The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


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Landers, George W.
(January 13, 1860–July 5, 1955)

–bandmaster—was born in Oswego County, New York, son of Washington and Mary (Patten) Landers. At age 13 he was apprenticed to a carriage and sign painter in Mexico, New York. The village band there used the carriage factory as a rehearsal hall, and Landers learned to read music and play instruments during his seven years of apprenticeship. His favorite instrument was the clarinet, and he played and composed music for it for the rest of his life.

    Landers's first professional music position was with the band of the John Robinson Circus, where he played for three years. In 1884 he moved to Centerville, Iowa, to organize the band for the Second Regiment of the Iowa National Guard. In 1886 Landers enlisted in the regular army and spent the next 33 years in military service, both regular army and Iowa National Guard. In 1898 Iowa responded to the call for National Guard units for the Spanish-American War with four regiments. Each regiment–Dubuque, Davenport, Centerville, and Sioux City–had a band. Since National Guard troops could not serve outside of their own state at that time without enlisting in the regular army, there were many vacancies in the Iowa units. Landers advertised in Des Moines newspapers for musicians to fill out the quota, and enough men responded to create one Iowa National Guard Band, renamed the 51st Iowa Volunteers.

    The band followed the regiment, and played in San Francisco and in the Philippine Islands. Because Landers was the only bandmaster in the Iowa National Guard, he received the rank of major from the brigade commander. He was often ordered to mass all of the bands at the posts for concerts. At the end of the Spanish-American War, Major Landers received permission to take his regimental band on tour. For nearly six months they traveled by railroad throughout the United States, presenting popular concerts.

    In 1908 the renamed 55th Regimental Band was invited to play in Clarinda for the dedication of the new Chautauqua Pavilion. The band's concerts and parades so impressed the local people that they invited Landers to move to Clarinda and start a band there. In 1909 he did relocate to Clarinda, where the Business Men's Club financed the construction of a new armory to house the band. The Regimental Band was reorganized and played 10 concerts per year, in addition to Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. In 1917 Major Landers reached mandatory retirement age, and the regimental band was moved to Council Bluffs. However, he continued to conduct the municipal band in Clarinda, and also organized a series of Page County farmers bands, which regularly played at the county fair and for many other public events in the area.

    Major Landers's work after retirement from the military brought him lasting fame. In 1921, due to his lobbying efforts, the Iowa legislature passed an act actually written by Landers, but known officially as House File 479, and enacted as the Municipal Band Law. Municipalities with a population of less than 40,000 were authorized to levy a tax not to exceed 2 mills annually. First, a petition had to be signed by 10 percent of the eligible voters requesting that the issue be placed on the ballot at the next municipal election. If passed, the tax could be activated, although it could be for less than the allowed 2 mills. This entire process could be reversed by another petition, referendum, and subsequent municipal action.

    The Iowa Band Law proved to be extremely popular, and hundreds of towns and small cities in Iowa took advantage of the opportunity to have a publicly funded local band. An effort in 1929 to expand the law to include all "musical purposes" was defeated, largely due to the Landers's lobbying efforts. The Iowa Band Law was copied by 33 states and at least three foreign countries.

    Landers was a founding member of the Iowa Bandmasters Association. His band played at the Iowa State Fair in 1922, and in 1951, at the age of 91, he was recognized at the Chicagoland Music Festival as the nation's premier band leader. He died in a hospital in Des Moines at age 95.
Sources include R. E. Cunningham, comp., Southwest Iowa Heritage (1973); Page County History (1984); Page County History (Page County Genealogical Society, n.d.); Clarinda Journal, 5/17/1917; Clarinda Herald-Journal, 3/3/1949, 1/12/1950, 4/24/1952, and 7/7/1955; Des Moines Register, 7/5/1955; Council Bluffs Nonpareil, 7/5/1955; Centerville Iowegian, 12/3/1948; and Iowa City Press-Citizen, 4/4/2006.
Contributor: Loren N. Horton