The Eagles Band was founded in 1936 and is the oldest continuing performance ensemble in the Berkshires. The band was originally sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie #358, but traces its roots to the 390th Field Artillery Band (1918). The 390th disbanded in the late 1920’s (there was no longer a need for a Field Artillery in the Berkshires…) and many of its members formed the Pittsfield American Legion Band, which begat a “renegade” group that started rehearsing at the Eagles hall in 1936.
The FOE sponsorship ended when the Pittsfield Aerie folded in 1982. For 10 years, the band
rehearsed without an official sponsor, moving from rehearsal space to rehearsal space and
seeking co-sponsors for Music Performance Trust Fund money, as the band was a Musicians’
Union organization. Funding the band, attracting new members, and finding rehearsal and
storage space became increasingly difficult with each passing year.
The early activities of the band included: performing at Williams College (which the Legion
group did in 1935, then the Eagles took over in 1936, though not under the Eagles name
until 1939), many state FOE band and parade competitions (in which the band took several first prizes), and concerts at all kinds of parks and events throughout the Berkshires–only during the summer seasons, though, until 1993.
Also, many of the band’s musicians played send-offs and welcomes for our WWII soldiers at Union Station. When the end of the war seemed imminent, our musicians would bring their axes to work with them, waiting for the official announcement. When victory (E & J) came, our guys played and partied in the streets with the rest of the city.
In 1993, the Eagles Band reorganized and made a decision to become a non-profit community
band, in which performers donated their time for the love of playing, which opened up new
possibilities for funding the band. Mayor Reilly proclaimed the Eagles Band “the official band of the City of Pittsfield,” and the band fundraised for new uniforms, new music and equipment such as music stands and percussion. The summer “Concerts in the Park” series was resurrected and has been taking place at Springside Park since 1994. Conductors Lyndon Moors, Dana Swanson and Neil Freebern provided musical direction which increased the band’s popularity with audiences, and increased the membership from 12 musicians to over 50.