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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Photo courtesy: Paul Hemmer
Photo courtesy: Paul Hemmer
Fate Marable's jazz band with Louis Armstrong. Photo courtesy: Paul Hemmer
Photo courtesy: Paul Hemmer
Photo courtesy: Paul Hemmer
Louis Armstrong and the "Palmetto Jszzerites."Photo courtesy: Paul Hemmer

JAZZ. Captain John Streckfus, owner of the STRECKFUS STEAMBOAT LINE, in 1907 hired Fate Marable, a native of Paducah, Kentucky, to play steam calliope and accompany Emil Flindt, of Clinton, Iowa, a violinist, on his steamboats. Marable remained with the steamboat company and in 1918 organized the first New Orleans-based band to perform for passengers. (1) Marable had "an ear" for great musicians and assembled the great Louis Armstrong (cornet), Johnny Dodds (clarinetist), Johnny St. Cyr (banjo/guitar), George "Pops" Foster (bass) and Warren "Baby" Dodds. Armstrong was then seventeen years old and only recently had decided to be a professional musician. (2) Captain Streckfus often sat in on rehearsals and insisted the tempo of fox-trots be 70 beats a minute and 90 beats for one-steps.

Marable's jazz band moved to St. Louis aboard the steamer "Sidney" and in 1919 they entertained on cruises between there at St Paul, Minnesota. A cruise was held for the KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS on June 19, 1919 and for ST. JOHN'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH on July 1, 1919.

In 1920 Marable and "The Palmetto Jazzerites" were moved to the steamboat "Capitol." Performers included Louis Armstrong (cornet), Boyd Adkins (clarinet, saxophone and violin), Norman Brashear, "Baby" Dodds (drums), David Jones, Henry Kiball and Johnny St. Cyr (banjo). They performed on two Dubuque-based excursions on June 20, 1920. On Labor Day weekend the Capitol with its band returned for an afternoon and moonlight dance.

Despite his ability, Armstrong was only allowed to play a cornet solo with piano accompaniment on a song called "La Veda." His desire to be a featured player and singer, blocked by Marable and Streckfus, may have been a major reason for him moving on after three years. (3) He had used his three years wisely by establishing professional contacts that helped him in later years. In segregated America, black musicians were generally denied long-term engagements and lived by constantly moving from town to town. In playing to the white steamboat passenger's expectation of mystery, gaiety and a bit of danger from blacks, Armstrong developed his eyeball-rolling, handkerchief waving, hoarse yells, and scat singing act. (4)

Jazz is considered the only musical art form to have begun in America and is usually associated with New Orleans, Louisiana. Dubuque as recently as 1987 had two Dixieland jazz bands-the Dukes of Dubuque and the Dixieland All-Stars.

The Dixieland All-Stars, Dubuque's longest playing jazz band, formed in 1975 and played Sunday nights in the lounge of the HOLIDAY INN. Members of the group included Larry Busch, music director and trumpeter; Dick Spautz, band leader and drummer; Harley Grant, clarinetist; Dave Richter, bass; Marty Busch, trombone; and Al Schmidt, piano. The All-Stars' brand of jazz was described as Chicago-style with piano and string bass in place of the tuba and banjo.

The Dukes of Dubuque featured arrangements from the 1940s and 1950s belonging to Mark Gavin, an East Dubuque Dixieland bandleader. Formed in January 1987, the Dukes members were Paul HEMMER, pianist; F. Hunter FUERSTE, trombonist who also toured with the Guy Lombardo Royal Canadians in the 1970s; Randy Schneeberger, trumpet and cornet; Roland Anfinson, clarinetist; Keith Marugg, drummer; and Dick Kriz, bass.

Floyd Rundle, head of the music department for the Dubuque Community School District, directed the Dubuque Jazz Ensemble in the late 1980s. In 1988 they performed at Divine Word College and in 1989 they were part of DUBUQUEFEST/VERY SPECIAL ARTS.

Believed unique in the State of Iowa, "The Caboose" was founded by Deb Stevens in 1992 for talented musicians in grades four, five, and six in the DUBUQUE COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT. Positions filled by auditions included wind instruments and a rhythm section of piano, keyboard bass, and drum set. The philosophy was to expose talented musicians to the music of big bands. While they were learning to play their instruments, the students received an emphasis on improvisation. The group's unique name came from the idea of young musicians following in the tracks of older more experienced peers.

Jazz, as well as other types of music, brought people together. In 1992 DUBUQUE MAIN STREET, LTD. initiated "Dubuque...and All That Jazz" to get people to come downtown. By 1997 crowds estimated between 6,000 to 8,000 attended each of the four concerts including an additional concert in September. All kinds of music were featured including salsa, rock, and blues. Dozens of local businesses donated money and in-kind services. Food vendors included Mississippi Fudge Factory, Shot Tower Inn, Sugar Ray's Barbecue, Town Clock Inn, La Gastronomie, and the Noon Lion's Club. (5) The event celebrated its 25th year in 2007 with no signs of stopping.

In 2001 the Jack Jenney Jazz Festival was held on June 9th. According to announcements made by the sponsoring organizations, the DUBUQUE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA and the music department of the Dubuque Community School District the festival was a family-centered event with the the entire park reserved for the activity. Performers in the band shell included Swing Nouveau, Kelly DeHaven and the Misbehavin' Band, Frieda Lee and the Dick Sturman Trio, Dubuque Senior High Jazz Band, Ken Kilian Saxtet Plus Big Band, and the string section of the Dubuque Youth Symphony Strings. The finale was a rendition of "Stardust" performed by the COLTS DRUM AND BUGLE CORPS. Members of the Jenney family were expected to attend. Jack JENNEY was considered one of the finest trombone players in jazz and swing during the 1930s and 1940s. (6)

Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

In 2009 UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE offered the University of Dubuque Jazz Faculty and the University of Dubuque Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Dr. James Sherry. Dick Sturman was the pianist and Kathy Kosins, recipient of the 2001 Michigan Council of the Arts/Artserve Michigan Jazz Composers Award. She was also a six-time ASCAP Award-winning songwriter and a jazz educator.

On October 17, 2012 the Jazz Ensemble directed by William Encke performed a free concert of jazz "masterworks." Music performed included selections composed by Billy Strayhorn, Stephen Kupka, Hoagy Carmichael, Nat Adderly, Ben Bernie and Cole Porter. The Ensemble along with jazz combo Victims of Gravity, both under the direction of William Encke, performed over a dozen tunes including "Autumn Leaves," "Don't Take the B Train," and "Sweet Georgia Brown" at the CyberCafe on October 30, 2013. The free concert was open to the public.

The University of Dubuque jazz ensemble began incorporating talented young performers as early as 2014 when two instrumentalists from Western Dubuque were involved in "A Swingin' Christmas" held on December 10th. (7) On October 26, 2016 the jazz ensemble presented "Legends" featuring selections from fallen artists of the jazz and popular music genres. The concert involved student jazz musicians under the direction of Nicholas Bratcher, director of instrumental music at the university. (8)



1. "Fate Marable," All About Jazz, Online: https://musicians.allaboutjazz.com/fatemarable

2. Provizer, Steve, "Fate Marable, Louis Armstrong, and the Big River," The Syncopated Times, May 27, 2019, Online: https://syncopatedtimes.com/fate-marable-louis-armstrong-and-the-big-river/

3. Ibid.

4. Kenney, William Howland, "Jazz on the River," Online: https://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/437337.html

5. "Dubuque...And All That Jazz," Telegraph Herald, December 6, 1997, p. 18

6. Voight, Sandye, "Dubuque Jazz Fest to Honor Jack Jenney," Telegraph Herald, April 27, 2001, p. 3

7. "Student News," Dyersville Commercial, December 3, 2014, p. 61

8. "Today's Tidbits," Telegraph Herald, October 19, 2016, p. 14