Please DONATE to help with maintenance and upkeep of the Wind Repertory Project!

Helen May Butler

From Wind Repertory Project
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Helen May Butler


Helen May Butler (17 May 1867, Keene, N.H. - 16 June 1957, Covington, Ky.) was an American composer, cornetist and band leader.

Born on a farm near Keene, New Hampshire, her father was a railroad engineer and later a purchasing agent for the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. Musically inclined, she became proficient on both the cornet and the violin. She studied violin with Bernard Listerman, concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Her first conducting experience came in 1891 with the Talma Ladies Orchestra. This small orchestra was apparently reorganized as the U.S. Talma Ladies Military Band, and soon the name was changed to Helen May Butler's Ladies Military Band.

Butler's band distinguished itself from 1900 to 1912, making several lengthy transcontinental tours. The band was impressive in appearance, owing partly to the beauty of the performers. It was probably the first all-women professional band in America. Often the band championed the works of American composers. Butler was referred to as the "female Sousa, " and Sousa was indeed among her personal friends. Once at a Sousa Band concert in Cincinnati, Ohio, Sousa called her out of the audience to guest-conduct his band.

Butler composed very little, but her Cosmopolitan America March became the official Republican party campaign march during Theodore Roosevelt's presidential campaign of 1904.

After touring, she performed as a cornet soloist. She settled in the Cincinnati area ca. 1912 and lived the remainder of her life in Covington, Kentucky. Her activities were not restricted to music; she had an interest in public service and ran (unsuccessfully) for the United States Senate in 1936. She was also active in fraternal and social organizations, being a member of the Eastern Star, the Auxiliary of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the White Shrine of Jerusalem, and the August Willich Relief Corps.

In 1995, she was inducted into the Women Band Directors Hall of Fame. Butler's band uniforms, photographs, programs, sheet music, and other memorabilia are in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Works for Winds