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Sweeney History


William Sweeney

Buffalo Bill's Cowboy Band was organized and directed by William Sweeney. It was an indispensable element of the world-famous "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show". The band expressed the necessary aural moods that enhanced the performances and thrilled audiences. Their music accompanied the show, filled in dead spots between acts, and heightened audience response by charging the atmosphere of the show with their numbers. The band wore the same attire as the era's working cowboys: chaps, western boots, broad-brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts. This was unusual for an era in which bands normally attired themselves in military-style uniforms.

The music they performed was reflective of the times — ordered marches, ragtime-influenced pieces, light overtures and popular songs. They smoothed the often rough and rugged edges of folk, ragtime, Indian and other music to make them culturally acceptable and thrilling to the millions of their audience in America and Europe.

A cornet player, Sweeney spent more than 30 years as the band's leader, beginning with Cody's first Wild West show at the "Old Glory Blowout" in North Platte, Nebraska on the Fourth of July in 1882 to the 1913 "Farewell Tour" with Pawnee Bill in the "Two Bills" show. Buffalo Bill himself wrote about how "appropriate the music from Mr. Sweeney's Cowboy Band" was to the show's scenes of American history.

Some fifty years before it became America's official national anthem in 1931, the "Star-Spangled Banner" provided the official musical opening for each Wild West show. Because of this 30-year tradition, it could be argued that Sweeney and the Cowboy Band greatly influenced the general public's acceptance of the "Star Spangled Banner" as America's National Anthem.

From the Buffalo Bill Historical Center

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