Herbert Lincoln Clarke, acknowledged to be the greatest cornetist of his time, was certainly the most celebrated. Not only was he a virtuoso cornet player, but "an excellent composer, an accomplished violinist, a prolific and highly talented arranger for band, and a most distinguished band conductor" (Johnston, Jan. 1972, p. 44). As well, he wrote several study books for the cornet that are still used today.
Clarke was born in Woburn, Massachusetts on September 12, 1867. He moved with his family to Toronto in 1880. Since his father was the organist at the Jarvis St. Baptist Church and his three older brothers played with the Regimental Band of the Queen's Own Rifles, it was not surprising that the young Clarke showed an interest in music. He himself said in his autobiography, How I Became a Cornetist, that it was growing up
"in a musical environment that played a large part in turning me to the musically artistic as a life profession".
In the spring of 1881 he attended a concert of The American Band of Providence, Rhode Island, at the Horticultural Pavilion in Toronto and he heard Bowen R. Church play a cornet solo. Later, Clarke was to remember this event as the most significant of his childhood. He taught himself to play the cornet, using his brother Edwin's instrument. At about the same time, he joined the Toronto Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Dr. F. H. Torrington, as a violinist. The cornet had captured his heart, however. In 1882, he joined the Queen's Own Rifles band as the last chair of a 12-man cornet section in order to obtain a government-issue instrument on which to practise.
Between 1884, when he graduated from high school, and 1887, Clarke drifted between playing in the pit orchestra of English's Opera House in Indianapolis, where his family had moved; working (unhappily) at the John Kay store in Toronto, while playing second chair cornetist with the Queen's Own; and playing at the Ontario Beach lake resort in the summer. It was in 1887 that he joined the Citizen's Band of Toronto, under John Bayley, as the band's cornet soloist. He spent the next five years playing in and leading several bands around Toronto (the Taylor Safe Works Band, Heintzman Piano Company Band, Streetsville Ontario Band) and teaching at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (where he also played in the Toronto Conservatory String Quartet) and at Trinity College in Port Hope, Ontario. In September of 1889 he married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Loudon, with whom he had two children: Vivian (Grace) in 1890 and James (Edward James Watkin) in 1892. In the spring of 1892, he left Canada once again, after successfully auditioning for the Gilmore Band.
In 1893, he joined Sousa's Band as a cornet soloist. After playing at the Chicago Exposition in the same year, he left to play with various other bands, continuing to do so over the next five years. It was during this period that he divorced Lizzie Loudon and married Lillian Bell Hause, with whom he had two more children, Ruby Bell and Herbert L. Clarke, Jr. In 1898 he returned to Sousa's band, with whom he toured extensively, and later became Sousa's assistant director, conducting the band in many recording sessions. He resigned from Sousa's band in September of 1917 and returned to Canada to lead the Anglo-Canadian Leather Company Band in Huntsville, Ontario from 1918 to 1923. Under Clarke's leadership, this band became one of the most celebrated commercial bands in North America.
In 1923, he moved to Long Beach, California due to his wife's health and conducted the Long Beach Municipal Band until 1943. In April of 1934, he was elected President of the American Bandmasters Association. He died in January 1945 and his ashes were interred at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., near the gravesite of John Phillip Sousa. His papers and memorabilia are held at The Sousa Archives and Center for American Music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
In the course of his musical career, Clarke recorded most of his own solo cornet compositions, other cornet solos and conducted Sousa's Band in over 200 recordings. Among his recordings were "Bride of the Waves", "Sounds from the Hudson" and "Caprice Brilliante", as a soloist; "Hunting Scene", conducting the American Band of Providence; and "The Stars and Stripes Forever", "Semper Fidelis" and "Favorite Songs of Canada", conducting Sousa's Band. Several of his recordings were reissued on Crystal Records disc S450 around 1979. A discography can be found in Roll Back the Years.
Selected recordings available
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- Bridges, Glenn D. Pioneers in Brass. Foreword by Harold B. Bachman. 3rd ed. Detroit : Sherwood Publications, 1972. vi, 113 p. AMICUS 2546053
- "Clarke, Herbert L.". Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Edited by Helmut Kallmann et al. 2nd ed. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, c1992. xxxii, 1524 p. AMICUS 12048560
- Johnston, Herbert N. "In and around Toronto with Herbert L. Clarke : Part 1". The school musician director and teacher. (January 1972). P. 44-46. AMICUS 654302
- Johnston, Herbert N. "In and around Toronto with Herbert L. Clarke : Part 2". The school musician director and teacher. (February 1972). P. 42-43, 66. AMICUS 654302
- Moogk, Edward B. Roll Back the Years : history of Canadian recorded sound and its legacy : genesis to 1930. Ottawa : National Library of Canada, 1975. xii, 443 p. AMICUS 80154. Also published in French under the title: En remontant les années : l'histoire et l'héritage de l'enregistrement sonore au Canada, des débuts à 1930