Municipal Band Turns 150

By Jessica Kalin

The morning of June 8 will mark the culmination of several rare historical events and the unveiling of one lost musical gem.

DeKalb’s Municipal Band will celebrate its 150th anniversary on June 8. DeKalb boasts the oldest municipal band in Illinois with director Dee Palmer overseeing the orchestra for 56 years. The band, which plays at the band shell at Hopkins Park, 1403 Sycamore Road, started in 1845 and went uninterrupted through two world wars and the Great Depression.

The band plans to play John Philips Sousa’s march “Transit of Venus,” which has been played only twice before it was lost among the archives of the Library of Congress.

“This really is a high point in my musical career,” Palmer said.

Palmer found the march with the help of a friend and asked permission to play it in honor of the anniversary.

The march, named for the eclipse, was written in 1882 to celebrate the event only seen every 122 years when the planet Venus crosses the sun. This year the eclipse can be seen at dawn on June 8, the same day of the band’s anniversary.

“This is not only an unusual event, with a historical background, but this is a DeKalb event that no other city can claim,” Palmer said.

The band hopes to garner a larger audience for the celebration; however, there are many faithful attendees at each performance, said Sue Huhta, a french horn player with the band for 36 years.

“This is exciting for everyone who knows [Sousa’s] marches, but no one knows this one, so it will be an entirely new experience,” Huhta said. “This is a special occasion for a special community.”

Working for Palmer is an enjoyable experience, Huhta said.

“Dee is a wonderful human being who throws his heart and soul into the band,” Huhta said.

The band provides free concerts throughout the summer. The concerts are sponsored by the Park District and the city of DeKalb.