William “Bill” Bell (Dec. 25,1902-1971) was the premier tuba player and teacher of tuba in America during the first half of the Twentieth Century. Mr. Bell was born in Creston, IA and at the age of ten began playing tuba in a boys band in Fairfield, IA. He took quickly to the instrument and found himself touring in professional bands prior to his admittance to The University of North Da
kota on a full music scholarship at the age of fifteen. Mr. Bell’s reputation as a musician grew throughout this period until 1921, when the eighteen year old Bill Bell was hired by the famed bandsman John Phillip Sousa as principal tuba.
Three years later, Bell would launch an orchestral career when he won an audition to be principal tuba of the Cincinnati Symphony, where he remained until 1937 when the famed director Arturo Toscanini selected Bell to be the principal tuba in the newly formed NBC Symphony Orchestra. In 1943, Bell accepted an invitation to become the principal tuba with the New York Philharmonic,
then (and arguably now) the most famed professional symphony in the world.
William Bell would continue with the New York Philharmonic until 1961, when Bell accepted a job to teach at Indiana University, where he would become widely known for his teaching ability and a number of prominent students of the tuba who studied under the tutelage of Mr. Bell. At Indiana, he would also become known for publishing teaching material that came to be widely used in teaching elementary, middle and high school students. A good number of students today use Bellâ€™s method books – a reflection of the influence he had on future generations of tubists.
Shortly after his retirement from Indiana University in 1971, Mr. Bell took ill during a visit to Iowa in 1971 and was brought to Perry where his sister Mrs. Ruth Rankin was a resident. Mr. Bell spent the last months of his life in Perry and was buried in the town cemetery following his death on August 7, 1971.
The William Bell Memorial Tuba Day was founded in 1977 in memorial of Mr. Bell by Harvey Phillips, a student of Mr. Bell who would become a famed tuba teacher and performer in his own right. The gathering of tuba and euphonium players has largely remained an annual event in Perry since that year, held annually on the first Saturday in November.
Some additional resources about Mr. Bell on the web: