• Joanne Mason

Richard Williams and His Cornet

Richard Wallace Williams holding his cornet.
Richard Wallace Williams, probably around 1903

Not long ago, I came across this photo of my great-grandfather, Richard Williams (1882-1939). He looks like an accomplished musician here and, according to a story by his daughter Dot, he shared his musical passions with his family.

He was talented musically and at age 21 he was solo cornetist at the Baptist Temple in Brooklyn [New York]. He also belonged to marching bands and participated in many parades. He and my mother and I would gather around the piano on Sunday nights and sing and play the hymns and old songs. I can especially remember his renditions of "The Carnival of Venice" with its many variations, cadenzas, and intricate patterns. He taught me what I know about playing the cornet, but my interest was in the bugle.

The Baptist Temple, now on the National Register of Historic Places in New York, was once a grand venue, as the photos from this Brownstoner post illustrate.

As for "The Carnival of Venice," check out this performance by the United States Navy Band. Then imagine a 21-year-old Richard playing something like it in 1903, perhaps at the Baptist Temple. Or, later in life, around the piano with his family in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Were your ancestors musical? What stories have you heard?

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