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Hitting the high notes in Hagerstown

December 30, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

Musically, was there anything Bill Fraley couldn't do?

He learned to play the trumpet when he was a child and performed as a soloist at The Maryland Theatre at the age of 12.

By 16, he was playing baritone with the Hagerstown Municipal Band and was a member of the local Al Gruber Orchestra.

He held a spot with the Hagerstown Symphony and sang in local and regional choirs and choruses.

Fraley had accomplished more before he was 20 than some people do in a lifetime.

But he wasn't resting on his laurels.

In 1947, Fraley was fresh out of the U.S. Air Force and ready to take his music career to the next level.

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He had spent years listening to all types of singers and bands, but he wanted to create something that never had been heard before.

So he took nine musicians and made them sound like 12.

He came up with a sound, he said, that was "sweet and smooth, not very jazzy, but great for dancing."

He fashioned a music style that became the Bill Fraley Band.

"We were always in demand and played every weekend," the 83-year-old Fraley said.

Fraley said he isn't sure where he received his love of music. His father was a motorman on a trolley and during the Great Depression worked in the Potomac Edison warehouse in Hagerstown.

"My father did blow the bugle for the state guard at Fort Ritchie," he said. "That's all I know."

Fraley said he fell in love with music at an early age, choosing to learn the trumpet when the local YMCA decided to start a band.

"Every Tuesday, I took my trumpet and 25 cents and went to the Y for my lesson," he said.

Fraley continued playing music through his military years.

But it was the Bill Fraley Band that made him somewhat of a celebrity.

If there was a social event in the Hagerstown area, Fraley's band was more than likely the featured entertainment.

Dances, banquets, parties - Fraley did them all.

He especially remembers performing at many New Year's Eve celebrations, gigs the band always enjoyed.

"The clubs were decorated and people attending the event were always dressed up," he said. "I never saw anything but the best of behavior."

In addition to his band, Fraley was the first music director for the Miss Maryland Pageant when it came to Hagerstown.

He also said he had a band at the Hagerstown Fair one year for a water ballet in front of the grandstand.

"That was extra special," he recalled.

Fraley said he always held an office in Local 770 of the American Federation of Musicians in Hagerstown, and in the early 1960s became president, a position he held for more than 10 years.

"At that time, we upgraded and opened a storefront on West Franklin Street. In the following years, our membership grew to 1,200 members," he said. "Our geographic area covered parts of Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland into Washington, D.C. It was a time of change and growth."

As union president, Fraley said he had the opportunity to meet some of the biggest names in music.

"The local musicians union always had a spring dance and brought in the top traveling bands for folks to hear - Woody Herman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Les Brown, just to name a few," he said. "We found these leaders and sidemen - great business people and great to get along with."

It seems only natural that Fraley's love of music would rub off on his son, Dennis, one of his three children.

"Although my younger brother and sister did not share my interest in music, I was very lucky to have grown up in a household with a professional musician for a father," Dennis Fraley said. "I was inspired by being around the musicians and hearing the music they created. I was the little boy - real young - sitting attentively back behind the band when dad could take me along on his playing jobs and rehearsals. I, according to family folklore, would sneak into my father's trumpet case and play around with his trumpet."

Dennis, 59, said he started on trumpet in the school band during fourth grade and progressed through high school, playing the French horn in the North Hagerstown High School band and orchestra during the day and trumpet at night in a working top 40 rock band.

"I've been very fortunate, through the years, to have put together a pretty extensive resume," he said, which includes the 323rd Army Band, 12 orchestras, the Hagerstown Municipal Band, numerous brass ensembles, headlining for such acts as the Four Tops and Temptations, the movie "Gettysburg," five local top 40 bands, two big bands and church music.

He taught public school for 25 years and has been an arranger, writer and electronic music programmer for Sound Source Productions and Studio 6.

He currently is a freelance performer and private instrumental instructor, and writes music for Mom and Me Productions and English Education Curriculum International.

Following in his father's footsteps, he is president of Local 770 of the American Federation of Musicians.

Dennis said he owes his music career to his father, who included him in his world of music.

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