Music Man Leaves Noteworthy Legacy
“Rain at 8 – no date” was a cardinal rule of the Northport Community Band when it came to the weather and their shows. But on the final concert of their 55th season Aug. 1, they decided to break that rule – and founder and bandleader Robert Krueger led the charge.
“We knew that it was for his honor,” said Huntington Arts Council President Diana Cherryholmes, an Eaton’s Neck resident who was in the audience that night. “He walked up those steps and conducted that band, and it was beautiful.”
Krueger, a longtime Northport resident, died late Monday night in hospice care after a short illness. He was 86.
Although he was in poor health for much of the year and during the band’s 55th consecutive concert season, his pride and passion for the annual tradition burned bright, Northport Mayor George Doll recalled.
“He was sitting in his car – I shook hands with him and welcomed him back,” Doll said. “And they said, ‘Bob, we’re going to start. Do you want us to wheel you over there?’ He said, ‘No – nobody’s wheeling me anywhere.’ He got up and walked.”
Krueger was a “sweetheart” with a big, booming baritone voice, Cherryholmes recalled.
“He was an absolutely a wonderful human being – so dedicated to the Northport community and the Northport Community Band he founded,” she said.
Born in Adrian, Michigan, Krueger was taking private piano and cornet lessons by the time he reached junior high. In high school, he played trumpet in dance bands throughout southern Michigan. After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, he entered Northwestern University as a music education major and continued to play professionally in Big Band dance bands.
Krueger arrived in Northport in 1957 and filled the Northport-East Northport School District’s newly created position of director of music education. During the next 25 years, he created a music program that is still being followed today. He also earned the respect of local, state and national organizations for his contributions to school, community and music education.
“He really set the foundation for the Northport-East Northport School District’s music program,” said longtime band member Sue Epstein, one of Krueger’s former private students. “Music was just his life.”
His work even earned mention in the autobiography of Northport native and Broadway legend Patti LuPone.
“Our bandleader, Robert Krueger, was a graduate of Northwestern University and was able to get the most current Northwestern musical arrangements and marching routines,” she wrote. “People came to the football games as much to see the band as to see the football team.”
Shortly into his tenure in Northport, Krueger turned his attention to the largely unused village bandstand adjacent to Northport Harbor. In 1959 he and a group of 17 students launched the Northport Community Band, which now stages five concerts a season during the summertime. Over time, the concerts became an indelible Northport tradition.
“It is one of the biggest summertime draws from the entire area,” Doll said. “That park is just like a sea of people.”
During its life, the band has featured more than 700 members and grown into a multigenerational outfit with dozens of members. Three years after starting the community band, Krueger launched the Newsday Marching Band Festival, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.
The gazebo where the community band plays was renamed for Krueger in 1999 as part of the organization’s 40th anniversary season. Most recently, Krueger was honored by the Long Island Music Hall of Fame as 2011’s Music Educator of Note during their 2012 fundraising gala at The Paramount in Huntington.
His wife of 60 years, Marjorie, predeceased him in December 2009. Survivors include his children, Rob, Pam, Kristi, and Kurt.
Visitation is at Brueggemann Funeral Home, 522 Larkfield Road, East Northport 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. on Sept. 12 and 13. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 120 Vernon Valley Road, East Northport.