Earl Robert Cornwell
The material below is based on Earl's obituary, an interview conducted by Pat Oake and Nodie Murphy and research done by Mel Oakes.
Earl Robert Cornwell, Jr. was born in Austin, Texas, on September 19, 1913, and died on April 22, 2006, at the age of 92. His parents were Julia and Earl Cornwell of 807 Rio Grande Street. He attended Pease Elementary and Austin High School. He had one younger brother, Allie (Ed)ward Cornwell and a younger sister, Kitty Cornwell Howard. He joined First United Methodist Church at the age of 9 and remained a member thoughout his life.
Growing up in Austin, Earl took up the violin at age 10. Playing the violin became Earl’s passion. Becoming a very gifted classical violinist, Earl was known to be one of the finest musicians to ever come out of Austin. In the summer of 1929, at the age of 14, Earl was chosen by Harold Dybwad, music director at Stephen F. Austin High School, to go to the music camp at Interlochen, Michigan—in the second year of its existence. It was during this time that Earl set his sight on eventually moving to New York to pursue his career in music.
He was graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School in 1931, and he went immediately to the University of Texas. He used to play for his meals at the University Commons. He also played with the 10- or 12-piece Ben Young Orchestra. The University did not have a music department at this time.
Earl took time out in 1934, to play with Clarence Nemir groups aboard luxury liners on European trips. He moved to California in the summer of 1935. He next moved to New York City in the Fall of 1936, doing radio and studio work, both in California and New York. In New York, he studied privately and also at the Greenwich House Music School.
Earl returned to Austin and enlisted in the army during WWII and was stationed at Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, TX. While there he teamed up with Ernest Kardos, formerly a violinist with the renowned Cleveland Symphony, to form the “Sheppard Field Strings.” They were regularly broadcast over the radio, and in 1942, one of those programs was heard by the legendary bandleader, Glenn Miller. Captain Glenn Miller was searching the country looking for musicians to form the Glenn Miller Air Force Band. This band was designated to entertain fighting troops and improve army morale. Captain Miller chose Earl and Ernest Kardos to join the orchestra, arranging for their transfers to New Haven, Connecticut, and adding strings to the band for the first time.
Here are some of the members of the Glenn Miller Airforce band. Not sure if Earl is in this picutre. At times, Miller had as many as 20 violinist. The two players in white shirts, I believe, are candidates for Earl. Below is a layout of the orchestra from a member. Note that Earl was included with the 14 violins.
In the months that followed, the band was broadcast nationwide on Saturday nights from New York City. In 1943, the orchestra was sent to England. When Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George VI, visited Miller’s men in Bedford, England, Earl was chosen to escort the Queen Mother from her car to the performance. In 1944, Earl was with the band in Paris when Glenn Miller’s plane disappeared. Before the war ended, the Glenn Miller Army Air Corp Band played more than 800 performances for the troops – 500 of which were broadcast to millions of listeners.
Earl might be front row, extreme right with violin. Glen Miller Band in 1944.
After Glenn Miller’s disappearance, Earl played in the Tex Beneke Band from coast to coast. He toured with Stan Kenton in 1950 and 1951. He returned to Austin and played with The Austin Symphony for 27 years and with The Congregational Church of Austin for 40 years. He was a long-time member of The Wednesday Morning Music Club. During this time, he worked for Austin National Bank, he ran a newsstand and tobacco shop downtown, and managed the Congress Avenue Booksellers’ store on Congress Avenue.
He retired from playing his violin at the age of 70, in 1983. Earl's obituary stated, "Earl and our family would like to express a world of gratitude to Jesus (Jesse) Lopez for his longtime friendship and care of our uncle. He had known Earl since the 1960’s when he, as a young man, worked with Earl at the newsstand and tobacco shop. He has faithfully arrived at Earl’s apartment at 3:45 a.m., 7 days a week for many years to assist Earl by helping him with his personal care, preparing his breakfast and meals, and caring for his home. No amount of words can express the gratitude we feel to Jesse. Never was there such devotion and reliability as this man had demonstrated. He truly is an example of the Servant’s Heart. Thank you, Jesse, from all of our hearts."
Earl was preceded in death by his brother, Ed Cornwell, age 86, and was survived by Ed’s wife, Alice Ann Cornwell and family of Austin; his nephews, Tom Cornwell, Jo Josie and Andrew of Austin; nieces, Cindy Cornwell Fadal, Dana, Diana, and Hannah of Dripping Springs and Waco, his sister, Kitty Cornwell Howard, age 89, of Orem, Utah; nephew, Mike Howard, Sharon and family; nephew, Bill Howard, Jr., Penny and family of San Clemente, California; and cousin, Nancy Crow York and family of Austin.
Much of this information came from an obituary publish on the web site of Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home, Austin, Texas.
Earl Robert Cornwell Photos