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Thornton Hagert

Thornton ‘Tony’ Hagert, 86; Philadelphian, Musician & Musicologist.

Thornton ‘Tony’ Hagert died in Philadelphia on April 5th surrounded by waves of family and visitors. He was born on June 24th, 1930 into a family of Moravian, Episcopalian and Catholic antecedents. Tony grew up in Center City, near Rittenhouse Square and one of his earliest memories was playing on the goat statue and the Chinese Wall in the Square.

Philadelphia’s Hagert and Schell Streets, as well as his ancestor’s memberships at St. Clements and St. Joseph’s Catholic church reflect a long history of political, environmental and artistic foundation in the city. Tony’s great-grandfather was the well-known Philadelphia district attorney and mid-19th century poet, Henry Schell Hagert. His grandfathers Charles Hagert’s art education at PAFA led to his participation in galleries and shows throughout the city. His father Henry was a sought after designer and artist and his mother, Eleanor Fischer was a model and graphic designer here in Philadelphia. The family’s participation in artistic communities produced family portraits by Paul Martel, correspondence with Buckminister Fuller, Herman Herzog (who painted extensively on the family property) Robert Reiss, Marie Zimmerman and the Pinchot family.

He is survived by his wife Annie Stanfield, their children Eleanor & Zack, Daughter-in-law Rosemary, eldest son Geoff, half-sister Sydney Gommel, step -brother Phil Reiss, grandchildren Kelsey and Luca, and great granddaughter Luman. Additionally he was an uncle to Rebekah, Martha, Fred, Amy, Rachel, Charles, Ben, Liz, and Cathy. As well as being an acting grandfather, mentor and protector to many others.

He was preceded in death by his older sister Gabrielle Feldman, who passed one month prior (link below).

He attended Friends Select, Jenkintown Elementary (elected POSTURE KING of 6th grade, a title he jokingly held dear), Episcopal Academy, Central High School and Morristown public school. He was active in the Record Collectors Club which was held mostly at the Gershman YMCA on Broad Street. Through the Curtis Institute he studied coronet with James Huston, who later was a soloist in the Goldman Concert Band.

In New York City he continued his music education at Pius X School of Liturgical Music. Active in the music, poetry and art scene there, he was friends with Richard Hadlock (Record Changer Magazine), Hettie Jones, Barbara Holland, Virginia Hamilton, Bueaford Delany and Richard Gibson. He studied coronet with John Costello, Dana Garrett and Edward Truetel. He was entrenched musically and socially in the Village music scene with Jesse Milan, Jerome Pasqual, Garvin Bushell, Sidney Bechet, Slim Galliard, Dizzy Gillespie, Ethel Waters, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell( and Theolonious Monk.

After Attending UPENN, during the Korean War he joined the US Army and was stationed in Germany with the 7th Army headquarters for 18 months.

In the early 70’s, he initiated legal action against the Army Corps of Engineers by demanding ethical and fair treatment when hundreds of homes in Pike county (and the family estate of Byebrook) were sequestered through eminent domain. This federal project proposed a poorly devised plan to flood an area north of the Delaware Water Gap and produce a national park. The town of Dingmans Ferry was razed as well as the family church and many family’s homes. This was called the Tocks Island Dam Project and many people lost their homes even though the river was never flooded. Through his interventions, landowners were able to receive fair compensation for their land that was taken and this land has become a Pennsylvania State Park.

Mr. Hagert was active in the Washington DC area during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s as a band leader, arranger and musician. He formed the New Sunshine Jazz Band, The Picayune Cabaret Band and was a member of the Ponchatrain Causeway Band. These bands performed throughout the DC area, often providing dance instructors to help others learn early dances. He wrote the song, ‘Founders Stomp’ for the Potomac River Jazz Club’s anniversary. The New Sunshine Jazz band recorded three albums: “The New Sunshine Jazz Band” (Fat Cat label), “Old Rags” ( Flying Dutchman, RCA label), and “Too Much Mustard” (Biograph label). Additionally he was a founding member of The Oscar Sonneck Society and The Bix Biederbeck Society.

As the founder and director of the Vernacular Music Archive, Mr. Hagert created a research facility which is used by ethno-musicologists, scholars, professional musicians, dancers, ASCAP, ARSC members, publishers and producers of concerts and television on a national and international level. This integrated archival collection and his own knowledge of historic American music has provided support for countless books, recording sessions, and academic studies addressing the place played by vernacular music in American history.

This archive is noted for the multidisciplinary focus on American music from the 1820’s-1960’s. The inter-relatedness of the sound recordings, printed music, supporting material on manufacture, distribution, social dancing and performance practice, along with vintage recordings (many not reissued as LPs) orchestrations, instruments, lithographs, photographs and sheet music, allow access to particular subjects, songs and genres.
The collection is particularly strong in African American composers, performed music and dance from the early 1800’s-1900’s and it’s commercially marketable corollaries- minstrel, spiritual, cakewalk, ragtime, blues, jazz and bop. The collection holds recorded interviews of and/or letters by: Ed Allen, Shep Allen, Eubie Blake, Arthur Boyd, Roy Carew, Hoagy Carmichael, Pike Davis, Don Ewell, Joseph Lamb, Jerome Pasqual and William Grant Still. The uniqueness of this archive is that it uses primary such as periodicals, lithographs, sheet music, orchestrations, 78 RPM discs and books to cross-reference early American syncopated music. The consolidation of these resources allow for a multifaceted, musical tapestry of American music before 1960.

Mr. Hagert produced a number of albums for others, such as “Come and Trip It” for The Rockefeller Foundation, as part of their New World Record series of early American music. As well, Mr. Hagert was hired by Martin Williams of the Smithsonian to produce the album “An Experiment in Modern Music: Paul Whiteman at Aeolian Hall.” He used period recordings (from 1919-1924) by Gershwin, Whiteman, Zez Confrey, The Original Dixieland Jazz Band and others, which notably included the only version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody’s original orchestrations. This album was nominated for two Grammys in 1986 for Best Liner Notes and Best Historic Album. Mr Hagert stated at the Grammy Awards that the only person he knew there was Clarence, ”Gatemouth” Brown, an observation that delighted both of them.

Mr. Hagert additionally was employed in a government job at the Department of Agriculture. This work in the Rural Electrification Agency involved identifying rural towns and assisting them in achieving eligibility for government assistance to set up telephone and electric companies. After his retirement in Cambridge, Maryland, Mr. Hagert was president of the Dorchester Art Center, formed the New Century Orchestra and provided free instruments for public school students who were interested in pursuing music.

He spent his last 15 years residing in Philadelphia, where he was active in the ARSC society, and worked with local Universities to hire local musicological, archival and video engineering interns.

Comments and inquires can be submitted through the Vernacular Music Archive Website:

A memorial gathering will be held in Philadelphia later this year and his ashes will be interred at Laurel Hill Cemetery in the Hagert family plot. Those who wish to attend the gathering could provide their email contact information to

Phone: 215-543-9339