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The History of Taps

Sergeant Jari A. Villanueva playing Taps At Arlington National Cemetery

Tap Dancing?  No.

Tapping your fingers?   Also… No.

I’m talking about the “Taps” song played by buglers at military funerals.  There’s an incorrect story circulating on the Internet about Taps.  It’s heart-wrenching, it’s touching and it’s… apparently wrong (as are most stories circulating in the basement of the Internet).  How do you know that you’ve received one that is wrong?  Well, it starts like this…

“Reportedly, it all began in 1862 during the Civil War, when Union Army Captain Robert Elli was with his men near Harrison’s Landing in   Virginia  .  The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land…”

That version is wrong — as Jari has documented, it was created for Ripley’s 1949 TV program, “Believe It or Not.”

The real, and historically accurate story (as in, based on an interview conducted with the first person to ever play Taps) is currently maintained by USAF bugler and bugle historian, Master Sergeant Jari A. Villanueva.

His authoritative history is officially recognized by West Point at their website, here: http://www.west-point.org/taps/Taps.html.  Here is what West Point’s website has to say about Jari:

Jari A. Villanueva, jvmusic@erols.com is a bugler and bugle historian. A graduate of the Peabody Conservatory and Kent State University, he was the curator of the Taps Bugle Exhibit http://www.arlingtoncemetery.com/tapsproj.htm at Arlington National Cemetery from 1999-2002. He has been a member of the United States Air Force Band since 1985 and is considered the country’s foremost authority on the bugle call of Taps.

His website, www.tapsbugler.com includes a history of Taps, performance information and guidelines for funerals, finding buglers for sounding calls, many photos of bugles and buglers, music for bugle calls, stories and myths about Taps, Taps at the JFK funeral, ordering his 60 page booklet on Taps (24 Notes That Tap Deep Emotions) and many links to bugle related sites. Jari is also working on book on the History of Bugle Call in the United States Military.

Furthermore, Jari has a website devoted to Taps here: http://www.tapsbugler.com.  Upon visiting that link you will discover that he has dedicated a lot of time and energy in the pursuit of truth.

Did I mention I have a disease that compels me to click on related links?  I found more about Jari at this Corregidor website: http://corregidor.org/chs_villenueva/taps.htm.   (And yes, I started clicking on the other links at Corregidor and started getting lost in military history…)


The Author of the authoritative article is Jari A. Villanueva, a Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force Band at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington D.C. He plays ‘Taps’ each day at the shrine to the unknown soldier as part of his musical duties at Arlington National Cemetery.  A graduate of Peabody Conservatory and Kent State University, he is currently doing research on what will hopefully result in a work entitled “Day is Done… The History of Bugle Calls in The United States With Particular Attention To Taps.” He’s was co-ordinator of an exhibit at Arlington National Cemetery focusing on Bugles and ‘Taps’, and is looking for any items which can illustrate the history of either of these military institutions. A visit to Jari’s Website HISTORY OF TAPS is recommended.

I encourage you to take a look at the stories on these links, perhaps send Jari an email thanking him for his efforts…  it’s obviously a labor of love.

In closing, I provide you the lyrics to Taps from Jari’s website:

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.

Fades the light; And afar
Goeth day, And the stars
Shineth bright,
Fare thee well; Day has gone,
Night is on.

Thanks and praise, For our days,
‘Neath the sun, Neath the stars,
‘Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh.

More links by or about Jari:

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jim - PRS July 13, 2010, 10:44 pm

    I used to drive back home to New Jersey on the weekends when I was stationed for eight weeks in Maryland. Invariably, I would make it back to the base on Sunday night and hit the sack, just about when Taps was played.

    Haunting and beautiful all at the same time.

  • mike July 14, 2010, 12:26 am

    I think it’s sheer genius when someone writes a melody that is moving, and says so much (to your soul) with so little. Just a handful of notes over several bars, repeated for each stanza.

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