Press "Enter" to skip to content

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. Tapsbugler Tapsbugler Post author | November 21, 2012

    actually after his 36th Birthday…

  2. Stan Modjesky Stan Modjesky November 21, 2012

    Coincidentally, tomorrow will be the 49th anniversary of JFK’s death. To my thinking, this adds a poignant element never mentioned in Clark’s narrative of the events. The assassination occurred the day after Mr. Clark’s 35th birthday.

  3. J. Lohdefinck J. Lohdefinck November 14, 2012

    Would like the words to TAps . Thank you for your service to the US. Jane Lohdefinck 223 Jadwin Ave , Richland, WAshington 99352

  4. Tapsbugler Tapsbugler Post author | September 5, 2012

    Thank-you. He was great American. I hope we have done him justice. I am working up to do a full story on him next year for the 50th anniversary.
    Any other information (pictures and stories) would be welcome. Thanks Again…Jari Villanueva

  5. Karen Jean Clark Moore Karen Jean Clark Moore September 5, 2012

    As one of Keith Clark’s daughters, I just want to thank you for all the time, effort and pictures that you’ve posted on the Internet. He has a growing family of grand and great-grand kids who are unfamiliar with his story, but I’ll be spreading the word on all the wonderful additions! Thank you, and God bless you!

  6. D. Shaw D. Shaw August 17, 2012

    I was told by my stepmother that the man who had been the bugler at Kennedy’s funeral was by my father’s side in 1971 when Dad died of a heart attack. Mr. Clark had been helping my father cut down a diseased tree which was in danger of falling on Dad’s house. It was hot and muggy late summer weather in Virginia. My father suffered a heart attack and died almost immediately. Mr. Clark was the last person he saw before he died. It still touches my heart. May they both rest in peace.

  7. Kay Merkel Boruff Kay Merkel Boruff May 18, 2012

    Arlington National Cemetery:

    For almost 100 years, at The Hockaday School, a private girls’ school in Dallas, “Taps” is played at our commencement. Our sixth-grade students take an annual trip to Arlington National Cemetery and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers and listen to “Taps.” My husband Jon Christian Merkel was a pilot for Air America killed flying in Laos 18 Feb 70 and “Taps” was played at his funeral in Louden Park in Baltimore. My brother Frederic Baldwin Boruff was buried in Wichita Falls, Texas, in 2010. I salute the men and women who play “Taps” for our fallen heroes.

  8. Von Roberts Von Roberts March 25, 2012

    Very informative/taps for troops/Von Roberts

  9. Von Roberts Von Roberts March 25, 2012

    Very interesting—-Taps for Troops/Von

Comments are closed.

WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By :