In more than a half-century as one of the world’s great bandmasters, Vesey Walker’s proudest achievement was his Disneyland Band. “Here I have the finest musicians in the United States, most of whom have been with me for more than 10 years,” he said proudly.
He organized and directed more than 50 college, military, school, and youth bands, but at Disneyland, the master “music man” finally found the one place in the world to organize a thoroughly professional band, performing daily throughout the year—not just for Saturday football games or annual parades.
Born in Sheffield, England, on June 7, 1893, Vesey decided to come to the United States in 1912 because “all the famous bands were here.” Within 10 years he organized bands in 30 schools surrounding the Milwaukee area, and established and became head bandmaster of the Marquette University Band in 1930.
In the mid-‘30s, Vesey moved to Hollywood where he conducted musical scores for films. A year after his arrival on the West Coast, he organized the Los Angeles Elks Club “Toppers” marching band of Tournament of Roses Parade fame, and personally led them for 20 years. Vesey’s Disneyland engagement started as a two-week run for the Park’s opening in 1955, but he was “held over” by popular demand for 15 years. Reminiscing about his achievements, Vesey considered coming to Disneyland the high point in his career.
This love of his band helped Vesey defeat an attack of a rare spinal virus that nearly took his life and left him paralyzed for months. Doctors told him he would never walk again, but he would not accept it. “I wouldn’t give up,” he recalled. “I had to get back to my band.”
Gradually, after months of painful effort, he regained control of everything except his legs. The great bandsman spurned crutches “because I was afraid I would begin to rely on them too much.”
Just a year after he was stricken, and reluctantly using a cane, Vesey proudly led his band down Main Street, U.S.A., once again. A few weeks later he threw away the cane.
Vesey Walker retired in 1970, and passed away in November 1977.