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Captain Kenneth R. Force, one of America’s Most Pre-eminent Bandsmen, dies at 83
Capt. Kenneth R. Force performed at 10 Presidential Inaugurations in Washington, DC with the Regimental Band of the United States Merchant Marine Academy. He resurrected the legacy of George M. Cohan and the Goldman Band of New York. Most important of all, he rose to hero status in the eyes of hundreds of former students and inspired scores of young musicians to become band directors, which he considered the proudest of all his considerable accomplishments. In 1989, the New York Times referred to Capt. Kenneth R. Force as “a human encyclopedia of military and ceremonial music,” and “something of a Toscanini of military marching bands.” He died on October 7, 2023, in Rye, NY, after a lengthy illness.
A hugely accomplished musician, his distinguished musical career includes performances as a trumpet soloist with the Master Virtuosi of New York, numerous Broadway shows, and the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra. He was a member of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus Band as well as the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus Band. Capt. Force received his bandsmen’s diploma from the U.S. Naval School of Music inWashington, DC, and then served as cornet soloist with the First U.S. Army Band at Governors Island, NY. Several years later, he served as Bandmaster for the 42nd Infantry Division Band. Capt. Force attained his Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and 6th year Professional Diploma in Education Administration from the Manhattan School of Music, as well as an additional Master Degree in Counseling from the New York Institute of Technology.
Capt. Force was a consultant to Columbia Artists Management for seven British Military Band Tours of North America and co-produced the “British Salute to the U.S. Bicentennial Tattoo” in Newport, RI, featuring the H.M. Royal Marines and the Black Watch, and the Royal Highland Regiment which featured a cast of over 5,000. He had a long and storied relationship with military bands globally where he guest conducted the United States Marine Band (The President’s Own), The Band of Her Majesty’s Grenadier Guards and Her Majesty’s Welsh Guards, and The Dutch Royal Military Band, in addition to being the Director of Music at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Through his long and very storied association with the military bands of the United States and Great Britain, he was known and revered on both sides of the pond. Many glasses will be tipped in his honor and stories exchanged about his enormous successes and often outrageous antics.
From 1966 – 1971 Capt. Force was the Band Director at Port Chester High School, Port Chester, NY. He totally reorganized the band program which had fallen into lethargy after great success in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The band was re-modeled to resemble the
band of H.M Royal Marines and played a European band repertoire mixed with traditional American music. During his tenure, the concert band received four 6-A concert contest ratings from the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) and in 1971 the band won first place in concert at the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC. The band remains the first (and only) band ever to perform during a live performance of the renowned Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey’s Circus at Madison Square Garden in 1968. In 1969, the band was selected to perform at the 1970 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, CA. They were the smallest band in the history of the parade invited to perform. The honor was bestowed upon them in part because of the unusual British tradition and excellence in performance of the group.
In 1971, Capt. Force was appointed to Director of Music at the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY. He served in that capacity for over 45 years. While other federal service academies use a professional band of enlisted personnel from their branch of the service to perform publicly, the USMMA is unique. There is no professional band at the Academy. The midshipmen, who are students, must perform in all ceremonies and functions. Upon arrival, Capt. Force reorganized those in the band into a separate band company and transformed them with British Military Band marching techniques. Over the years, the USMMA band played in many iconic settings,
not the least of which were Madison Square Garden, the Cotton Bowl, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Shea Stadium, at the 100 th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge, and in 10 Presidential inaugural parades in Washington, DC. In 2002, he was named an
Honorary Alumnus of the USMMA in honor of his years of devoted service to the Academy. Among other honors, in 2004 he became an honorary member of the exclusive American Bandmasters Association. Capt. Force also received a Lifetime Achievement
Award from Long Island's Usdan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts. Similarly, he received the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the Westchester Symphonic Winds. Capt. Force was also a noted music historian and a Freemason. His well- researched profiles of celebrated composers and performers, all Masons, were published by the revered St. Cecile Lodge #568, the Mason’s Lodge of The Arts.
Prior to his appointment as Director of Music at the Academy, he was Director of Bands for the Port Chester, NY music program. Capt. Force insisted upon performing more difficult music than other peer high school bands which set them apart. The band received mentoring and modeling from numerous British military bands with everything from equipment support to drum major training. Those who marched under Drum Major John C. Moon 1st Battalion, Scots Guards, have unforgettable memories. During preparation for the 5-mile route of the Tournament of Roses Parade, the band marched at 6 AM through the streets of Port Chester building the stamina necessary to perform
during the entirety of the parade. Capt. Force took particular glee in serenading Port Chester’s Mayor and President of the Board of Education first thing in the morning as part of the training. As a counterpoint to the military style, the Port Chester band played authentic circus music and was the first and only high school band to perform in Baraboo, WI, for the commemoration of the founding of the Ringling Bros. Circus. Scores of students from Port Chester were encouraged enough by the man they called “Fache” to follow him into the profession. Today, former members of the band serve as music educators, department chairpersons, school administrators, and professional
musicians in major American orchestras. The successes of his former students remain his proudest accomplishment.
Capt. Force is survived by his stepson John Uribe and Mr. Uribe’s two children, Samantha and Alex. His former students, too numerous to mention, attended to him in his final years providing medical and legal oversight, residential assistance, succor, and mostly devoted themselves to him as he devoted himself to them for so many years.
A memorial gathering will be held at the Craft Memorial Home, 40 Leicester Street, Port Chester, NY, 10573 from 4 – 8 PM on October 16, 2023. Burial will be on Tuesday, October 17, 2023 at 11:30 AM at the Greenwood Cemetery, 500 2th Street, Brooklyn,
NY, 11232. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Port Chester High School Band Parents Association, PO Box 826, Port Chester, NY 10573
Port Chester High School Band Association
P, O, Box 826, Rye Brook NY 10573