New American Bandmasters Association Exhibit Opens Monday

The Center’s new exhibit, “American Bandmasters Association’s Little Light — Austin Harding’s Legacy during the Great Depression,” highlights the early years of the ABA and John Philip Sousa’s influence on its early leadership and the organization’s effort to modernize wind ensemble performance in America.  On July 5, 1929, the American Bandmasters Association held its auspicious inaugural meeting at New York City’s Pennsylvania Hotel. The purpose of their first meeting was to establish a code of international instrumentation for all wind bands across the world.

About this same time, America’s spiral into the Great Depression began, and its roaring economy transitioned into recession in August 1929.  On October 24 and 29, the country’s investors began selling their overpriced shares en masse, which led to the crash of America’s Stock Market.  Consumer confidence quickly vanished, and panicked bank withdrawals began a crisis for America’s banks that lasted until the start of WWII.

The closure of the Champaign First National Bank on January 19, 1932 where the ABA’s bank accounts were held, created many unexpected challenges for the organization. Harding, who was the University’s first band director and ABA’s first treasurer, managed all of the organization’s financial assets.

For the next two years, Harding and Edwin Franko Goldman, as its president, worked tirelessly to enable the ABA to continue operating through the Great Depression. This exhibit of personal correspondence, photographs, financial reports, newspaper clippings and historical music instruments document the early years of the ABA and Austin Harding’s steadfast guidance to Goldman and the other founding members of the American Bandmasters Association. For a more detailed explanation of the exhibit please visit this presentation.

The exhibition is open Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday between 9 and 5, and Wed between 9 and 12.  Weekend tours of this and the Center’s other exhibits can be arranged by either calling 217-333-4577 or emailing

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