Born in Delphi, IN, Walter B. Rogers received his first musical instruction on the violin through his father and picked up the cornet afterward; at 17, Rogers entered the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Rogers paid for his classes through playing with orchestras and bands in the Indianapolis area; however, in 1886 he was wooed away to New York to play in Capp's Seventh Regiment Band. Around 1900 he joined the John Philip Sousa Band and split the cornet solo duties with already established megastar Herbert L. Clarke; one would expect some professional jealousy to erupt between them, but it didn't work out that way -- Clarke had nothing but praise for Rogers. A mere handful of solo recordings made by Rogers appear to bear this out; sadly, he didn't make very many records of this kind.
Rogers did not stay long with Sousa. In 1904, he signed a contract as musical director for the Victor Talking Machine Company, working out of their Camden, NJ, studio. Rogers led the studio band for practically all of Victor's recordings from that time up until his resignation in 1916. This included the bulk of the accompaniments for singers ranging from Enrico Caruso to Billy Murray, but Rogers also recorded a number of pieces from the standard orchestral repertoire, often in shortened versions and, in many instances, making the first recordings of such works. In doing so, Rogers was frequently going head to head with the Columbia Band/Orchestra led by Charles A. Prince and in almost all instances outselling Prince's versions of the same music. However, it is in recordings of light classics and band literature that Rogers truly excelled; his recordings of pieces like "Glow Worm," "A Hunt in the Black Forest," and "In a Clock Store" for Victor remain classics of early orchestral recording, and were among the highest-selling instrumental records of the period.
In 1916 Rogers left Victor to become a musical director at Paroquette, a start-up record company headed by singer Henry Burr and banjoist Fred Van Eps that issued 7" Par-O-Ket and Angelophone records. This concern went under by the beginning of 1918, but Rogers got a fresh start at Brunswick Records, leading a military band limited mostly to the marches and descriptive specialties that Rogers was most comfortable recording. The Brunswick band may have been his best, and Rogers used the same band on Paramount and possibly other labels as well. He continued to record with his "Brunswick Band" until the Brunswick label was absorbed in a hostile takeover by ARC in 1927. Rogers had already begun to vary his activities through teaching and playing in theater orchestras in Brooklyn. Rogers retired in 1932, and died at age 74 on Christmas Eve, 1939.
It is difficult to gauge Rogers' total recorded output -- the recordings he worked on as accompanist were made in the thousands, whereas the output under his own name as leader or under a generic designation such as "Victor Orchestra" is less numerous, but still considerable and sadly under-researched. Nevertheless, there are few orchestra leaders from before 1915 that count as "giants" in the recording industry, and Rogers may have been the most important of them all, apart from Prince, Arthur Pryor, and Artur Nikisch. Rogers was also a composer, mostly of cornet solos and ensembles; "A Soldier's Dream" is perhaps his best-known work. ~ Uncle Dave Lewis, Rovi