Celebrate local musical history

The cover of a handbill for a John Philip Sousa tour is pictured. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)


Marquette Regional

History Center

Special to the Journal

MARQUETTE — It’s hard to explain how rich Marquette County is in arts and culture to people who’ve never been here. We are, after all, a scattering of small cities on the edge of the wilderness, far away from larger urban areas.

By conventional thinking, this should be a very boring place. But in truth, the Marquette area has always been prolifically creative. We enjoy an inheritance of beauty that rivals any part of America. Why exactly that is remains difficult to describe without delving into our local history.

Marquette County is less isolated than it looks on a map. It is a place that has perennially drawn people with its natural charm and spirited community. As any student of local history will know, the county has always been connected to the rest of the world in surprisingly powerful ways.

Through the decades, many famous musicians visited Marquette between gigs in bigger cities, delighting locals and tourists with intimate performances of the popular songs of the day.

Lillian Russell, one of the most influential female actors and singers of the early 20th century, performed on June 5, 1909 at the Marquette Opera House. The audience was treated to drinking water provided for free by the Polaris Mineral Spring Co. as they enjoyed the show.

Legendary band leader John Philip Sousa played at the Delft Theatre on September 11, 1928. Sousa conducted the U.S. Marine Band under presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and Harrison. He came to Marquette as part of his Golden Jubilee Tour, marking fifty years of experience as a conductor.

Duke Ellington came to Marquette and Ishpeming for the filming of Anatomy of a Murder. The score he composed for the film is considered to be among his best work. Ellington won three awards at the second annual Grammy Awards ceremony in 1959 for music composed for the iconic Marquette County movie.

The Rolling Stones came to Marquette, though not to perform commercially. They flew in by private jet for the July 24, 2002 funeral of Royden ‘Chuch’ Magee, their Marquette-born crew chief and longtime friend, considered one of the best road managers in the industry.

The band went to the pub at the Landmark Inn, perused the History Center at its old Front Street address, and attended Magee’s funeral at Messiah Lutheran Church. The Stones played a heartfelt rendition of Amazing Grace to the congregation of 700 gathered to honor Magee’s life.

Michael Shirtz, now a renowned professional jazz musician, grew up in Marquette and graduated from Marquette Senior High School. After fifteen years of living away from Marquette, Shirtz is excited to come home this June to the place where he fell in love with music.

Shirtz performed with his popular Big Band weekends at the Northwoods Supper Club during his high school years, learning from some of the best local musicians.

He also met musical idols while a young member of the Marquette Choral Society. Jazz pianist Dave Brubek, for instance, came to Marquette to perform with the Marquette Choral Society on April 11, 1992. From this experience, Shirtz went on to study Brubek’s music. The men developed a professional relationship that helped the younger musician develop as a performer.

Join us at Forest Roberts Theatre, this Saturday at 7 p.m. to celebrate the Marquette Regional History Center’s centennial year music with the Michael Shirtz Quartet. The band will present America, Our Way! An American Songbook Story.

This show will remember a century of American music with songs from Irving Berlin, Gershwin, music of the Great Depression and World War II, Motown and 1950s classics, and Singer and Songwriter era hits. Historical photographs will be presented as the music plays. It will be a great concert for a romantic date or family outing.

Tickets are $20 in advance, $30 at the door, and available now through NMU’s ticket office at the Barry Events Center, (906) 227-1032, or online at tickets.nmu.edu.

Come enjoy a century of music together and help support the Marquette Regional History Center.