Brownie Greaton was born in New Richmond, Wisconsin in 1875. New Richmond was a musical community and the Greatons were a musical family. Her father and brother played in a community band. At an early age, she studied piano, violin, cornet, and theory with private teachers in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. She became proficient on both violin and piano, but cornet was her favorite instrument. She and a brother, who played the valve trombone, became members of a brass quartet, which gave programs in nearby communities in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Lady cornestists were not common in those years and Brownie Greaton’s reputation as a virtuoso on the instrument spread. At the age of 18, she was invited to join the Clara Schumann Orchestra, an all-woman organization, which toured in many parts of the United States and Canada. After several years with this orchestra, she was booked as a soloist in Chicago and the near Midwest by the Slayton Lyceum Bureau.
Those who heard her play said that she had a beautiful tone and unusual technical facility. She was especially noted for the brilliance of her triple tonguing. Her playing was highly praised by the famous Herbert L. Clarke, cornet soloist with Sousa’s Band.
While playing an engagement in Chicago, Brownie Greaton met and married George S. Cole, an executive with Butler Brothers, wholesale merchants in Chicago. It was about this time that she decided the name “Brownie” lacked dignity. She changed the spelling to “Browné” with an acute accent over the “e.” The name continued to be pronounced with two syllables exactly as before.
From the time of their marriage in 1898 until Mr. Cole retired in 1920, the Coles made their home in Park Ridge, Illinois. Mrs. Cole continued with her music and occasionally played professionally at clubs and parties. But most of her time was devoted to home-making and rearing a family of three sons and a daughter. In 1920, the family moved to Marion County in Florida. It was there in the “Kingdom Under the Sun,” that Mr. Cole found retirement and Mrs. Browné Greaton Cole embarked on a new and rewarding career as a public school music teacher.
Soon after moving to Marion County, Mrs. Cole was asked to fill a vacancy as a music teacher in the schools of Ocala, caused by the resignation of Miss Porter, who had been in charge of the music in the Ocala schools since 1916. During her first year she conducted a school orchestra, a glee club, organized a male quarter, and produced a minstrel show, all of which generated interest in music among the young people of Ocala.
It was during the winter of 1921 that this dynamic and persuasive music teacher approached the Marion County School Board with a proposal to organize a boy’s band. Permission was given and the Ocala school band made its first appearance at a recital in the spring of 1922.
At first, the school provided very little basic equipment and made few concessions for the scheduling of band classes. Mrs. Cole gave most of the music instruction to band members individually at times between and after the regular class periods. It may be truthfully said that in the early stages, the band was largely supported by Mrs. Cole’s enthusiasm. Rehearsals were kept up during the summer and a concert was given on the public square in downtown Ocala at which $40.00 was raised with which to purchase a small bass horn. There is no record of where a usable bass horn could have been purchased for $40.00, but this was only one of many problems which the school band directors of that time were called upon to solve.
That this was the first school band in the state has been authenticated by pioneer Florida school band directors, John Heney, in a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts at Stetson University in 1949. of an increasing number of girls. The days of the Ocala School “Boys” Band were over.
With the exception of a year or two during the depths of the depression when travel was limited, the Ocala band continued to participate in contests and festivals sponsored by the Florida Federation of Music Clubs and by business or civic organizations in Tampa and other Florida cities. The band won first and second prizes in many of these contests and individual members also won many medals.
The Ocala band was reputed to have been the first high school band to be invited to participate in the famous Gasparilla Day Parade in Tampa. This was in 1933. A Captain Hanson, who was chairman for the parade had seen the band perform at a Tampa Music Festival and stated in his letter of invitation, “I had no idea a school band could make such a fine appearance.” Other band activities included appearances at the Tung Oil Parade in Gainesville, All States Parade in St. Petersburg and similar events in other parts of the state.
Concert playing was not neglected. The band gave weekly public concerts in the Civic Center in downtown Ocala, playing a repertoire of marches, overtures, and concert selections comparable in difficulty to those played by many adult park bands. During the early years of broadcasting, the Ocala band was featured in numerous programs from radio station WRUF at the University of Florida.
The Florida Bandmasters Association was formed as an outgrowth of recommendations made at a workshop for high school band students and directors at the University of Florida in the summer of 1936. Mrs. Browné Greaton Cole was one of the charter members who attended the first official meeting of this organization in Tampa during the Thanksgiving weekend of 1936. Other charter members were: Ed Chenette (President), P.J. Gustat, Ed Heney, William Heney, John Heney, Fred McCall, J.B. O’Neal, E.L. Roberts, V.D. Sturgis, and Orin Whitley.
The first contest sponsored by the Florida Bandmasters Association was held in West Palm Beach in the spring of 1937. It was conducted according to rules suggested by the National School Band and Orchestra Association. Here the Ocala band won a first Division Rating in concert playing and several of the soloists won high honors. From this time on, the Ocala band participated in the official state and regional contests and continued to receive high ratings at both levels.
In 1939, Mrs. Cole was named “Woman of the Year” by the Ocala Banner. That this honor was well deserved is indicated by the list of the many services she and her students performed for the school and community. By this time, the instrumental department included a Junior and a Senior band, a Swing band, and girls’ orchestra called the Melodierettes, a cornet quartet, and several small instrumental ensembles and soloists.
A schedule of events for the year 1940-1941 shows that the band, or members of it, made more than 40 public appearances between October 10 and July 4 in addition to regular Thursday night concerts in downtown Ocala and drills at all home football games. Among these appearances were the Inaugural Parade in Tallahassee, concerts for American Legion district meetings, and programs for tourist clubs and civic organizations. Soloists won honors at a National Contest in Richmond, Virginia.
As the clouds of war grew more threatening, the programs assumed a strong patriotic character. Among the engagements were farewell serenades at the Railroad station to honor draftees who were leaving to join the armed forces. All during WWII, the Ocala High School Band was in the front rank in parades and patriotic meetings of all kinds. Admission to some of the musical programs in the school was through the purchase of War Savings Bands and Stamps. At one concert, three bands had tables at the door and $1475.00 worth of stamps and bonds were sold. Mrs. Cole’s diary contains the names of many of “her boys” who served in various branches of the armed services. A number of them were reported “missing in action” or prisoners of war.
Although this article emphasizes the story of the Ocala band, it must not be assumed that band music was Mrs. Cole’s sole interest. In addition to the instrumental organizations, which have been mentioned, she conducted a program of vocal music with girls’ and boy’s glee clubs, mixed choruses, quartets, and vocal soloists. An operetta combining all the musical talent in the school was a popular annual event. Whether her students played in the band or orchestra or sang in one of the vocal groups, they were all imbued with a wholesome appreciation and respect for music. She was, in fact, the complete music educator in every sense of the word.
Among the many talents possessed by Mrs. Cole was considerable ability as a composer. In 1925, she wrote the song Kingdom of the Sun, which was dedicated to the Marion County Chamber of Commerce. She was greatly interested in boys’ changing voices and a collection of Harmony Gems arranged by her for boys’ voices was published by the Willis Music Company of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1933. This book has been widely used in schools throughout the country. Other numbers for boys glee clubs and for mixed voices were published by Willis and by C.C. Birchard and the John Church Company. She also wrote or arranged many of the etudes used by her band students.
On May 8, 1944, at the age of 69, Mrs. Cole handed in her resignation. On Thursday of that week, the final recital of the music department under her leadership was presented to a capacity audience. A featured portion of the program outlined the evolution of the Ocala High School Band and Glee Clubs. On graduation night that year, Carol Fraser, Mayor of Ocala, presented Mrs. Cole with a resolution from the city council commending her for their work in developing fine citizens as well as fine musicians during the years she had been music director in the Ocala schools. At the same time, the Band Mothers presented her with an envelope containing six $100 bonds.
Even though she retired from her public school duties, it was impossible for this vivacious lady to remain idle. For years, she had been a regular contributor to professional music magazines such as The School Musician, The Etude, and Jacob’s Band and Orchestra Monthly. Now she embarked in the field of fiction, writing a number of short stories and two novels under the pen name of Carmen Gay.
Finally in 1955, at the age of 80, Mrs. Cole succumbed to an illness from which she had suffered for many years. With her passing, her former students lost one of their most inspirational teachers.