Augustus John Turner, (October 12, 1818 – May 14, 1905), known as "A. J. Turner", was an American composer, band leader and music professor. He was the first director of the Stonewall Brigade Band of Staunton, Virginia, the oldest continuous community band funded by tax moneys in the United States. Turner was a professor of music at both the Wesleyan Female Institute and the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Institute, and he played a part in the temperance movement.
Augustus John Turner was born on October 12, 1818, in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, to Samuel M. Turner, a farmer, and Mahala Johnson Chapman. Both his grandfathers fought in the American Revolution.
Before moving to Staunton, Turner lived in Middletown and Newtown, near Winchester in Frederick County, Virginia. He married Catherine ("Kate") Montrose Aby on July 1, 1845, in Frederick County. Turner's house in Newtown was destroyed in a fire on December 2, 1856.
Stonewall Brigade Band
In Staunton, Virginia, in 1855, David W. Drake sought to found a band. He enlisted the help of Turner, his former music teacher in Newtown, persuading him to move to Staunton. Together with two other citizens of Staunton, they formed the Mountain Saxhorn Band. They gave their first formal concert on July 17, 1857, at Union Hall on Beverley Street in Staunton. By 1859 the band had come to be known as Turner's Silver Cornet Band. At Armory Hall on April 4, 1861, Turner's Silver Cornet Band, together with the Staunton Musical Association and the Glee Club, presented the last concert to be given before the Civil War.
The band was mustered into the 5th Virginia Infantry Regiment under Stonewall Jackson and Colonel William S. Baylor. Soon after the Battle of First Manassas, the band earned the name Stonewall Brigade Band, and has been known as such ever since. As well as playing their instruments, band members fought and acted as couriers and letter bearers or medical assistants. Turner's first son Charles was a courier. In addition to entertaining the troops in the field, the band frequently appeared in concerts in Fredericksburg, Richmond, Staunton, and elsewhere to support recruiting rallies, clothing drives, and war relief fundraising.
Turner enlisted for the Confederacy on April 1, 1862. He was in the Churchville Cavalry Troop, 14th Virginia Infantry Company I for a time, commanded by James A. Cochran, before transferring into the 5th. He served through the Valley Campaign, and was at the Battle of Cedar Mountain. He was discharged because of his age on August 22, 1862.
The band was reorganized in 1869 with Turner as leader and his son T. M. Turner as assistant leader. A. J. Turner directed the band until 1884. In 1885 the band including Turner presented the daughter of Stonewall Jackson a wedding gift of a souvenir band roster printed on white satin.
Turner could play many instruments. An 1896 advert for his services reads, "Prof. A. J. Turner respectfully solicits a class of young people of both sexes in music ... Instruments: violin, piano, guitar, mandolin, cello and cornet." He was also an agent for the sale of Stieff pianos.
Wesleyan Female Institute
Turner's first job in Staunton was teaching vocal and instrumental music at the Wesleyan Female Institute.
Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Institute
Turner was appointed professor of music at the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Institute in November 1866 and served there for several decades, teaching the blind pupils. One account of the institute's annual concert praises the pupils for "a high degree of musical taste and talent". His salary was increased $200 in 1871.
Turner was active in the temperance movement and in 1878 was elected the Most Worthy Grand Chief of the Sons of Jonadab, for the district covering Virginia and West Virginia.
Turner left for Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1900 to live with his daughter Cora Turner Freijs. He would reside there until his death. His former house in Staunton sold for $3,350 soon after his death.
List of compositions
- "Gallopade", 1857
- "At Eve Beneath Stars' Soft Light: or Memories of Old", 1858
- "Bessie Bell Waltz", 1858
- "Pray Maiden, Pray", 1864
- "Palmetto Schottisch", 1864
- "Spring time polka", 1864
- "La Perle", 1875
- "Peyton Summerson's Funeral March", 1879