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August 2022

Mr. Archie Brown, the music man of Fort Huachuca schools

Brown and Huachuca school band IMG_8912 THIS

Photo: Mr. Archie Brown (at right in white) and his well-dressed Fort Huachuca Accommodation School Band

More than 50 years ago, a Navy veteran from Kansas taught hundreds of soldiers’ children in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, how to play musical instruments.

His students still remember following Archie H. Brown through the streets of Tombstone and Sierra Vista, playing “The Stars and Stripes Forever” for the Fort Huachuca schools marching band.

The late Mr. Brown, who was born 99 years ago today, cheerfully brought youngsters together to play the most beautiful melodies and harmonies.

He made music fun, but he also made us work.

“Practice makes perfect,” Mr. Brown said again and again. To drive home the point, he gave us “PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT” posters to put up in our bedrooms. And we practiced.

In the Navy Band. Mr. Brown’s musical career began in July 1942, when he joined the U.S. Navy Band. Seaman 2nd Class Archie Brown was in Europe in June 1943 when he heard his father, Robert Brown, had died back home of a heart attack. According to his family, the news devastated him.

Immediately after World War II, the sailor met his wife-to-be, Vernelle Langley, at a dance in Virginia Beach, Va. They married in March 1947 despite knowing Seaman Brown would be away with the Navy for the next 10 months. 

Re-entering civilian life, Mr. Brown made a home with Vernelle in South Boston, Va., where he taught music at Halifax County High School.

His teaching style there was so impressive that a local minister in 1955 suggested the South Boston Junior Chamber of Commerce name him “Man of the Year.”

“More than a band leader, more than a teacher, Mr. Brown is a friend and helper to the young people of our county who seek an introduction to the wonderful world of music,” the Rev. Hugh B. Carter wrote.

No record is available on who became Man of the Year, but Carter’s words are notable because, later, many who joined Mr. Brown’s Fort Huachuca bands felt the same way.

Virginia and Kansas. While Mr. Brown lived in Virginia, he used the GI Bill to subsidize his studies at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg. After two years, he transferred to the University of Kansas. Taking summer courses at KU, he earned his bachelor’s degree in music in 1952 and his master’s in 1956.

When one of his three children developed asthma, Mr. Brown decided in 1957 to move the whole family to the dry air of Fort Huachuca. Here, Mr. Brown taught music at all of the post schools and formed a large marching band, which met regularly at General Myer School. He also taught summer school music classes.

His band competed each year at Helldorado Days in Tombstone, the Rodeo Parades in Tucson, the Sierra Vista Parades, and the Armed Forces Day events in Fort Huachuca. The band earned many awards for its lively music, deft footwork and flashy uniforms.

The Browns lived in the dusty West Apache neighborhood of Fort Huachuca during their first years in Arizona. In early 1960, they moved into Sierra Vista, which became their permanent home.

Five little Browns. Mr. and Mrs. Brown added two sons to the two sons and a daughter they’d brought from Virginia. Now there were Connie, Jerry, Danny, Archie L., and Jimmy.

Mrs. Brown worked for the civil service in Fort Huachuca, first in procurement and later at Greely Hall. She also helped persuade public officials to start a special education program in Sierra Vista for children with learning disabilities.

Arizona was a long way from Mr. Brown’s roots. He grew up in the middle class family of Robert and Cora Blanche Brown of Iola, Kansas.

His father operated a small grocery store, and several other small businesses before it. Archie Brown was the youngest of five sons. The others were Laverne, Lorraine, Robert and Beryl.

Mr. Brown showed musical promise in high school, both as a singer and a tuba player. He used his musical talents in church and further refined them in the Navy and at college.

Lots of Tchaicovsky. In Arizona, his house was always full of music.

“We listened to a lot of classical music, especially Tchaikovsky,” his daughter Connie said. “We also heard a lot of John Philip Sousa and some Perry Como, like ‘Round and Round,’ but most of it was classical music like ‘The 1812 Overture.’”

Mr. Brown’s favorite instrument was the trumpet, but he could play almost any musical device. He considered the violin and the French horn the most difficult instruments.

As a father, Mr. Brown gave his children their choice of instruments. He taught Connie the clarinet at age 6, Jerry the trumpet, Danny the saxophone, Archie L. the cornet, and Jimmy the drums.

The younger Archie also sang for the Buena High School Show Band, and for several southern Arizona rock’n’roll bands.

Mr. Brown also was active in the Sierra Vista Rotary Club and in First Christian Church of Sierra Vista, where he served as choir director and an elder. He and Mrs. Brown were involved in Gideons International and the Gideon Auxiliary.

Troubles in the 1970s. The late 1960s and 1970s were difficult for the Browns. Mrs. Brown was diagnosed with cancer and began radiation treatments. Heart problems forced Mr. Brown to undergo several operations. Son Jerry died in a Colorado car accident in 1973, and a granddaughter was diagnosed with leukemia in 1976 and died in 1977.

It soon was time for Mr. Brown to retire, and fortunately he and Mrs. Brown enjoyed retirement together into the 21st century. He died in December 2005. She passed away in September 2010.

Archie Homer Brown’s music lessons haven't been abandoned. His students have handed that “Practice makes perfect” motto to younger musicians.

Today, somewhere in America songwriters turn out powerful new tunes, saxophones make sweet jazz, and piccolos play “The Stars and Stripes Forever” because Mr. Brown was here.

He hasn’t waved a director’s baton in a Fort Huachuca classroom in more than 40 years, but he’s not gone and forgotten. In the spirit of hard work and pure fun, Mr. Brown still makes music.

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(Thanks especially to Connie Brown Hays, Mr. Brown’s daughter, for providing so much of the information in this story. Connie lives in Hereford, Arizona, just south of Fort Huachuca. As for her brothers, Danny also lives in Hereford, Archie L. in Tucson, and Jimmy in Phoenix.)