director of the Joliet American Legion Band in 1963 for Archie McAllister Jr., and has stayed director ever since. Drake said he loves having Moore as part of the band, which he described as “one of the most versatile” in the world.

“My granddaughter, for example, is only 14, and she plays with the band whenever she can. Moore’s 93 and is on the other end of the spectrum. He’s the oldest member,” he said. “It proves that music never dies through generations. It takes you so many places and gives you so many opportunities.”

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