Wilson Carlile: The Man Behind the Trombone

Wilson Carlile: The Man Behind the Trombone

Readers of The Last Trombone know that I am at work writing several books, as well as a number of articles for various journals and magazines. I’ve just completed an article for the July 2017 International Trombone Association Journal about jazz trombonist Russell “Big Chief” Moore, a member of the Akimel O’odham (Pima) tribe who was born in Arizona and went on to play with many jazz greats including Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and Charlie Parker. Moore was born in Komatke, Arizona, on the east side of the Sierra Estrella; if you threw a stone from my front porch over the mountains, it would land in Komatke. I’ve also recently completed an article about the Mozart Requiem Tuba mirum trombone solo for the Boston Symphony Orchestra program in April of this year, to coincide with performances of that piece by the orchestra (my good friend, Steve Lange, will be playing the trombone solo). And my new annotated orchestral excerpt book, The One Hundred: Essential Works for the Symphonic Bass Trombonist (Encore Music Publishers) is in the final proofreading process and will be published this spring. More on all of these projects will be coming in future posts on The Last Trombone.

One of the major writing projects that is occupying my time is a biography of Homer Rodeheaver, who was the trombone-playing song leader for evangelist Billy Sunday in the first third of the twentieth century. I am co-authoring this book with my friend Kevin Mungons of Chicago and it will be published by University of Illinois Press. In my research about Rodeheaver, I’ve been studying the use of the trombone by many pastors, evangelists and song leaders.  Many, like the late Cliff Barrows, were inspired by Rodeheaver’s example.

But before Homer Rodeheaver, there was Rev. Wilson Carlile, founder of England’s Church Army. Carlile had a life long ministry to the downtrodden in London and his movement spread around the world. He also used the trombone as a way to gain attention to his ministry, often marching through the streets of London while playing–something that resulted in his being severely beaten on numerous occasions by those who did not want to hear his message of temperance and the saving power of the Christian Gospel.

The photo below appeared as a full page image in the July 22, 1903 issue of The Tatler with the caption:

The Rev. Wilson Carlile, who leads off our series of “Preachers in their Pulpits,” the first newspaper attempt to present the clergy with the genuine actuality that photography can alone provide, is the honorary chief secretary of the Church Army, which he founded in the slums of Westminster in 1882. He is rector of St. Mary-at-Hill, the church which is illustrated in our picture. He is fifty-six years of age.


On May 4, 1900, the Chicago Daily Tribune ran an article about Wilson Carlile and his ministry; it is reproduced below. The article is written in a spectacularly evocative style, and is a tremendous tribute to this Godly man who did so much good for so many. The author, who is not credited, certainly found that the trombone made an impression, and his conclusion will bring a smile to anyone who plays the trombone or has known a trombone player:

All this is the work of the man behind the trombone, and for the possibilities that lie in that much maligned instrument let all trombone players be respected. They are not as bad as they look. In the hands of a man truly great, the trombone is more powerful than the sword.


Wilson Carlile (1847-1942). The man behind the trombone.