Police Officer Frank Maco: The Day the Music Died

After World War I ended in 1918, and the horrific carnage and destruction were finally “over over there,” a battle-scarred America was eager to feel upbeat again. America was eager to enter a decade that it could tap its toe to.

And the 1920s were happy to oblige. Thanks to radio, “talkies,” and phonograph records, people increasingly had access to broadcast and recorded music. Thanks to the automobile and streetcars, people increasingly had access to live music. These developments combined to make the 1920s America’s first musical decade. It was the Jazz Age, and music put the roar in the Roaring Twenties.

And a popular source of music—broadcast, recorded, and live—was bands.

In the 1920s Fort Worth had bands, well, to beat the band. Here is a medley of local bands in the 1920s: Naturally radio station WBAP had a band. Likewise the Metropolitan, Westbrook, Blackstone, and Texas (“the largest hotel orchestra in the state”) hotels. But also the city itself had a band for public performances. Even the police department had a band. Churches such as First Baptist and Hemphill Presbyterian had orchestras. Each packing plant had a band. Ditto Fort Worth & Denver City and Missouri Pacific railroads. And the Shriners and the Masonic Home. The interurban had the Crimson Limited specialty orchestra. The Coca-Cola bottling plant on South Main Street had a band. Montgomery Ward and Stripling department stores each had a band. So did the Fort Worth Club, Magnolia Petroleum Company, King Candy Company, and Hub Furniture Company. Lake Como and White City trolley parks each had a band. The Reeder Motor Company of Fort Worth claimed to have the “only complete band organization maintained by an automobile dealer in the United States.” And, yes, the Knights of Pythias Home in Weatherford had a thirty-three-member all-girls mandolin orchestra.

Each of those bands needed a director.

And one of the most prominent band directors of the early 1920s was Frank Maco.

Tomaso Frank Macocco was born in Italy in 1883. A child prodigy, he began his music education early. By age seven he had a home tutor. By age nine he attended the Conservatorio Guiseppe Verdi in Torino. At age twelve he debuted with the Torino Orchestra Filarmonica.

In 1900 Macocco immigrated to the United States. At age twenty-eight he was a charter member of the Beethoven Symphony Orchestra of Memphis. By 1914 he and wife Rosa were in Texas, where he continued to perform, direct, and teach music. Also by 1914, when daughter Frances was born, Macocco had anglicized his surname, becoming “Frank Maco.” But he used his birth name in 1917 when he renounced “all allegiance . . . to Victor Emmanuel III, King of Italy” and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Just weeks after World War I began for America in 1917, he registered for the draft in Sulphur Springs.

Frank Maco moved to Fort Worth just in time to get a job playing trumpet in the Fort Worth Stock Show Band in March 1919. This photo was taken in front of the North Side Coliseum. Maco is front row right.

By 1920 Maco was leader of the Armour packing plant band.

In this photo of the Armour band, taken in front of the Livestock Exchange, Maco is front row left.

Maco also was an actor. Before settling in Fort Worth, he had been a member of the Lawrence Stock Company of Vancouver, Canada.

In Fort Worth Maco performed in vaudeville on stage at the Byers Opera House/Palace Theater and the Majestic Theater.

But music was Frank Maco’s overriding passion. In this undated photo of a brass band, Maco is front row center.

He was a member of the trumpet section of Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.

He was director of the orchestra of J. Frank Norris’s First Baptist Church.

And he was director of Fort Worth’s municipal band, formed in 1915.

The year 1926 was shaping up as perhaps Frank Maco’s most musical.

He was director of Montgomery Ward’s Trail Blazers band. The band had its own studio in the store and performed for employees at noon each workday.

Maco had joined the Trail Blazers in 1924. In this photo Maco is the man holding the conductor’s baton.

Trail Blazers performances were broadcast twice a week on radio station WBAP.

“My idea is that America is settling down to a style of music all her own,” Maco said while leading the Trail Blazers. “We buy the European masterpieces, inject some of the Indian and the ‘way down South stuff’ into it, and more counter melody than all Europe ever heard of. Then we sell it back to them at a net profit.”

Maco was head of the wind instrument department of the Fort Worth Conservatory of Music. Note that head of the violin department in 1926 was E. Clyde Whitlock, who that year began the first of his forty-one years as music critic of the Star-Telegram.

Maco was director of Hired Hand’s Little Symphony at WBAP. (“Hired Hand” was Star-Telegram circulation manager Harold Hough.) In the 1920s the newspaper devoted a full page each week to radio coverage (mostly WBAP radio coverage). For example, the top story on this page declares that WBAP would broadcast a wedding live from its studio in the Star-Telegram building.

But in October 1926 Frank Maco the musician suddenly became Frank Maco the Fort Worth police officer. Such a career move was not as jarring as it might seem at first. Maco was hired solely for his musical ability. He was to direct the police band, which had been formed in 1921 and by 1926 was highly regarded, performing nationally and even internationally. But band director was not a full-time position, so Maco also was assigned to the police department’s bicycle squad.

And so it was that late on the night of December 22, 1926 bicycle officer Frank Maco, in uniform, was directing traffic around freshly painted stop lines on the pavement on West 7th Street at Penn Street. About 11:45 p.m. a car approached the intersection from the West 7th Street bridge. When the car appeared to be headed toward the wet stop lines, Maco waved a light, signaling the car to stop. A fellow officer at the scene said the car instead continued to head right at Maco. At the last moment Maco jumped out of the path of the car and onto its runningboard. The car began to zig-zag. Holding on, Maco fired one shot into the side of the car, apparently trying to shoot out a tire. The car did not stop.

Maco was thrown from the runningboard and hit his head on the curb. The car disappeared into the night.

Frank Maco died of his injuries the next day. He had been on the police force only two months.

Another police officer at the scene had noted the license number of the car, and the car was traced to W. E. Ponder. Ponder admitted driving the car but claimed that he thought that Maco was a would-be robber, especially after Maco jumped onto the runningboard and fired a shot into the side of the car.

Maco died on his daughter’s twelfth birthday. Jack Gordon, who would have a long career as entertainment columnist at the Fort Worth Press, was only twenty-four years old when assigned the grim task of writing about the grief of Maco’s daughter Frances and widow Rosa.

Motorist W. E. Ponder was indicted for murder but later acquitted.

Frank Maco was given a military funeral, the procession including a color squad and a squad of fellow officers. Officers fired a twenty-one-gun salute, and the fifty-member police band that Maco had been hired to direct played at his graveside.

Music man Frank Maco is buried in Greenwood Cemetery not far from fellow music men William J. Marsh and Tex Beneke.

(Thanks to retired Fort Worth police sergeant and police historian Kevin Foster, the Fort Worth Police and Firefighters Memorial, and Frank Maco’s granddaughter “Grannystaf” for information and photos.)

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