Clown Band to begin accepting summer program scholarship applications April 1

March 13, 2024

Scottville Clown Band, at the Ludington Area Jaycees Freedom Festival Parade, July 4, 2023. Photo by Brad Reed.

SCOTTVILLE — Beginning April 1, the Scottville Clown Band will begin accepting scholarship applications for middle school and high school students who plan to attend summer performing arts programs.

Each year, the band awards over $10,000 in scholarships to middle school and high school students who are enrolled in a summer performing arts program, such as Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp or Interlochen Center for the Arts, among others. Additionally, the band awards over $6,000 in grants to public school music education and a performing arts college scholarship.

“The band has a lot of fun performing throughout the spring, summer and fall entertaining all across the state,” said Herb Early, president of the band. “But, one of our primary missions is to support youth performing arts education. We do this through the awarding of scholarships and grants.”

The Clown Band’s roots date back to 1903 when a group of musicians from Scottville, known as the Merchants’ Band, began wearing hobo costumes and performing for town events.

“Clown bands were actually quiet common across the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” said Rob Alway, the band’s treasurer and one of its historians. “It was common for musicians to dress up in costumes and entertain for local festivals. Through the years, the Scottville Clown Band has outlasted most others.”

During the early part of the 20th century, the band’s costumes became more diverse (and some more risqué!) and it began to perform in other towns. In the 1930s, the band was known unofficially as the Scottville clown band. One of its signature performances occurred at the Scottville Home Harvest Festival, an annual fall event that began during the Great Depression.

Scottville Merchants’ Band, 1910, predecessor to Scottville Clown Band.

World War II meant the suspension of local celebrations, including the Scottville festival. It also meant the end of the clown band. In 1947, the festival was restarted as the Scottville Harvest Festival. Downtown merchant Raymond Schulte, who had performed with the previous band, along with his brother, father and uncle, decided it was time to put the band back together. From that point on, the band was officially known as the Scottville Clown Band.

Over the years, the band’s performance schedule and locations expanded, as did the band itself.

“As other community bands in west Michigan disbanded, many of those musicians joined the Scottville Clown Band,” said Alway. “This resulted in a major increase in members from the Muskegon and Grand Haven areas in the 1960s.”

Growth also meant a greater social responsibility and a need to regenerate.

“Those members who re-organized the band in the late 1940s all understood the importance music had played in their lives,” Alway said. “As the band’s income increased in the ‘60s, the membership wanted to do something to help encourage young musicians. At the same time, Mason County Central’s former band director, Gilbert Stansell, Sr., and his son, Fritz, were opening Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in northern Muskegon County. This led the Clown Band to form a scholarship for a Blue Lake student.

In 1966, the first student awarded a scholarship from the Scottville Clown Band, for Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, was Marty Erickson, a high school student and tubist from Mason County Central in Scottville. Following high school, Erickson joined the U.S. Navy and performed in its band for over 20 years, retiring as the principal tuba of the U.S. Navy Band stationed in Washington, D.C. He recently retired as instructor of tuba and euphonium from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.

Since that first scholarship, the Clown Band has awarded over $600,000 in summer program scholarships, now named in memory of founder Raymond Schulte. Scholarships are open to middle school and high school students from Michigan.

Additionally, the Clown Band awards a $1,000 scholarship annually to a performing arts student at West Shore Community College in Scottville. The scholarship is named in memory of Robert F. Pinkerton, Jr., who served as the band’s treasurer for over 50 years.

Marty Erickson

In 2015, the Clown Band started the George F. Wilson Memorial Endowment Fund, named after “Big George,” who served as the band’s street leader for over 65 years and also served for several years as band’s secretary.

“We wanted to create a legacy that could potentially last beyond the band,” Alway said. “The endowment is a way for the Clown Band to have a lasting impact on supporting the arts in Mason County and the surrounding areas.”

Utilizing the annual dispersement from the endowment, the Clown Band awards grants annually to public education performing arts programs in Mason, Manistee, Lake and Oceana counties. Last year, over $5,900 was awarded jointly to Mason County Central and Mason County Eastern band programs.

While the ultimate purpose behind the band’s student services program is to encourage youth to pursue music as a lifelong endeavor, there is a hope that some of the scholarship and grant recipients consider joining the band.

“Our organization is open to anyone who has a minimum of a high school aptitude in music,” said Early. “We welcome guests to perform with us. After performing a season with the band they are eligible to apply for voting membership. To maintain voting membership, you must show up at least once a year. We have over 150 members, ranging in ages 15 to 101.”

You read that correctly, 101. Henry Nelson of East Lansing, a retired band director, continues to actively perform with the band, along with several other bands including the Michigan State University alumni bands.

The application period is from April 1 to May 14. Scholarship awards will be announced by May 28. App

Applications may be downloaded, beginning April 1, at www.scottvilleclownband.com. Anyone with questions may email Marv Drier, Clown Band student services chairman, at scbscholarships1903@gmail.com.

The Scottville Clown Band is a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization, incorporated in 1974, based in Scottville. To learn more visit www.scottvilleclownband.com. Donations to the band may be sent to Scottville Clown Band, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454.

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