The Way It Was – The Detroit Concert Band on Belle Isle

Belle Isle, Detroit 1970
Photograph courtesy of the Detroit Historical Society

1970 There are few more relaxing summer activities than listening to live music under a star-studded sky. The Detroit Concert Band, under the direction of Leonard B. Smith, delighted visitors to Belle Isle from 1946 to 1980. Music lovers sat on park benches, stretched out on the lawn, or took in the musical strains while canoeing. In this photograph, Smith leads the band under the Remick Band Shell, named after Detroit music publisher Jerome H. Remick. Remick’s company was on Library Street downtown in a 1907 building that today houses Vicente’s Cuban Cuisine on the ground floor. Belle Isle’s first band shell was round, but it was replaced by the modern version in 1950. The Detroit Concert Band played venues all over Detroit, including the State Fair Band Shell, but Belle Isle was its primary home. Smith was accomplished on the cornet and trumpet and was once a member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. On the old Lone Ranger radio program, it was Smith’s clarion trumpet call in Rossini’s William Tell Overture that opened the show. Smith was a champion of John Philip Sousa — the Detroit Concert Band recorded all of his marches — but Smith was a composer in his own right, as well as a talented arranger. Smith was known as a taskmaster, a trait he may have picked up while serving with the U.S. Navy Band. He died of a heart attack in 2002 at age 86 in Scottsdale, Ariz.