P O Box 31145
Independence, OH 44131-0145
severe bout of ptomaine poisoning. His largest all-brass band consisted of thirty-six instruments. Merle used to be able to blow a clear high-C note on his legendary cornet even while munching popcorn, his favorite food. Humble, gentle, and always smiling, he was remarkably popular among all circus people, and widely respected for his talent. He took almost everything in his stride, and rarely complained about anything, including his salary: He made $60 a week when he first started with Ringling, and $800 when he left. After his retirement from the Ringling show, Merle never went back to visit; he and other traditional windjammers were short on patience with the lack of cornets and the new rock-and-roll music that pervades the modern circus. He never could completely retire, however; he remained an active teacher and concert band conductor until
his death at ninety-six, on December 31, 1987.
While his least favorite circus music was undoubtedly the "Elephant Polka," some of Merle's favorite circus pieces were the "Battle of Shiloh March," by C. L. Barnhouse; Frederick Alton Jewell's "Quality Plus" and "High and Mighty"; and "Barnum & Bailey's Favorite," by Karl L. King. All three composers were outstanding circus musicians.
Barnhouse became the foremost publisher of circus music, and Jewell wrote over two hundred compositions while working for Gentry, Sells-Floto, Barnum & Bailey, Hagenbeck-Wallace, and various Shrine circuses.
The prolific Karl King was Evans' predecessor at the Ringling show. Before his death in 1971, he had written 282 different band compositions.
Other great circus musicians included Charles E. Duble; Walter P. English; A. W. Hughes; Keith Killinger; the "Paul Whiteman of Spangleland," Henry Kyes; the galop king Joseph John Richards; and Everett James. James was the band director and his wife Mabel was a trapezist for the Mighty Haag Circus when their son Harry was born in 1916. That future great jazz trumpeter would grow up as a circus drummer and contortionist.
At least one other musical great barely missed becoming perhaps the greatest circus musician of all time: The "March King" himself, John Philip Sousa, was fully prepared to run away and join the circus in 1867, at the age of thirteen. However, his anxious father prevented it by enlisting him as an apprentice in the U. S. Marine Band.