“Milham Park Music Man”
Born in Kalamazoo on the first of March, 1886, Edward Harrison Snuggs grew to become one of the city’s most beloved bandleaders. From his early days as an up-and-coming young trombonist, through the “Jazz Age” and beyond as a top-notch composer, performer, arranger and bandleader, Ed Snuggs led many of Kalamazoo’s most popular musical organizations for nearly seventy years. He is perhaps best remembered for conducting a series of free summertime band concerts in Milham Park for more than a half-century.
A Musical Family
Music was deeply embedded in Edward Snuggs’ DNA. His mother, Orpha Electa (Blanchard) Snuggs, and father, Alfred W. Snuggs, were both Michigan natives, longtime Kalamazoo residents, and devout musicians—an organ occupied a prominent place in the Snuggs family parlor. Alfred Snuggs, a painter by trade, was a featured clarinet player in Wallace S. White’s Military Band during the mid-1890s, and he became a member of Kalamazoo’s famous Chamber of Commerce Band in 1898. After the turn of the twentieth century, Al Snuggs led a popular three-piece dance orchestra (violin, cornet and piano) for several years. Ed’s sister, Ada May Snuggs (born December 1884), would herself later become an accomplished musician.
Learning to Play
Edward Snuggs began learning music from his father at the age of seven. He first learned to play the family organ, and then gradually worked his way through a variety of other instruments. Eddie attended East Avenue School and took part in many of the school’s musical programs. (Even in his later years, folks still called him “Eddie,” but he greatly disliked that name; he felt it was unprofessional.) Young Edward was introduced to the cornet by Professor Edward L. Weinn, a popular local orchestra leader and violin instructor. He soon learned to play bass, violin, and eventually the trombone, which quickly became his favorite. He studied trombone locally under Gardia P. “Gardie” Simons, an expert trombonist with Ellis Brooks’ famous band in New York, who years later became a member of Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Orchestra.
First Professional Work
By the age of sixteen, Ed Snuggs was already an accomplished musician and able to play several instruments. Ed’s first work as a professional came in 1902 when he took a job with Kalamazoo’s celebrated Academy of Music Orchestra, and his trombone playing soon earned special recognition, especially after he joined George B. Newell’s Boy’s Band in 1904. As a featured soloist in Newell’s massive 120 member touring outfit, Ed wowed audiences with his trombone prowess during renditions of “My Old Kentucky Home.” A February 1907 performance with Newell’s College Band at the Academy of Music placed Snuggs firmly in the spotlight with the debut of his first trombone solo composition entitled “The Victor Polka.” “This is the little bandsman’s first effort in this line,” lauded a writer for the Gazette, “and is said to be a most ambitious piece of work, the range being from high D to low pedal C.”
While still in his teens, Snuggs went on the road for two seasons as a cornetist with Banks Baird’s seventeen piece orchestra in Edward F. Davis’ spectacular production of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The thirty-member entourage traveled throughout Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio in a trio of specially customized railroad cars full of scenery and special effects. Snuggs eventually became the leader of the band.
During these formative years, Snuggs also toured with Lou Dockstader’s famous traveling minstrel show, made numerous appearances with the Kreisler Band in Bluffton, Indiana, and took part in three encampments with the Michigan National Guard’s Second Regiment Band.
In July 1907, Ed Snuggs married Miss Nellie Gilman of Kalamazoo. At the time, Snuggs was still a member of Newell’s Orchestra and performing nightly at the Dunkley Pavilion in South Haven. Two years later, Snuggs was playing clarinet in the pit with George Balcom’s Orchestra when the Fuller Theater first opened its doors in September 1909. The following spring, their son, Howard B. Snuggs, was born while Ed was performing with John Philip Sousa’s Band in Asbury Park, New Jersey. “I had decided that bandleading was the thing for me,” said Snuggs in a 1959 interview, “Sousa’s example was inspiring. He was a well-mannered gentleman, polite and fastidiously groomed. His conducting technique was flawless.” (Gazette)
Fischer’s Exposition Orchestra
About 1909 or so, Snuggs joined Charles and Burton Fischer’s famous orchestra and soon became a featured trombone soloist and a popular singer, “with a voice that charms and satisfies” (Gazette). Albert Von Tilzer’s “That College Rag” and Burton Fischer’s “Sailing” won great applause when they were performed in the new music shell at Oakwood Park. The crowds went crazy when Snuggs—dressed in costume as the “Goblin Man”—sang Harry Von Tilzer’s “Rag Time Goblin Man,” complete with special electrical lighting effects.
Summer-long engagements at the Casino in South Haven and multiple tours of the Midwest on the Chautauqua circuits kept members of Fischer’s orchestras (he managed several) employed during the summer months. Dancing assemblies and sacred music concerts at People’s Church kept band members busy during colder weather, and maintained a steady spotlight on Snuggs’ talent. Trombone and cornet duets between Ed Snuggs and Al Reifsnyder became common fare, with frequent performances of “A Perfect Day,” “Aloha (Hawaiian Farewell),” and others.
Kalamazoo’s massive 1914 auto show at the state armory featured two of the community’s favorite local bands, Herman Solomon’s Imperial Orchestra and Fischer’s Exposition Orchestra. Fischer’s Orchestra stole the show with the “Sextette from Lucia,” which featured Ed Snuggs, Charles Brocato, Will Reifsnyder, Otto Schultz and Charles Fischer.
By October 1917, Snuggs and Reifsnyder had become such popular soloists that a test of “Annie Laurie” was included in a series of recordings that Fischer’s Orchestra made for Victor Records in Camden, New Jersey, though it was never commercially released.
After ten years of work with Fischer’s Orchestra, Ed Snuggs decided to strike out on his own in 1919 and formed his own brass concert band and jazz orchestra. Jazz music was becoming exceedingly popular by this time and Snuggs knew it well. He put together a top notch group of players and booked engagements every night of the week at the new White’s Lake Pavilion.
In addition to the nightly dancing parties at White’s Lake, Snuggs and his orchestra somehow found time to perform afternoon concerts at Milham Park and were the featured entertainment for six seasons at Recreation Park during the immensely popular Grand Circuit horse races.
During the 1920s, Snuggs was a member of C. Z. Bronson’s Fuller Theater Symphonic Orchestra, one of the many organizations that led directly to the formation of today’s Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra would provide two 30-minute musical programs on Monday evenings before and after each film showing. The repertoire was “light in character, and yet not of the jazzy popular type.”
In 1928, Snuggs took part in the grand opening of the State Theater, and remained with the orchestra there for several years. Snuggs later rejoined his old friends Charles and Burton Fischer, and performed extensively with Fischer’s First Orchestra, including two of Fischer’s famous world tours.
Throughout the 1930s and early ‘40s, Snuggs performed regularly with Fischer’s Globe Trotters until Charles Fischer’s death in 1948. During the mid-1940s, Snuggs and the two Fischer brothers formed the Twilight Serenade Trio for a program that was broadcast daily over WKZO radio. Snuggs played cello; Charles Fischer, violin and Burton Fischer, piano.
Snuggs was able to play a wide variety of instruments, including cello, violin, viola, string bass, saxophone, clarinet, cornet, French horn, and of course, trombone, and he loved to teach music. During the 1930s, he operated the Virtuoso School of Music (later called Snuggs Music House & School of Music) at 156 East Michigan Avenue, and continued to teach music and repair instruments at various locations into the 1950s. Snuggs began teaching band at Kalamazoo Central High School in 1920, and later taught instrumental music at Mattawan High School during the mid-1940s.
Composer and Arranger
Although seemingly never published commercially, Snuggs loved to write music almost as much as he enjoyed performing. The always jovial bandleader once joked that he performed his own compositions so he wouldn’t have to pay songwriters’ royalties. “I’m too democratic to help pay the expenses of royalty,” he quipped. He tried to include at least one of his own compositions in the program of nearly every concert he played, and he had a lifelong dream of performing a complete concert of his own work. Snuggs’ compositions included such titles as “Bluffton Indiana Street Fair,” “Memories of You,” “Every Night and Every Day,” “Love Remembrances,” “The Columbian Park,” “Highlights,” “We Salute You,” and “You Cantelope in the Garden of Love,” plus several more with a decidedly local flavor—“Waldo Stadium,” “Kalamazoo, Direct to You,” “Hail to the Mall,” “The Michiganders,” “To Our Mayor,” and perhaps others.
In 1911, Snuggs signed on to play trombone in Charles Fischer’s Kalamazoo Concert Band, which was directed by Chester Z. Bronson. The band made its public debut during the grand opening of Milham Park in May 1911, and continued touring throughout Michigan with tremendous success.
After several years on the road, Snuggs returned to Milham Park in the summer of 1918 and began directing his own band at a series of outdoor concerts, a practice for which he would become locally famous.
In 1942, members of Kalamazoo’s musicians’ union, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Local 228, formed the AFM Band. Ed Snuggs, an active union member, was chosen as the band director. Now leading the newly formed band, Snuggs’ weekly summertime concerts were moved to Bronson Park during the war years, but returned to Milham Park in 1946 as their popularity grew. The free Sunday concerts continued to attract hundreds—often thousands—to Milham Park nearly every summer season until 1970. “I try to achieve balance,” stated Snuggs in a Gazette interview, “I try to include works from light opera, marches and waltzes and, occasionally, a bit of Dixieland.” In a time honored tradition, a rousing version of “Star Spangled Banner” concluded each performance.
Snuggs met and married his second wife, Edna Eddy, a former dance instructor, in Chicago in 1956. The couple then returned to Kalamazoo where Ed continued to pursue his interest in music. Each fall, they made a pilgrimage to Bluffton, Indiana, where Ed was a guest conductor and trombone soloist in the annual street fair, something he had done regularly since the 1930s.
But Ed Snuggs spent the greater part of his retirement writing and arranging music, directing the Local 228 AFM Band, and organizing his popular summer concert series. “He just loved those concerts,” his wife told reporters.
While making early preparations for the coming summer concert season, Edward Snuggs passed away on 26 March 1971 at the age of 85. Snuggs was president of the Kalamazoo Federation of Musicians for twenty years, and for more than fifty years, he conducted the AFM Band’s popular series of summer concerts in Milham Park, a tradition that continued even after his death. Ed Snuggs was fondly remembered for his dedication to his music and his contributions to the Kalamazoo community. “Few Kalamazooans give so many years of pleasure to their community,” stated one Gazette writer. For many, summertime music was purely defined by Edward Snuggs, Kalamazoo’s “Milham Park Music Man.”
Related reading from Kalamazoo Public Library’s Local History essays.
- “My uncle (Edward Snuggs, musician extraordinaire) taught me the coronet and my brother the trombone. I recall, as a young lad, attending the concerts at Milham Park with my family to watch Uncle Ed conduct the orchestra. It was a great time, although the impact of his reputation and notoriety was beyond me at the time. I had no idea that he taught in my high school at Mattawan. Years later I, too, studied band at the school. I appreciate your efforts with one of my favorite uncles. He was quite a card, demonstrating his ability to sit on the floor, put his legs behind his neck, and play the violin. I doubt that Aunt Edna was enamored, however as she would respond by saying: ‘Oh, Ed.’” —Bernard Wolff, June 2012