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Clarence Putnam


You're standing on stage with a microphone resting comfortably in hand as the crowd screams for an encore.

It's a dream nearly every teenager has envisioned at least once in life; making it big in the music world. You're certain you have what it takes to be the next rock star, country music singer or classical pianist. Then comes those crushing, but often practical words uttered by parents everywhere, "You'll never make any money as a musician." Fortunately, those dreams sometime become reality despite the well-intentioned advice of parents.

Clarence S. Putnam was born in Vermont in 1859. As a young man, a passion for music ran through his veins. His father had directed a regimental band in the Union Army during the Civil War, so as Putnam grew, he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father. But at the insistence of his mother, Putnam set aside his musical ambitions and attended medical school.

Following graduation in 1883, Putnam practiced medicine in Minnesota and Wisconsin before settling in Fargo, North Dakota. It was there, twenty years later on a spring day, Clarence Putnam watched his medical practice burn to the ground; five days after his insurance had lapsed. What seemed a tragic loss, turned into opportunity.

Jobless, Putnam accepted a position teaching arithmetic at the North Dakota Agricultural College. This position opened the door to a whole new set of possibilities. Almost immediately he began giving music lessons and leading the recently formed 14-member "Cadet Band."

Organized as a military band to perform for ROTC functions, the Cadet Band thrived under Putnam's dynamic leadership. By 1924, it had received enough superior ratings during annual ROTC federal inspections to earn a "Gold Star" designation. Proud of their achievement, Putnam incorporated the title into the band's name and the Gold Star Band was born. Putnam continued directing the band until his death on this date in 1944.

Today, the Gold Star Band continues to play an important role at NDSU, but it isn't Putnam's only enduring legacy at the university. In 1908, English and philosophy instructor, Archibald Minard, composed a set of verses entitled "The Yellow and the Green." But the song needed to be set to music and Minard was a writer, not a musician. He approached Dr. Putnam who agreed to take on the challenge. Once completed, Minard was certain their masterpiece would become the state song. "The Yellow and the Green" did become the college song of the North Dakota Agricultural College, but the honor of state song went to another composition, "The North Dakota Hymn." But it was hardly a defeat for Clarence Putnam, as the former physician had also arranged the music for the newly selected North Dakota state song.

Written by Christina Sunwall


"Clarence S. Putnam Collection", Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University http://www.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/ndirs/collections/manuscripts/lit&music/CSPutnam/index.html.

"The History of the Gold Star Marching Band", North Dakota State University Gold Star Marching Band http://www.ndsu.nodak.edu/finearts/goldstarband/history.htm.

Isern, Tom, "The Yellow and the Green", Home Page for Tom Isern, North Dakota State University http://www.ndsu.edu/instruct/isern/yellow.htm.

"North Dakota State Gold Star Band History", Gold Star Band http://www.goldstarband.org/.