Phi Beta Mu was established as a result of the respect and appreciation which the founder, Colonel Earl D. Irons, had for his professional associates. Colonel Irons was Bandmaster and Chairman of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Arlington, then known as North Texas Agricultural College. He envisioned an organization that would honor outstanding band directors whose dedication and devotion to their profession were paramount, but whose admirable traits and services were not necessarily known nationally. He sought to honor deserving individuals on a state level similar to the manner in which he and Dr. D. O. Wiley had been honored by the American Bandmasters Association in 1936.
During the summer of 1937, while performing as a guest conductor and cornet teacher at the Texas Tech Summer Band Camp in Lubbock, Col. Irons had discussions with Dr. Wiley, Director of the Tech Band Camp, about his plan for this special organization. These two men decided that the time was right to start such an organization, and “Prof” Wiley assembled a group of prominent band directors teaching at the camp for several meetings with Col. Irons. The final meeting took place during a watermelon feast in Prof. Wiley’s backyard, where the decision to organize in the form of a national bandmasters fraternity was reached.
During the ensuing year, Col. Irons and others formulated the structure of the organization. Phi Beta Mu, subtitled National Bandmasters Fraternity, was selected as the name of the organization. Phi Beta Mu was interpreted to mean, “Life, Love, and Music.” The colors chosen to represent the Fraternity were blue and white.
With the ideas gleaned from the earlier meetings at Texas Tech, the Constitution and Membership Oath were written and approved in the summer of 1938. The first official meeting was held at the Rice Hotel in Houston during the Texas Music Educators Association meeting in February of 1939.
In 1944, Dr. Milburn Carey, who was initiated into Alpha Chapter (Texas) in 1942, chartered Beta Chapter in Oklahoma. In 1946, at the invitation of Harold L. Walters, an honorary member of Beta Chapter, Dr. Carey chartered Gamma chapter in Indiana.
Phi Beta Mu became an international organization in 1975 with the installation of chapters in Graz, Austria and Alberta, Canada. Additional chapters have been installed in Japan as well as Nova Scotia and Ontario, Canada.
The history of Phi Beta Mu is also significant to its present and its future. The founders’ ideals of honoring superior achievement are timeless, their values of moral uprightness are never out of style, and their purpose of promoting the international development of bands will reward the world far beyond our Fraternity’s membership. May we honor those who have gone before us by honoring personal and professional excellence in our time and upholding the standards that are the very foundation of Phi Beta Mu.
Nebraska State Bandmasters Association