Sarasota Creators, Merle Evans

Merle Evans, Band Leader

Merle Evans was born in Kansas in the early 1890’s. He was always interested in music and began playing the cornet in the children’s band in Columbus, Kansas when he was 10 years old.

Evans continued playing with different bands until December 1918 when he received a telegram from Charles Ringling that stated, “HAVE A POSITION FOR YOU AS LEADER OF RINGLING CIRCUS BAND. REPORT AT YOUR EARLIEST CONVENIENCE.”

Sarasota Herald, March 7, 1928

In March of 1919 Evans began rehearsals with his new circus band in Madison Square Garden. Evans continued to lead the circus band until 1969! It is estimated that he entertained 165,120,00 circus fans during his time as band leader. He is also credited for saving lives when the big top caught on fire during a performance in 1944. Merle quickly changed the music in order to alert the performers of the disaster.

Charles Ringling invited Merle to come to Sarasota during the winter of 1925 to play with the local concert band. The Merle Evans Band became a prominent piece of the Sarasota music scene. They played daily concerts in a clam shell bandstand in the bay front park. Some concerts were also broadcast live by local radio station WJBB (later know as WSIS).

Sarasota Herald Tribune, December 11, 1966

The music that Merle Evans’ Band brought to Sarasota was so much appreciated that the city had a celebration to honor Merle Evans December 10-11, 1966. This included a parade, speeches, fireworks, and of course, music. The Sarasota Chamber President presented Evans with a plaque that stated, ” To Merle Evans, who in his 47 years as a circus musician has by his superior ability become one of the world’s most best known and most respected band leader of all time.”

Merle Evans lived in Sarasota until his death in 1987, but his musical legacy is still all around us.

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