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Keith Clark, Bugler at JFK’s Funeral

Keith Clark would have turned 90 on November 21st. Here is some information on the bugler who sounded Taps at the funeral of President John F. Kennedy.


Keith Clark was the Principal Bugler with The United States Army Band who was placed in the world spotlight when he was called to sound Taps at the Funeral of John F. Kennedy.

Life has a way of thrusting a person into the limelight when least expected. The sounding of Taps at the funeral of President John F. Kennedy was the first time the call was heard on such a world-wide stage. Millions watched or listened as those twenty-four notes were performed on that chilly day in November 1963. The performance has been the subject of newspaper and magazine articles, discussions, commentary, radio and TV reports and even an audio spectrum analysis. What happened during those 60 seconds is forever etched in the memory of Americans and touched the hearts and souls of people around the world who were mourning the death of the young president.

The musician behind the bugle that day was Keith Clark, the Principle Bugler with the US Army Band “Pershing’s Own.”  Today we celebrate his birth and remember him, not only for that rendition of Taps for the President but also as a first rate trumpeter, musician, scholar, devoted family man and one of deep firm religious convictions.

The story of the “Broken Note”can be read by CLICKING HERE

Keith Collar Clark was born on November 21, 1927 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His father, Harry Holt Clark, was a professional musician who played flute and violin in several orchestras. When Clark was three, his father placed a toy trumpet on the fireplace mantel hoping to spark his son’s interest in music. Clark asked everyday if he could play with the trumpet. The answer was always the same: no, not until he would make a promise to take it seriously. It did not take long for Clark to make the promise to practice an hour everyday and his father replaced the toy with a real instrument.

At age nine he debuted as a trumpet soloist in a radio contest, and while still a high school student he soloed with the University of Michigan Band, under Dr. William Revelli. Clark took lessons from trumpeter Harry Glantz in New York City, later stating his concepts of tone, style, and musicianship were influenced by Glantz’s playing.  He also studied with Clifford Lillya, and Lloyd Geisler. After graduation from Interlochen Music School in 1944, he performed with the Grand Rapids Symphony. In 1946, he enlisted in the military to play trumpet in the Army Band. In 1951 he married Marjorie Ruth Park and together they raised four daughters in the Arlington, Virginia area, not far from Fort Myer. A deeply religious man, his life-long passion for rare books and hymns resulted in a publication, “A Select Bibliography for the Study of Hymns.”

Clark at age 19

Clark in the 1950s

It was during  his tenure with the Army Band that Clark received national attention as the bugler who sounded Taps for John F. Kennedy’s funeral. The Taps will be forever remembered as the “Broken Taps.” His bugle is on display at Arlington National Cemetery.

Clark performed at hundreds of funerals in Arlington and had played for President Kennedy many times, including sounding Taps  at The Tomb of the Unknowns less than two weeks prior to his death during Veterans Day ceremonies. He also performed for President Eisenhower and recalled that Vice President Nixon once winked at him during a ceremony.

On the afternoon of Kennedy’s assassination Clark, Principal Bugler of the United States Army Band, was going through his collection of rare books on church music with a friend when his 11-year old daughter, Sandy, called up the stairs with the news.  After the initial shock subsided, Clark immediately went to the nearest barber for a haircut, thinking he might be asked to sound Taps  should Kennedy be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Clark thought it likely that a Navy bugler would be chosen since Kennedy had served as a naval officer during World War II but, “Just in case, I wanted to look my best, and I went out to get my haircut.”

The story of the “Broken Note”can be read by CLICKING HERE


The audio can be heard HERE

Clark at the Kennedy grave 1964

After retiring from the army, Clark went on to a successful career of teaching, performing, and writing. His love of hymns brought him much recognition as a scholar and he has received numerous awards. He lived in Florida and was quite active as a trumpeter. His collection of hymnals was acquired by Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA in 1982. Mr. Clark’s great love for hymnody and Psalmody resulted in this large collection from various dealers and individuals. Containing more than 9,000 volumes, the Clark Hymnology Collection includes thousands of hymnbooks from various American denominations and churches, as well as several well-known books on hymnody from the 17th century to the present.

Clark with his Hymnal Collection

To download an article about the Keith Clark Hymnal Collection
Click on the image below

A little fun

The bugle on which he performed Taps at the Kennedy funeral was loaned to the Smithsonian Institution in April, 1973.  In the spring of 1999 the bugle was moved to Arlington where it is currently on display in the Visitor Center. The bugle was the centerpiece of the bugle exhibit The Taps Project

I asked Clark about Taps and in a letter to me, he wrote, “I feel the thought behind the playing and feeling used in the performance are the most important parts of each sounding of Taps.”


He was not able to attend the opening of the Taps Exhibit at Arlington but I was pleased and honored when I received a photograph of him standing by his bugle.

Clark at the bugle exhibit at Arlington

Keith Clark passed away on January 10, 2002 at the age of 74 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery the graves of fellow musicians.

One of the many letters received by Clark following the funeral



Clark grave

Clark gravesite in Arlington


This article is Copyright © 2010

Much more information about the “Broken Taps” can be found in the booklet Twenty Four Notes That Tap Deep Emotions: The story of America’s most famous bugle call, by Jari Villanueva, CLICK HERE


  1. David Rainville David Rainville November 21, 2017

    At the time I was in 5th grade and had just started on trumpet. I tape recorded the sound from the entire funeral broadcast using a small recorder with the mic in front of the family TV. All I remember of it was the repeated drums during the long march, his brother’s voice shaking during his talk, and the chipped note in Taps. I assumed the bugler was overwhelmed by emotion, perfectly understandable. I would have been a total mess myself so I was very proud of the bugler for just getting through it. Later, after playing many funerals and outdoor Christmas concerts, I realized it is not so easy to go from attention to Taps after a long wait at attention in cold weather, especially if not allowed to keep the mouthpiece warm. Keith is twice a musical hero in my book.

  2. Tapsbugler Tapsbugler Post author | May 27, 2017

    Thanks so much for your post

  3. Mary Osterhaus Clark Mary Osterhaus Clark May 26, 2017

    Keith Clark was my friend and mentor from the time I was 9 years old. He directed the adult choir at my church, and my dad was a bass in that choir. Keith got four of us 10-year-old kids together and taught us how to harmonize a hymn, then had us perform it in a church service. We were pretty scared, but I remember being so pleased that he would take the time to do this. He always supported and encouraged me in my music, all the way through college. I remember him sitting at our dinner table telling us about the Kennedy funeral and the broken note. There’s more to the story than what is written down, but that remains in my memory alone, and will never be publically shared. I lost track of him when he was a professor at Houghton College, but then met up with him again as he was transitioning to retirement in Florida. I kept up with him with a bit of correspondence over the ensuing years, but then he died and that was it. I was so pleased to be able to attend the 50th anniversary of Taps for Kennedy’s funeral in 2013, and to see his dear wife Marge and his oldest daughter Nancy, neither of whom I had seen for many years. I loved Keith, Marge and their family, and I will never ever forget them! He was one of the most special persons I’ve ever known!

  4. Bill May Bill May November 24, 2014

    At 19 years of age I played taps in the U.S. Air Force. At 64 I am playing taps again for the D.A.V. Organization. Keith Clark has always been an inspiration to me.

  5. Tapsbugler Tapsbugler Post author | May 27, 2014

    Thank you!

  6. Lisbeth Skala Lisbeth Skala May 26, 2014

    As a very little girl, my mother sat me down in front of our little black and white tv to watch the historic funeral of our president. I remember the bugler playing taps. 14 years later that bugler was my music professor at Houghton College. He taught me “Brass Class” and “Basic Conducting”. He always had a kind word and boundless knowledge of hymns and music in general. His daughter became a friend of mine since we were in the same year and shared the same dorm floor and were in choir together. Today she posted a memorial to her father so i wanted to visit this site and learn more about him. He was a kind man with a love for people and boundless knowledge of hymns.

  7. Mery Hatson Mery Hatson September 11, 2013

    Youre truly well informed and very intelligent.

  8. John Mason John Mason March 8, 2013

    I was in the US Navy Band during the Kennedy funeral and played when the body was transferred to the Capitol Rotunda, as well as in the funeral procession.

    It was common knowledge amongst all the military bandsmen at the time that the lieutenant in charge of the ceremony refused permission for the bugler to blow warm air into his instrument, thus ensuring that it would be impossible to play. The officer in charge saw him blowing the air and told him not to do it. When the sergeant told him that the instrument was impossibile to play if it was stone cold, he was ordered not to blow the air. He obeyed under protest, told the commanding general about it, and the officer was immediately transferred. But the bugler never told anyone about his orders.

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