Written by Joe Gillotti
Biography courtesy of The American Band Masters Research Center:
The Sousa Band percussionist, music educator, and historian, John Joseph Heney, Sr. was born in 1903. Heney’s professional band career began in 1924, when he joined the Royal Scotch Highlanders Band. He stayed with the Highlanders until 1925, when he joined McDonald’s Highlanders Band (The Kilties). He remained with The Kilties until 1926, when he joined the John Philip Sousa Band. Heney performed with the Sousa Band during its last six years, as one of three drummers and xylophone soloist. During this time, the Sousa Band was not the only one to enjoy Heney’s company, however. Heney also performed with the Sells-Floto Circus Band (aka Montgomery’s Concert Band), the Bertram W. Mills’ Olympia Circus Band, the Sparks Circus Band, the Hagenback-Wallace Circus Band, the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus Band, the Medinah Circus and Carnival Band, the Tom Mix Circus and Wild West Show.
The same year Heney joined the Sousa Band, he moved to St. Augustine, Florida, where he became the Band Director at Ketterlinus High School. Also during 1926, Heney became the Bandmaster at Stetson University, a position that lasted until 1935, when he became Bandmaster at DeLand High School in DeLand, Florida. His employment as Bandmaster at DeLand lasted 32 years.
While Bandmaster at DeLand, Heney was also active in the National Association of Rudimental Drummers (NARD), the American Bandmasters Association (ABA), and the Florida Bandmasters Association (FBA), of which he was made an honorary life president in 1941.
As his band directing career flourished, Heney still had time for other pursuits, such as running Heney’s Superior Service Station, a local gas station, and the Heney School of Percussion, a private drum studio from which Heney gave lessons. In 1934, Heney also wrote and published a book, entitled The Correct Way to Drum: A Treatise on the Material Used in Modern Drumming. Besides The Correct Way to Drum, Heney also published 23 musical compositions and a number of journal articles in his lifetime. In addition, Heney spent time in the United States Navy during World War II from 1942 until 1945.
A member of the Sousa Band Fraternal Society, Heney was elected as archivist in November of 1969. During his time as archivist, Heney attempted to collect and preserve as much of the memorabilia from Sousa’s life and the history of the Sousa Band and its members as was left in the personal collections ofm other Sousa Band members and their families. He attempted to ensure that Sousa’s memory and music were remembered by consulting on projects to record Sousa’s music in the present day and by pushing for Sousa’s induction into the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. Heney died on September 1, 1978.