Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore (25 December 1829 – 24 September 1892) was an Irish-born composer and bandmaster who lived and worked in the United States after 1848. Whilst serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, Gilmore wrote the lyrics to the song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”, the tune he took from an old Irish antiwar folk song, “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye”. This was published under the name Louis Lambert.
Life & Career:
Gilmore was born in Ballygar, Co Galway on Christmas Day in 1829. Already a fine cornet player, he settled in Boston, Massachusetts in 1848, becoming leader of the Suffolk, Boston Brigade, and Salem bands in swift succession. With the Salem Band, Gilmore performed at the 1857 inauguration of President James Buchanan. In 1858 he founded “Gilmore’s Band”, and at the outset of war the band enlisted with the 24th Massachusetts Volunteers, accompanying General Burnside to South Carolina. After the temporary discharge of bands from the field, Governor Andrew of Massachusetts entrusted Gilmore with the task of re-organising military music-making, and General Banks created him bandmaster general.
When peace resumed, Gilmore was asked to organise a celebration, which took place at New Orleans. That success emboldened him to undertake two major music festivals at Boston, the National Peace Jubilee in 1869 and the International Peace Jubilee in 1872. These featured the finest singers and instrumentalists (including the only American appearance by waltz king Johann Strauss II) and cemented Gilmore’s reputation as the leading musical figure of the age. Coliseums were erected for the occasions, holding sixty and one hundred and twenty thousand persons. Grateful Bostonians presented Gilmore with medals and cash, but in 1873 he anticipated Babe Ruth by moving to New York, as bandmaster of the 22nd Regiment. Gilmore took this band on acclaimed tours of Europe. It was back on home soil, preparing an 1892 musical celebration of the quarter centenary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage of discovery, that Gilmore collapsed and died at St. Louis. Gilmore is buried with his wife and daughter in Old Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York.
In many ways Gilmore can be seen as the principal figure in 19th Century American music. He was a composer, the “22nd Regiment March” from the early 1880s is just one example. He held the first “Promenade Concert in America” in 1855, the forerunner to today’s Boston Pops. He set up “Gilmore’s Concert Garden”, which became Madison Square Garden. He was the Musical Director of the Nation in effect, leading the festivities for the 1876 Centennial celebrations in Philadelphia and the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886. In 1888 he started the tradition of seeing in the New Year in Times Square. In 1891, he played for some of Thomas Edison’s first commercial recordings. Musically, he was the first arranger to set brass instruments against the reeds, which remains the basis for big band orchestration. His arrangements of contemporary classics did a great deal to familiarise the American people with the work of the great European musical masters.
Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.