Phi Beta Mu was established as a result of the respect and appreciation our founder, Colonel Earl D. Irons, had for his professional associates, school band directors. Col. Irons was Bandmaster and Chairman of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Arlington, then known as North Texas Agricultural College. He envisioned an organization that would honor outstanding band directors whose dedication and devotion to their profession was paramount, but whose admirable traits and services were not necessarily known nationally. Col. Irons sought to honor deserving individuals on a state level similar to the manner in which the American Bandmasters Association had honored him in 1936.
During the summer of 1937, Col. Irons was serving as guest conductor and cornet teacher at the Texas Tech Summer Band Camp in Lubbock, Texas. In the course of that summer’s camp, he had discussions with Dr. D.O. Wiley, Director of the Tech Band Camp, about his plan for founding a very special organization. These two men decided that the time was right to begin such an honorary association, and “Prof.” Wiley assembled a group of prominent band directors at the camp for a meeting with Col. Irons.
Among those Texas directors present at this early meeting were Carl Cochran of Marlin, Texas; Russell Schrader of Sweetwater, Texas; George Rucker of Bowie, Texas; Sanford Eskridge of Wink, Texas; H.A. Anderson of Lubbock, Texas; and Clyde Rowe, who later taught in Borger, Texas. Cochran, Shrader, and Rucker were especially interested in creating the framework for the organization.
A number of meetings were held in the University’s Textile Building during that summer. The final decision to organize was reached during a watermelon feast in Prof. Wiley’s backyard. At that time, it was decided that the organization should be structured as a national bandmasters fraternity, with the details to be worked out as the Fraternity became reality.
With advice from Dr. Cothburn O’Neal, Col. Irons began working out details of the Fraternity’s organizational structure. Dr. O’Neal was a former student of Col. Irons from 1925 and had become a colleague on the faculty of North Texas Agricultural College, serving as an English professor. Together, they selected Phi Beta Mu with the subtitle National Bandmasters Fraternity, as the name of the organization. Phi Beta Mu was interpreted to mean Life, Love, and Music. The colors chosen to represent the Fraternity were blue and white.
The original member recognition pin bore the five lines and four spaces of the music staff in a vertical position; closed at each end, with the Greek letters for Phi Beta Mu inset across the center.
Col. Irons and Dr. O’Neal, with ideas gleaned from the earlier meetings at Texas Tech, wrote a proposed constitution and oath, both of which were approved by the charter members in the summer of 1938.
The charter members of Phi Beta Mu were:
|Col. Earl D. Irons, Founder||Sanford Eskridge||George Rucker|
|Carl Cochran||Joe Haddon||Russell Shrader|
|R.A. Dhossche||Robert McCown||Richard Walker|
|Walter S. Dickinsen||Clyde Rowe||Dr. D.O. Wiley|
The first official meeting was held at the Rice Hotel in Houston, Texas in February, 1939. The first initiates were R.C. Davidson, Jack H. Mahan, Lyle Skinner, Alfred Wiley, Vergne Adams, and Holmes McNeely. Dr. Cothburn O’Neal was the first individual to be made an Honorary Member in recognition of his work with Col. Irons in developing the Fraternity Constitution and Oath.
Dr. Milburn Carey was initiated in 1942 as a member of Alpha Chapter. In 1944, Carey chartered Beta Chapter in Enid, Oklahoma. In 1946, Harold L. Walters, who had become an honorary member of Beta Chapter, invited Dr. Carey to charter Gamma Chapter in Indiana.
With most of its members serving in the military during World War II, the Fraternity’s official credentials and the minutes of those early pre-war meetings were lost. When the Fraternity was reactivated, the members’ recognition pin was changed to its current form.
With the continuous existence of three chapters for several years, the need became apparent for a fully operative national structure. In 1954, L.H. Buckner, Immediate Past-President of Alpha Chapter, Alfred Riley, President of Alpha Chapter, and Jack H. Mahan, Secretary-Treasurer of Alpha Chapter met in Dallas, Texas to create the national organization. The meeting took place in Mr. Mahan’s home. It was decided that there should be a President, Vice-President, and Executive Secretary, with six national board members. In addition to agreeing to proceed with the international organization, recognition pins were established to honor the members of the International Executive Committee and Chapter Past-Presidents (see description in by-laws).
It was decided that the interim national officers would be Alfred M. Riley, President; L.H. Buckner, Vice-President; and Jack H. Mahan, Executive Secretary. In 1955, a national election was held in which Milburn E. Carey was elected President, and Raymond F. Dvorak was elected Vice President. The newly elected Board of Directors at the recommendation of President Carey appointed Jack H. Mahan Executive Secretary.
Further refinement of the national organization and its constitution was worked out by Mahan and R.C. “Chief” Davidson at Enid, Oklahoma in 1957 and duly endorsed by the membership. With an International Office, the Fraternity grew to include additional state chapters. Mississippi was slated to be installed as the fourth chapter and was assigned Delta, but the installation was unavoidably delayed. As a result, Louisiana became the fourth chapter to be installed but was assigned the name Epsilon, since Delta had already been allotted to Mississippi. From there, the Fraternity grew to include additional states and began expanding into foreign countries. The Fraternity established chapters in Graz, Austria and Alberta, Canada in 1975, and Japan in 1978. That pattern of international growth continues as Phi Beta Mu’s ideals are recognized as valid and important to the development of bands throughout the work.
The first half-century of our Fraternity’s existence saw varied but capable leadership under the following International Officers:
Keith Rudolph [2023-2025]
Dwayne Sagen 
Elva Kaye Lance [2019-2021]
Keith Bearden [2016-2018]
Paul Worosello [2013–2015]
Sheryl Bowhay [2010–2012]
David Willson [2007–2009]
Van Ragsdale [2001–2006]
Keith Mann [1998–2000]
Jack White [1983–1989]
Dr. Charles Minelli [1978–1982]
Milburn Carey [1957–1977]
Alfred Riley [1954–1956]
Elva Kaye Lance 
Keith Rudolph 
Dwayne Sagen [2029-2021]
Elva Kaye Lance [2016–2018]
Keith Bearden [2013–2015]
Paul Worosello [2010–2012]
Sheryl Bowhay [2007–2009]
David Willson [2001–2006]
Van Ragsdale [1998–2000]
James Barnett [1990–1997]
Jerry Bordner [1982–1989]
Raymond Dvorak [1956–1981]
International Executive Secretaries
June Bearden [2023 –
David Lambert [2009-2022]
Richard C. Crain [1977–2008]
William Postlethwaite [1975–1977]
Jack H. Mahan [1954–1974]
The early days of the Fraternity saw various means of promotion to actively promote Phi Beta Mu. Among those was the collaboration of members Harold L. Walters and Karl L. King in writing Men of Music March, published by Rubank and dedicated to Phi Beta Mu. In addition, Col. Earl D. Irons wrote Hail to the Fraternity, also dedicating it to Phi Beta Mu.
In December of 1988, Phi Beta Mu celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding. To commemorate this occasion, two works were commissioned and dedicated to Phi Beta Mu. Breckenridge Overture by James Barnes and A Celebration Fanfare by Alfred Reed were performed by the Lake Highlands High School Band at the Friday evening concert of the 1988 Midwest Clinic in Chicago, Illinois. Brother Malcolm Helm, director of the Lake Highlands High School Band in Richardson, Texas, was presented a plaque expressing the appreciation of the Fraternity for his thoughtfulness in programming these works to further promote the Fraternity.
Phi Beta Mu International spearheaded a consortium of member chapters across the country to commission a work in honor of the 75th anniversary of Phi Beta Mu.
Composer Mark Camphouse was chosen and the piece, entitled Homage to the Dream, was premiered at the annual clinic/convention of the Texas Bandmasters Convention held in San Antonio, TX on July 21, 2013.
In addition to hundreds of band directors, in the audience were over 1,600 high school students, a scheduled activity as part of the TBA Student Leadership Day.
The work was beautifully performed by the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra Wind Symphony with the composer conducting. Dr. Nicholas Williams [Alpha Chapter] is the conductor of the group and graciously agreed to have his group premiere the work. The composition also commemorates the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech of August 28, 1963, “I Have a Dream.”
Texas’ Alpha Chapter of Phi Beta Mu [founding chapter] also celebrated its 75th anniversary and was pleased to be a contributor/host to the commission’s premiere.
Much of the written history of Phi Beta Mu was reconstructed from taped reflections of Charter Member D.O. Wiley and conversations with Honorary Life President Milburn Carey and Honorary Life Secretary Jack Mahan. In that verbal history, Dr. Wiley credited Mr. Mahan with much of the early growth of the Fraternity. According to Dr. Wiley, Mr. Mahan and Dr. Milburn Carey installed every new chapter.
The history of Phi Beta Mu is also significant to its present and its future. The founders’ ideals of honoring superior achievement are timeless, their values of moral uprightness are never out of style, and their purpose of promoting the international development of bands will reward the world far beyond our Fraternity’s membership. May we honor those who have gone before us by honoring personal and professional excellence in our time and upholding the standards that are the very foundation of Phi Beta Mu.