Charles H. Gorby Music Dealer (Part 2)

NOTES DA CAPO by John L. Puffenbarger

October 1991

"Gorby's is more than a music store-it's an institution."--Charles Gorby.

Charles Gorby's success in building the South Charleston band program prompted the H.N. White Company, a manufacturer of band instruments in Cleveland, Ohio, to hire him to promote and develop school bands in West Virginia and Virginia. At that time (1938) band instrument factories sold direct to consumers and schools, as there were very few band instrument dealers. And that's how Charlie Gorby became West Virginia's own "music man."

During the next four years he covered both states, selling band programs to community leaders, administrators, and school boards. He told them about the advantages of bands and talked about uniforms and trips. At the Covington (Virginia) High School, after giving his usual talk about the band he asked how many wanted to be in the band, and every hand went up except for the eleven boys on the football team. Student-grade trumpets, comets, clarinets, and trombones in silver finish and with cases sold for $40 cash or rented at $2 down, $6 C.O.D., and $3.60 for ten months. In many instances the band director would serve five schools, spending one day each week in a school. By the second year the bands were doing so well that a full-time director was hired for each school. Charles Gorby started over 150 school band programs in four years.

This part of his career continued until Decoration Day, 30 May 1942, when the government froze everything made out of metal: stoves, refrigerators, bicycles, and musical instruments. Gorby was out of business overnight. Then, at age 34, married, and with two small boys, he received "greetings" from Uncle Sam. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War n, directing a naval training station band and drum corps in Detroit, Michigan.

When he mustered out of the service in 1945, the H.N. White Company wanted to make him director of sales. Since his home was in West Virginia, he chose to become a dealer here, where he first sold instruments from his garage. The company sent him four horns, and he sold them. Then he bought six and sold those, bought eight and sold eight--and that is how his business grew.

His store officially opened in 1946 in a room over Vogue Dry Cleaners. At the end of the first year the business was incorporated, and then he leased a building on Seventh Avenue in South Charleston. The present Gorby's Music House was built in 1955, and was expanded in 1967. Sons Jerry and Steve, and wife Mary contributed to what became a family corporation. Mary, who was in the business from the beginning, handles the sheet music department, and Jerry is president and general manager. Steve was killed in a tragic airplane accident in 1985.

Over the years Charles Gorby has contributed greatly to music education in West Virginia. Gorby's sponsored its First Annual Stage Band Festival on 10 January 1959. The festival was held for fifteen years until the West Virginia Bandmasters Association took it over. Gorby's also held annual marching band clinics. Gorby's has supported the WVMEA and Charlie has twice served as exhibits chair and chair of printed programs for the annual Conference. He is an honorary member of Tau Chapter of Phi Beta Mu, national bandmasters fraternity. In 1989 he was inducted as an associate member of the American Bandmasters Association.