Dr. Joe Berryman spent his life and career involved with high school, college and professional bands as a musician, composer, instructor, and conductor, as well as, a product representative and developer for several musical instrument manufacturers. After moving to Mississippi, he served as the band director at Itta Bena High School before coming to USM where he became coordinator of the band staff and taught percussion and orchestration. Berryman also worked with the Mississippi Lions All-State Band for well over a decade as director, writing much of the music, himself. At the time this interview was recorded in July of 1972, the band had won first prize at the Lion’s International Convention five of the last six years.
In this episode, Berryman discusses his early life and career. He was ten years old in 1914, when his family moved from Texarkana to Meridian. He recalls shipping their automobile and furniture by train because there were no highways. When he decided to become a musician, his parents wouldn’t pay for music lessons because they didn’t think he was serious. He remembers earning the money by selling magazines and taking the lessons in secret.
In the age of silent movies, musicians would provide live music to match the action on the screen. Berryman describes playing in the orchestra pits of the movie theaters in Kansas City. In addition to showing motion pictures, movie palaces of the day also booked live entertainment. He shares his memories of working the vaudeville houses in Topeka and providing sound effects for a hot-tempered comedian.
PODCAST BONUS: When he was not playing theaters in the 1920s, Berryman travelled with several tents shows around the Midwest. Known as chautauquas, these shows were intended to bring cultural enlightenment to isolated rural communities.
PHOTO: USM Archive