James H. Krohe
Well-known Springfield musician James H. Krohe died at his home on 10/08/2020, at the age of 95.
His career as a professional drummer spanned 78 years. Growing up in Beardstown (where he is fondly remembered) he started banging on his big brother’s snare drum and was a professional drummer before he was old enough to drive. He joined the musician’s union at 16 and by 17 he was a touring pro, working the Midwest circuit for five bucks a night.
His wartime call-up in 1943 began a 19-year career in the U.S. military. Private Krohe was very proud of his service as a mortarman in the 42d “Rainbow” Division in France and Germany in World War II. The mortarman became a whiz-kid 19-year-old driving the 42nd’s dance band during occupation duty in Austria, where he helped bring American dance tunes to music-starved citizens of Salzburg. He also gained experience as a theater musician, backing opera singers, ballet dancers, and variety acts. He played a return engagement in 1990 when he toured Salzburg with the rest of the Springfield Municipal Band.
Back home after the war, Jim joined the band of the Illinois National Guard’s 44rd Infantry Division and its successor outfits, serving in Illinois, California, and Washington State for 15 years, 10 of those as its conductor and unit commander.
After he left the Guard, he worked variously as a salesman, bookkeeper, and state administrator as needs required, but he never strayed very long from music. While he made his living and his reputation as a drummer in and around Springfield, he also was a bass player, teacher, band leader, conductor, and arranger, even (occasionally) a singer and stand-up comic.
He was much in demand, often playing with three different groups on a weekend. His musical memoir lists more than three dozen different bands from duos to concert bands—polka bands, rock bands, country and square dance bands, clown bands, jazz trios, and of course big dance bands. He learned the back way into every social club and fraternal club, every country club, every nightclub and hotel in the capital city. He played for uncounted wedding receptions and club dances, for circuses, horse shows, fashion shows, and beauty contests, for water shows (white jackets and bow ties) and ice shows, for motorcycle races and horse races, even a rodeo.
Mr. Krohe provided musical accompaniment to performers ranging from Red Skelton, Bob Hope, Pearl Bailey and nightclub chanteuses to girls’ choirs, the latter the result of a happy twenty-year association with the good sisters of the Sacred Heart Academy. He also opened for many headliners including The Guess Who, Three Dog Night, The Fifth Dimension and the Who. He was also proud of the fact that over his career he had played in every music venue at the Illinois State Fair. He was a charter member of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, a mainstay for many years of the pit bands at Muny Opera productions, and he marched and concertized with the Springfield Municipal Band on and off for more than 30 years.
His career was a testament to self-education. He taught himself how to play tympani, how to balance books, how to write musical arrangements, and how to play a string bass. In spite of his success, he was self-conscious about his lack of formal training. He liked to say about the percussion section of the Muni Band, where his stick-wielding colleagues were all college-trained musicians, that is consisted of “four percussionists and a drummer.”
His fellow musicians held him in higher regard. One was his friend George Stanley, who played with him in the Bud Kornet Orchestra in the 1950s. Years later, Stanley wrote in a letter how in those days, a common phone call to the office of the musicians’ union was “Send over 3 musicians and a drummer.” Jim Krohe was different. Stanley recalled the night when the band was asked to play an arrangement they’d never rehearsed. “He would put his drum set where he could see the music stand of the first trumpet and not just keep the beat but set the style, match the volume, and give support as needed. Over the years I’ve played with many different drummers, but none were his equal. He was a real musician.”
When not on a stage, Jim was active in youth sports—as coach of the Northeast Cosmos youth soccer team and teams in the Grandview Little League, and later as a volunteer assistant with the Lanphier High School varsity soccer program. He took a coach’s athlete’s pride in his younger sons’ athletic achievements in soccer and baseball for Lanphier and Sangamon State University, but cheered for every accomplishment of grandkids Justin, Kelsey, Austin, Gavin, and Madison.
He probably loved to make people laugh more than he loved making them dance. His hopeful nature showed in his devotion to Chicago Cubs and of the University of Illinois athletic teams.
He survived his wife and lifelong sweetheart, Beardstown’s Dorothy L. Anderson, and his daughter Peggy Krohe, late of Springfield. He is survived by daughters Debbie Krohe and Susie [David] Krohe-Slaughter and sons R.G. Krohe and John Krohe (Jennifer Knepler), all of Springfield and James Krohe Jr. (Linda Davis), presently of Hinsdale, Ill.
Memorial Gathering: 4 – 7 pm, Friday, October 23, 2020 at Staab Funeral Home – Springfield. Private graveside will be held at Beardstown City Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight.
CDC Protocol shall be followed.
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