James Henry Fillmore Jr. was born in Cincinnati, Ohio as the eldest of five children. In his youth, he mastered piano, guitar, violin, and flute, as well as the slide trombone, which at first he played in secret, as his conservative religious father believed it an uncouth and sinful instrument. Fillmore was also a singer for his church choir as a boy. He began composing at 18, with his first published march "Higham", named after a line of brass instruments. Fillmore entered the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in 1901. After this, he traveled around the United States as a circus bandmaster with his wife, an exotic dancer, named Mabel May Jones. They were married in St Louis. In the 1920s, he was back in Cincinnati, directing the Shriners Temple Band, which he turned into one of the best marching bands in the country. In 1938, Fillmore retired to Miami, Florida, but kept active in his later years organizing and rehearsing high school bands in Florida. Henry Fillmore Band Hall, the rehearsal hall for many of the University of Miami's performing groups, including the Band of the Hour, stands today as a tribute to Fillmore's work in the band genre. There, he wrote his final piece, "President's March". Fillmore lived out the rest of his days in South Florida.

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