Trailing Trombonist Arthur Pryor

Recently I was contacted by DJ and music historian David Richoux who is trying to determine if Arthur Pryor was of African American descent.  He cites the book Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance By Jacqui Malone Published by University of Illinois Press, 1996 ISBN 0252065085, 9780252065088.  “Arthur Pryor, an African American alumnus of the Sousa band, formed a group of his own that featured, as part of its repertoire, ragtime works…” (Page 137).  Ms Malone is an author and currently a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard.  I’ve attempted to contact her through the fellowship program to obtain her source information. I’ve not had a response.

Richoux provided quotes from two books he found online. First,  Vaudeville, Old & New by Frank Cullen, Florence Hackman, Donald McNeilly. Published by Routledge, 2007. On page 503, there is an account of the family history of Winnie Hamlet Hennings: “[Hennings] was one of four children born to Mary Baker Hamlet and Charles Hamlet… Winnie’s cousin was bandmaster Arthur Pryor, son of musician Sam Pryor whom Winnie studied music.”

Another reference provides more background information of where Samuel Pryor (Arthur’s father) lived and traveled, perhaps explaining his absence from the 1850 and 1860 Census in Missouri. Page 671 of the Dietetic and Hygienic Gazette, published in 1902, recounts Samuel Pryor on his death bed revived by music played by his sons. “Arthur W. Pryor the trombone soloist now playing with Sousa’s Band, is the son of the old bandmaster of St. Joseph. Young Pryor first made a favorable impression on General John A. Logan at a reunion of the Grand Army of the Republic1 in Denver when he was a mere boy…”  It also states “Twenty-five years ago the elder Pryor toured the country with a band composed of young women, and his wife played the trombone. She was famous then as a soloist, and her talent in that particular line was transmitted to her son.” The article also mentions “An adopted son, “Harry” Montgomery, known as “Harry” Pryor.” It also places Samuel Pryor working in Denver, CO at one point: “The elder Pryor was at one time an actor, going on the stage in Denver as a comedian.”

I found a “treatise” online written by Joseph William Frye for his Doctor of Music degree in 2008: A Biographical Study of the Trombone Soloists of the John Philip Sousa Band: 1892-1931. Some background of Samuel Pryor is given, “His father, Samuel, was a bandmaster who had previously studied music in Chicago, Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri. Earlier in his career, Samuel served for three years as music director at the Lincoln Opera House in Lincoln, Nebraska… After leaving the Lincoln Opera House, Samuel Pryor became a bandmaster in St. Joseph and in 1869 organized an ensemble he called Pryor’s Military Band.”  The band was named The Fourth Regiment Band of Missouri and sent to serve in the Spanish American War (about 1898).

I’ve been searching records trying to find support of this new information.

I searched Winnie Hamlet Hennings family on both parents’ sides to 1860. If anyone is related to her and would like these notes, I’ll be happy to pass them along. Unfortunately there is not a Pryor or a Pryor marriage amongst the lot. I’m wondering if Winnie embellished her relationship with her teacher by claiming they were related.

I’d like to find out more about Samuel Pryor’s life in Nebraska, as I’ve Googled him and the Lincoln Opera House and the only reference to this connection is the treatise noted above.  If there is a connection between Winnie Hamlet and the Pryors it may be in Nebraska since her family lived in that state before returning to Washington Twp. in St. Joseph, MO between 1900-1910.

Arthur Pryor’s older brother was named Walter, could he have been named for a long forgotten name associated with his father? I became intrigued with a Walter Pryor who was living in Ohio in the early 1800’s. In 1860 there is a Samuel Pryor in Wyandot Co., OH who is about the age of Arthur’s father. He was living in the Walter Pryor household, but then he’s not there in 1850 or in 1870. I’d like to hear from anyone who has traced this family. Could the line of Samuel Pryor be hard to trace because he was an orphan living in Walter’s household, or possibly not a Pryor at all? Could Arthur’s father have not been from MO as stated in the Census records?

All ideas welcomed.

1 New York Times article dated July 14, 1883 describes the reunion of the GAR in Denver: