World’s oldest conductor, a 103-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor, leads the US Air Force Band

11 November 2021, 08:47

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

A musical hero, in more ways than one...

A beloved military maestro has broken his own record, to become the world’s oldest conductor.

103-year-old musician and former naval officer, Frank Emond led the US Air Force Band’s Airmen of Note in Washington, DC on Saturday night in Glenn Miller’s In the Mood.

Emond set the Guinness World Record two years ago, when he conducted American composer John Philip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever at a Memorial Day concert in May 2019.

Born in Rhode Island, Emond stayed until 1938 when he was able to join the navy.

“I heard a radio broadcast that the navy was looking for musicians, and I had been a French horn player in high school, so I applied,” he tells the American Veteran Center. Later that year, he was enlisted.

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103-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor becomes world’s oldest conductor as he leads US Air Force Band
103-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor becomes world’s oldest conductor as he leads US Air Force Band. Picture: US Naval Institute

Emond played the French horn for his ship’s band and spent his career in the navy as a musician and band director.

The centenarian recalls being on the stern of the USS Pennsylvania battleship on 7 December 1941, getting ready to play Morning Colors on his horn, when Japanese forces launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Emond saw the first bomb drop and explode, at a hangar on Ford Island.

“We were overlooking the whole harbour. It was a beautiful morning…” he recalls. “We saw a line of planes come in. And the first one peeled off and dropped something… I watched it until it hit… everything exploded up in flames and smoke, and a lot of noise.

“If I close my eyes, I can still see,” he adds.

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Emond retired from the Navy in 1968 and continued to perform with the Pensacola Civic Band, and to lead music at Gonzalez United Methodist Church.

Saturday’s record-breaking performance took place at the AVC’s America Valor: A Salute to our Heroes, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington.

Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt with a Pearl Harbor Survivor patch, a beaming Emond was received by the audience with a standing ovation.