Harold Josiah Crosby, Composer
(February 11, 1886 - January 18, 1920)
Nothing is more stirring musically than a good march, a good march to set your toes tapping and get your heart beating. And when you think of the great marches, you think of the Kings of Marches, John Phillips Sousa, R. B. Hall, Henry Fillmore. For you band members out there, young and old, current and past, many are the hours and days we spent trying to master the intricacies of The Stars and Stripes, Officer of the Day, or Americans We. But often forgotten among the March Kings is H. J. Crosby, a Dexter (ME) native whose life and musical career were cut short at age 33, long before he could reach his full potential and greatness as a composer, putting his name among the remembered few.
Harold Josiah Crosby, born on February 11, 1886, began his musical career under the tutelage of his parents, Josiah Willis Crosby and Fanny Dearth Crosby, both accomplished musicians themselves. At a young age he began playing piano, composing music, and learning other instruments, particularly the trombone and baritone. At his graduation from Dexter High School in 1904, the school orchestra played one of his earliest compositions, The Commencement March, and a year later, Crosby conducted the school orchestra’s presentation of Concert of Nations.
After high school, Crosby took courses at Colby College, the University of Maine, and the New England Conservatory of Music. He also continued to compose marches during this time, several of which had been published by the time he turned twenty. In 1910, he left Maine for Boston where he played in pit orchestras for the Boston Globe Theater and the Columbia Theater and with various concert bands in the Boston area. In 1918, he established the Harold J. Crosby Publishing Company of Boston, selling his own works and the works of others.
His marches were often described as “exciting and distinctive” for which they found wide acceptance in their day. Because of the popularity of his music, he merited full page advertisements in leading band journals of the first two decades of the century. During that time, the H. J. Crosby Publishing Company catalog listed 30 of his popular military regimental marches, many of which were written during World War I, explaining the prevalence of patriotic titles. It is these marches that “earned him an important place in the history of band music”; however, “with few exceptions, his marches are rarely heard today” (David Holmes, Harold Josiah Crosby, Composer of Dexter, Maine).
While little is known about Crosby and his marches are rarely heard, he was recognized as one of the major contributors to American marches. He was featured on a multi-volume collection of March music played by the United States Navy Band, called Heritage of the March, which highlighted the great composers throughout the history of marches as a musical form. Volume 13 is dedicated to him and contains 8 of his more popular marches, to include the Battleship California March, a piece commissioned by the United States Navy in 1914.
It was reported by one biographer of Crosby that in 1919, four months before he died, Crosby was a guest conductor for the John Phillips Sousa Band at Symphony Hall in Boston, conducting four of his own Marches; Sousa was so impressed by the marches and by Crosby that he announced he was going to add these Marches to his nation-wide tour that season. However, this information could not be corroborated, but given Crosby’s popularity at the time, such an honor by Sousa is very probable, adding credence to Crosby’s oft overlooked importance to American Marches.
On January 18, 1920, in New York City, where he further sought fame and fortune, Harold Josiah Crosby died, “a sad end to a promising career” (Holmes). One of the best known composers in the East, as he is described in his obituary, Crosby is buried in the family plot in the Elmwood Cemetery in Dexter, his name written across a musical staff on his gravestone.
Though he died young, his name, his legacy, and his music continue today. The Dexter (ME) Community Band, recently voted to change its name to the Harold. J. Crosby Community Band of Dexter (ME) to honor him, one of Dexter’s own. The band’s repertoire includes such Crosby greats as Leading the Parade, Citizen’s Pride, Queen of the Fleet, and Liberty Forever. Though his marches are not as well-known as Sousa’s, Hall’s, or Fillmore’s, they are a mainstay of the Harold J. Crosby Community Band of Dexter. And on February 11, his birthday, we celebrate him, his life, and his contributions to American music.