It might be April Fools Day, but it’s no joke!

It might be April Fool’s Day, but it’s not joke that this year makes our 116th birthday! Yea we know… we are old. Here is what was happening in the U.S. when Charles H. Willis founded Willis Music at 41 East 4th Street in downtown Cincinnati 116 years ago: William McKinley was president

(Look at that scowl… It’s so handsome!)

There were only 45 states in the U.S.

Our flag was short a few stars back then.

The Cincinnati Reds finished their season 85-67 (we hope they do better this year!).

A few things that happened on this day in history around the world other than the most wonderful music store opening:

  • In 1905, Paris and Berlin were linked by telephone
  • In 1929 that awesome, yet totally frustrating, toy the yo-yo was invented by Louie Marx
  • In 1930 Leo Harnett of the Chicago Cubs broke the altitude record for a catch by catching a baseball that was dropped from the Goodyear blimp 800 feet over Los Angeles, CA. Good thing it wasn’t a bowling ball!
  • In 1938, The first commercially successful fluorescent lamps were introduced and the baseball Hall of Fame was opened in Cooperstown, NY.
  • In 1957, The Soviet Union launched Sputnik scaring the rest of the world for no reason!
  • (Poor kids… That doesn’t look like fun at all!)

  • In 1960, The U.S. launched TIROS-1. It was the first weather satellite.
  • In 1976, Apple Computer began operations.

As you can see, we share a birthday with some pretty cool events that have happened in history.

If you think those were cool, check out some of the things a little closer to home… We did say we are pretty old.

Willis Music is older than:

  • Cincinnati Union Terminal (built in 1933)
  • Skyline Chili (established in 1949)
  • The Lincoln Memorial (built in 1922… sorry honest Abe, you may be older than us, but your memorial isn’t)
  • The Empire State building (built in 1929)
  • (We fibbed a little, King Kong has never been on the Empire State Building… but how terrifying would that be?!)

  • The first World Series was won by the Boston Americans (1903)
  • The Ford Motor company (established in 1903)
  • The first powered flight by the Wright brothers (1903)
  • The Boy scouts were established in 1910. -Fenway Park was built in 1912.
  • War War 1 was from 1914-1918.
  • Mount Rushmore was built in 1927.
  • The FBI was established in 1935.
  • The famous Ohio River Flood of 1937.
  • The St. Louis Arch was built in 1963.

Wow! How incredible is that!? We have had our doors open through a lot of cool events in history. Thank you for shopping local with Willis Music and giving us 116 great years! We look forward to spending many more with you and seeing a lot more cool stuff happen.

Click here to read about the history of Willis Music.

The History of the Willis Music Company

Beginning in 1899 through today, Willis Music’s focus has always been on music education. From their internationally known educational piano catalog to one of the top retail music chains in America this focus on education has always remained. Here’s how it began…

On April 1, 1899, Charles H. Willis, a veteran of the sheet music industry, founded a small business at 41 East 4th Street in downtown Cincinnati. For the next 20 years Mr. Willis and his son William grew the business through hard work and a keen focus on the needs of music educators. During that time the company acquired several music publishers such as The John Church Company and George B. Jennings and Company. In 1919, Gustave Schirmer bought the Willis Music Company, making it a branch of G. Schirmer of Boston, Massachusetts.

In 1923 John J. Cranley, a fiery, redheaded Irishman from the Boston Music Company, became general manager of the Willis subsidiary. John began as a stockboy at Boston Music and now was leading Willis Music with his hard work and love for the music business. He turned this small organization into a major corporation in very quick order. Little by little, he acquired more than 50% ownership in the company through stock options and then purchased all the remaining stock. John continued running Boston Music, Schirmer Music and Willis Music. Under his leadership, Willis Music became “The Publisher” for teaching methods and solo pieces. The John Thompson method, “Modern Course for the Piano” was added to the catalog in 1936 and quickly became, and still is today, the most widely used piano method in the world, published in 17 languages. He then added names like Edna Mae Burnam and her prolific “Dozen a Day” series as well as William Gillock.

John’s son, Edward, became president of the Willis Music Company in 1965. Like his father he grew up in the business at Boston Music. After serving in the Navy during WWII and Korea he moved his Family to Cincinnati to join Willis in 1955. He worked all departments, sharing his Dad’s enthusiasm while continuing the success and growth of the organization. In 1969 the Company’s headquarters and publishing operation moved to Florence, Kentucky.

After graduating from Xavier University in 1980, Kevin Cranley, Ed’s son, joined the company full time. In 1990, Kevin succeeded his father as President and continues in that role today. Kevin also served as the Chairman of NAMM, the industry’s International Trade Association from 2011-2013.

In the past 10 years Willis has gone through tremendous positive change. In 2005 Willis partnered with the Hal Leonard Corporation who now handles product development, production and distribution for the Willis catalog in the Americas and beyond. Hal Leonard provides an unmatched stable of popular songs and talent that have enhanced the iconic Willis Piano Methods.

In 2012 Willis became the exclusive representative for Steinway and Sons Pianos in the Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and Dayton markets. Willis services university music departments, local symphonies and music enthusiasts with the world’s finest pianos.

With the 2013 acquisition of Moeller Music, Willis strengthened its commitment and dedication to school music programs in all markets. At the same time Willis began representing the renowned Yamaha Band and Orchestra line of instruments.

Today Willis Music stores provide everything musicians of all levels need and desire. With performance spaces in several stores Willis is frequently the venue for beginners, rising stars and Steinway Artists.

Cick here to read what else happened the day of our inception!

Kevin Cranley