Merle Slease Evans, called the “Toscanini of the Big Top,” and beloved and revered by many as the greatest circus bandleader of all time, was born in Columbus, Kansas, on December 26, 1891. He began playing the cornet at the age of nine, and by the time he was 16 he was a member of an eight-piece carnival band with the S.W. Brundage Shows. After three years with Brundage, he spent the 1911 and 1912 seasons with Murphy’s Comedians, returning to Brundage for the 1913-1915 seasons. He also directed the band of Buffalo Bill’s 101 Ranch Wild West Show in 1916 and 1917 and played with Gus Hill’s Minstrels in 1918.
Evans is most famous as the bandmaster of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Shows, a position that he assumed in 1919, and from which he retired in 1969. He served with Ringling Brothers for 50 years (with a brief leave of absence from 1956-1959), directing over 18, 250 performances without ever missing one. He died at the age of 96 in Sarasota, Florida, on December 31, 1987.