When Neil Armstrong passed earlier this month, the world lost a hero and a legend. What many people did not know, was that Brother Armstrong was an avid musician and made an honorary member of Kappa Kappa Psi at Purdue University. The following was printed in the Podium in 1969 and tells about Brother Armstrong’s musical roots and his affiliation with Kappa Kappa Psi.
First Man on the Moon Reprinted from the November 1969 edition of the Podium
When Neil Armstrong stepped out on the moon’s surface, the world thrilled at mankind’s greatest adventure. And musicians said: “He’s one of us.”
Musicians form a close brotherhood, but they also believe in music for everyone, including men who explore space. So does Neil Armstrong. Though flying has been his lifelong passion, Armstrong is also devoted to music. As a teenager, he worked and saved to pay for flying lessons and still eked out enough extra money to buy a Conn baritone horn. He earned his pilot’s license at 16, even before he had his driver’s license; and he was the leader of a musical combo as well as a faithful member of the school band.
Armstrong’s love for music began when he was a small child. He joined the Upper Sandusky, Ohio, school band when he was an eighth grader, and chose to play baritone horn.
“I asked him why he chose such a big horn,” his mother recalls. “He was such a little fellow and it seemed to be more than he could carry. But he said he liked the tone. So, of course, we didn’t discourage him. And perhaps the school band needed a baritone player.
I never had to remind him to practice. He just naturally set aside time for that.”
The family had moved to Wapakoneta, Ohio, by the time Armstrong entered high school. He played in the school band, of course, but also for Boy Scout and church events. For sheer fu , he formed the “Mississippi Moonshiners,” a jazz band that performed at school dances and assembly intermissions.
“Neil was a very good musician,” says Jerre Maxon, the trombonist of the group. “He had a strong driving afterbeat, you know, and really kept us going. He sure loved music. He said music contributed to ‘thought control,’ and he always tried to improve his playing.
There were only six boys in the Wapakoneta 45-piece band and we had a lot of fun. After the football game, when we went downtown to parade, Neil would turn his cap around and march backwards, just for laughs. Sometimes we would trade off instruments. I suppose we drove the band director crazy-but those were good times.”
But with the exception of these episodes with the band and the “Moonshiners,” Maxon remembers Armstrong as a quiet, reserved young man, who said little. “I think one of the hardest parts of the moon mission for Neil will be the public speaking,” Maxon comments.
“He wanted his own instrument,” reports Neil’s father, Stephen. “In those days, our family had few luxuries. Neil worked at Neumeister’s Bakery cleaning the bread mixer until he had raised enough money to buy a Conn baritone horn.
Neil got his love of music from his mother. She played piano and assisted Neil to play piano, too. Sometimes, in the evening, Neil with his baritone, his brother Dean and his cornet, and his sister June with her violin would gather around Viola at the piano, and they would play. What a good time they had.” B. S. Porter Music Company in Lima, Ohio, has proudly framed the guarantee card of Dean’s Conn cornet, serial No. 163721.
After high school graduation, Armstrong won a Navy scholarship, and in the fall of 1947, went to Purdue University. His Conn baritone went along, and he performed with the Purdue “All American” Marching Band and Concert Band, under the direction of Paul Emrick.
Maxine LeFevre, assistant to AI Wright, Purdue’s current director of bands, serves as band historian. She says Neil Armstrong is remembered by his classmates as a likeable boy with a bashful smile. “His band colleagues recall the pride he took in his horn,” Miss leFevre says. “No one dreamed at the time that by 1962 we would hear Neil was chosen to be an astronaut. The Purdue Marching Band did a half-time show in his honor that fall. Oddly enough, we titled the show ‘First Bandsman on the Moon’ and it came true!”
In 1966, Armstrong visited the Purdue campus and appeared in the variety show which the band was presenting for visiting alumni during Gala Week . The band presented him with a Purdue band blazer and Honorary Membership in the Gamma Pi Chapter of KKY, national band fraternity. Along with the pledge board and pledge cap, Armstrong was given his KKY pin. This year, when he learned he would be the first man to set foot on the moon, he wrote AI Wright that he hoped to carry the pin along on his flight.
Neil Armstrong never lost his love for music. “Every time Neil came home in these past years,” says his father, “one of the first things he would do was sit down at the piano and play.”
“That seemed to be part of coming home,” his mother adds. “After he had played three or four things, he was ready to sit down and tell us what he had been doing.”
But there never was another chance for the “Mississippi Moonshiners” to get together for a session. Maxon stayed in Wapakoneta where he became a successful contractor. Jim Mougey, the clarinetist, is now a band director in Norwalk, Ohio. Bob Gustafson, second trombonist, is a teacher in Springfield, Ohio.
At home in Houston, during his free time, Armstrong still enjoys playing his musical instrument. Occasionally, he and his wife, Janet, entertain friends with a duet. Twelve-year-old Ricky Armstrong is taking music lessons. Mark, six, without any doubt will be taking music lessons soon-perhaps as the boy behind the Conn baritone in band.