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Enrich Lives by Encouraging Music Participationƒ for-te (for ‘ tÓ) n. 1. Something in which one excels.
2. Music-adv. & adj., Played in a loud, strong manner. Growing.
3. Adv. & adj., Emphasis and attention.
Through many years of music publishing, the Willis Music Company has developed many of the top composers in the industry. Names such as John Thompson, Edna Mae Burnam, and William Gillock have helped create one of the most prestigious catalogs in the business. Here’s how it all began:
On April 1, 1899, Charles H. Willis, a twenty-seven year veteran of the sheet music industry, founded a small business at 41 East 4th Street in downtown Cincinnati. In May 1901, Mr. Willis purchased miscellaneous sheet music and music books from the John Church Company and moved his business to a larger location at 4th and Elm.
Willis Music grew steadily during the ten years spent in that location. Mr. Willis and his son, William H., began publishing methods, collections, and sheet music specifically designed for the needs of the teaching community, striving to provide the community with complete, dependable, and accurate service..
In 1910, Willis Music absorbed the business of George B. Jennings & Company. The newly incorporated firm was re-named W.H. Willis & Company. William Willis, son of the founder of the business, died shortly before the company was incorporated.
Continuing to expand, W.H. Willis & Company bought the Cable Piano Company’s Cincinnati branch in 1912. As both companies had been located in the same building at 4th and Elm, W.H. Willis & Company then occupied the entire seven story building. In 1919, Gustave Schirmer bought W. H. Willis and Company, making it a branch of G. Schirmer of Boston, Massachusetts. In 1923 John J. Cranley, a fiery, redheaded Irishman from the Boston Music Company, became general manager of the Willis subsidiary.
John J. Cranley began as a stockboy with The Boston Music Company. Through his hard work and because of his love for the music business, he was a natural for turning this small organization into a major corporation. Little by little, he acquired more than 50% ownership in the company through stock options.
Under John Cranley’s leadership, Willis Music became “The Publisher” for teaching methods and solo pieces. The John Thompson method, “Modern Course for the Piano” was added to the catalog in 1936. This method quickly became, and still is today, the most widely used piano method in the world.
John J. Cranley’s son, Edward, became president of the Willis Music Company in 1965. Edward, like his father, grew up in the company. He worked in all departments, sharing the same enthusiasm while continuing the success and growth of the organization. Currently the company is owned exclusively by the members of the Cranley family.
In 1969 the Company’s headquarters moved to a 50,000 square foot warehouse in Florence, Kentucky. Soon after, Willis acquired the total assets of Rocket Manufacturing, a company that produced display racks for sheet music and books. At the same time the retail division was going through tremendous growth. By 1991 Willis Music operated eight full-line retail stores in major malls throughout Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
Edward’s son, Kevin, began his training at the age of fourteen, working in the store after school. In 1979, after graduating from Xavier University in Cincinnati, he joined the company as a full-time employee.
In November of 1990, Kevin succeeded his father as President of the Willis Music Company, at which time Edward Cranley became Treasurer.
Today, the Willis catalog of music contains more than 13,000 titles and with new composers the future looks very bright. Through new foreign publishing agreements, the catalog is growing in popularity on every continent.
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