Lowell Samuel always planned on leaving a legacy. As founder of Samuel Music Company, he pursued a love and a passion that has left an imprint across an industry, inspired musicians and non-musicians alike, and instilled a love of music in countless others.
Growing up the son of a Depression-era deep pit coal-miner in Southern Illinois, Mr. Samuel was deeply influenced by the struggles his family faced. Living in a depressed area in bleak times, music was an avenue that brought light in the dark times, and something that took root in his heart. Despite their poverty, his family scraped together enough money to purchase a clarinet, and that started Mr. Samuel’s musical career. As a teenager, he formed a dance band and was able to put himself through school with the proceeds. Here he found a second passion – for education – and at the age of 19 he began a career as a teacher. In 1942 he moved to Effingham, Ill., and soon after his arrival, answered the call to serve his country. While serving, he joined the Armed Forces Band and was an original member of the "Singing Sergeants,” a group of four men who toured Europe (a group that still exists today).
Following the war he returned to Effingham to continue to teach, and it’s here he discovered an opportunity. With his wife Lucille by his side he decided to seize this opportunity, and borrowed $500 in order to open a music store. This was back in the days of the corner drug store and the five and dime, and most music stores catered towards consumers wanting to buy music. But Lowell saw something different. Almost every school had a band, and yet there was no convenient place to service instruments. So in 1946, Samuel Music Company opened their doors. It didn’t take Mr. Samuel long to realize that his Armed Forces music experience, which was at the time one of the best bands in the world, gave him credibility and opened doors with area band directors. For years, he traveled throughout Southern Illinois, supplying band directors with everything they needed while Lucille managed the store. And little by little, Samuel Music grew. Through it all, Mr. Samuel was guided by a belief that he wasn’t just selling a product, he was helping people learn to enjoy music; that it was his job to help educate people on how to play and instrument and if nothing else, help them to appreciate music.
In the 1950’s Jazz musicians started popularizing organs, which began moving from the church and into the home. Lucille and Lowell saw this, and purchased their first organ in 1955 and started carting it around to county fairs in the back of a pick-up truck. This clever performance-based marketing significantly contributed to the growth of Samuel Music Company, and established them as a keyboard retailer, beginning the expansion of their sales to non-band buyers. As product lines increased, the store expanded and then added locations, reaching into other areas of Illinois. Today it remains an independently owned chain of music stores selling a wide range of musical instruments and accessories, sound equipment, other quality products and service – and still supporting school bands, a niche that has provided the foundation for their success.
Mr. Samuel’s contributions to the music industry are many. In 1965 he founded Midwest Musical Instrument Company (MIDCO), an import/wholesale company of musical merchandise, which he pioneered in the Midwest. He was a founder of the National Association of School Music Dealers and a charter member of the Northern Music Merchants Research Group. He was involved in varying levels of administration of the Music Distributors Association, The American Music Conference, The National Association of Music Merchants, and the National Association of Music Merchandise Importers and Exporters, among others.
Mr. Samuel served on various community organizations ranging from churches to banks to service organizations to the Chamber of Commerce and Lake Land College Foundation. He was dedicated to bringing music to children, and piloted many programs with the two, from training teachers on how to incorporate music in their teaching, to the establishment of chorus and band programs, to promoting Encore, a program to teach first-grade student to read through music and movement. He received many awards for his leadership and philanthropy, including the Service Recognition Award from the Illinois Alliance for Arts Education, 1996 recipient of the Illinois Reaches Out Volunteer Award for his lifetime involvement with children and music, and the Henry Grossman Lifetime Director Award for his lifetime contributions to the world of music. Mr. Samuel was heavily involved with Rotary International, serving as chapter president, district governor, and Rotary information counselor. In 1967 he led one of the earliest Group Study Exchange teams to Southeast Asia and served as district International Youth Exchange chairman. He was honored as District 6490 Rotarian of the Year and was nominated for directorship of Rotary International Zone 3. After many years of service, Mr. Samuel was awarded Rotary’s highest honor of the Service Above Self Award.
Lowell Samuel believed that music enriches everyone's life and he dedicated his life to enriching others. Through pursuing his love and passion for education and music, he truly left a legacy that has, and will continue to, impact us for generations. The Samuel Music Company is proud to continue his legacy.
Click here to view other photos and advertisements of Samuel Music from the 1950's.
Watch CEO Dean Samuel on One on One with Alex Ruggieri.