News>A Place in Time - Remembering Martha Jean Awkerman
Master Sgt. Martha Jean "Martye" Awkerman, an accomplished trumpet player and former Cornet Soloist and dance band leader with the WAF Band, was stationed at Lackland AFB from 1954-1961. The band toured all over the U.S. and Puerto Rico. At that time, The USAF Band in Washington, DC was not open to female musicians. Martye’s recognized musical achievements were evidenced by her involvement in popular TV programs and shows, such as “What’s My Line”, “Johnny Carson Show”, and the “Today Show.” (Official Air Force photo.)
Master Sgt. Martha Jean Awkerman left an indelible mark as a pioneer for women brass players and as a legendary musical icon. She spent 22 years of her distinguished musical career with the Long Beach (Calif.) Municipal Band, playing at different concert venues, and was the first woman ever taken into that organization. She also worked with many popular singers, including Sarah Vaughn, Della Reese, Charo, Lennon Sisters, Nat King Cole, and Ethyl Merman. Her life speaks volumes for all women brass players who set their sights high and persevere in attaining their musical goals. (Official Air Force photo.)
7/21/2009 - BOLLING AFB, D.C. -- I first met Martha Jean "Martye" Awkerman at the 1993 International Womens' Brass Conference (IWBC) in St. Louis. At that time, I was performing as tuba soloist and with a joint-service brass and percussion ensemble. In introducing herself to me, she made me aware of the existence of the Women's Air Force (WAF) Band, an ensemble with which I was unfamiliar. This was quite awkward, since I was already a 10-year member of The USAF Band in Washington, DC. I didn't have a clue about the history that preceded me!
Martye, an accomplished trumpet player and former Cornet Soloist and dance band leader with the WAF Band, was stationed at Lackland AFB from 1954-1961. The band toured all over the U.S. and Puerto Rico. At that time, The USAF Band in Washington, DC was not open to female musicians.
At our first meeting at the IWBC conference, she relayed to me her dream of playing in the "DC" band, but never had the opportunity. That particular story became very real to me a few years later. I saw an archived out-processing document listing the WAF Band members' wish list of what they wanted to do when they disbanded in the early 1960s. Some wanted to be "flight hostesses," others wished to start families, etc. The very last entry was Martye's, "...to play in The USAF Band in Washington, DC." Women did not begin serving in the "DC" band until 1973, and here I was, living Martye's dream.
Martye studied music with J. Richard Burkholder, and graduated from Mount Union (Pa.) High School in 1946. She was appointed 1st Chair Solo Cornet at the Pennsylvania Schools State Band Competition. Martye received a scholarship to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, where she taught trumpet, and was a soloist on the Young Artist Series--a traveling concert tour of different colleges. She was a member of Sigma Alpha Iota Music Sorority and was given the Sword of Honor award for being an outstanding musician.
After graduation, she remained at the conservatory as a teacher of trumpet until 1951. Martha then joined the George Hormel Band, traveling the U.S. in an all-girl promotional group, which also did coast-to-coast radio broadcasts on ABC and NBC radio, until 1953. She spent time with the USO Band in New York City until 1954. She formed her own girl combo, which was flown by the Air Force, playing at different military bases on a tour of Alaska. This was followed by a return to Mt. Union to teach and do postgraduate study at Pennsylvania State University.
Martye was always a great letter writer and would also keep in touch by phone. I visited her a few times after she moved back to Carlisle, Pa. Over the past 15 years we shared stories, talked at length about music and music-making, and laughed a lot. Martye always had lots of questions regarding my career with the Band, and she was a constant source of encouragement and strength. She was proud of my accomplishments. Her enthusiasm for learning and teaching was contagious and far-reaching.
Martye set a high bar with her solo cornet and trumpet playing, even stumping a few of my colleagues who thought the recordings they were listening to of "La Virgen De La Macarena" and "Willow Echoes" were played by other well-known male trumpet players!
She spent 22 years of her distinguished musical career with the Long Beach (Calif.) Municipal Band, playing at different concert venues, and was the first woman ever taken into that organization. Martye's recognized musical achievements were evidenced by her involvement in popular TV programs and shows, such as "What's My Line", "Johnny Carson Show", and the "Today Show." She played with the Barnum and Bailey Circus Band. She also played musical theater shows, including "West Side Story", "Damn Yankees", "Redhead", and "42nd Street."
Over the years, Martye worked with musicians from the former Big Bands, including Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Harry James, Jack Teagarden, Ray Anthony, Benny Goodman, Xavier Cugat, and Glenn Miller. She also worked with many popular singers, including Sarah Vaughn, Della Reese, Charo, Lennon Sisters, Nat King Cole, and Ethyl Merman.
MSgt Martye Awkermann sadly passed away a year ago this past June. A few dozen family members, former WAF Band members and friends gathered for a simple ceremony and interment in her hometown of Mt. Union, Pa. I was honored to present our nation's flag to her next of kin. After returning home I began thinking about Martye's Air Force career, her varied accomplishments, and her dreams for the future.
Martye left an indelible mark as a pioneer for women brass players and as a legendary musical icon. Her stellar musical and leadership contributions began paving the way 30 years before I joined The USAF Band. I honor her legacy as one of many who have realized Martye's dream and continue to carry on the tradition of excellence that was her forte. In the Air Force we call it "Being faithful to a proud heritage." I think her life speaks volumes for all women brass players who set their sights high and persevere in attaining their musical goals.
9/6/2012 10:25:51 AM ET My sister-in-law Barb Cole Paulick was in the WAF Band so I am aware of their 2012 schedule. They have a reunion in Lenexa Kansas from 917 to 921 with concerts on 919 and 920. I am sending this in hopes that someone from the Air Force might attend and document this event. Due to their ages the group becomes smaller and smaller with each passing year and soon this opportunity will soon be gone. I can put you in contact with them. Thank you for your consideration.