Dallas Cowboy Trumpeter -Tommy Loy
By Lindi Baker Loy
On Wednesday, November 23, 1966, Tommy Loy’s home phone rang. On the other end of the line was Mitch Lewis, one of his Air Force buddies he hadn’t seen or talked to since 1955. Mitch told him he had been assigned the task of locating a trumpet player for a possible, experimental solo National Anthem for the league’s first color-televised football game the following day – Thanksgiving Day. He instructed Tommy to be at the Cotton Bowl around noon the next day for the tryout with Mr. Clint Murchison, the owner of The Dallas Cowboys football organization. Tommy asked if he could stay for the game, regardless of the outcome of the audition and the man assured him that would be fine. It would be the very first Dallas Cowboys game Tommy ever attended.
After he performed The National Anthem for Mr. Murchison, Tommy waited at the stadium to hear if he got the job. The clock was fast approaching kickoff and he hadn’t heard if he was selected so he prepared to find a place to watch the game. Five minutes before kickoff, he got the word that Mr. Murchison wanted to go with his solo rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, which began what would be a 22-year stint as the Dallas Cowboys solo trumpeter – opening every home football game with the national anthem.
Michael Granberry, a staff writer for The Dallas Morning News, wrote “And for all the years that followed, the Loy family received covered seats under the press box at the Cotton Bowl and then on the 30-yard line at Texas Stadium. That was his performance pay. For many years after launching his Cowboys career, Loy’s solo was seen on television, even, one occasion, national television until pregame commercial time became so valuable that CBS decided to ax the national anthem from the broadcast.
Granberry described Tommy’s rendition as a one-of-a-kind experience of being present at a Dallas Cowboys home game. He went onto say that his moving, distinctive trumpet solo continued at The Cotton Bowl from 1966 until early in the 1971 season, when the Cowboys moved to Texas Stadium in Irving.
“The quiet dignity Tommy brought to the task stood out amid the gaudy spectacle of a National Football League game. No one accompanied him, aside from the tens of thousands fans sitting in the stands,” added Granberry.
Born in Denison, Texas in 1930, Loy was the son of a homemaker mother and a father who worked in the hotel business, managing the historic Denison Hotel. His dad died when Loy was 11, so his mother, grandmother and step-grandfather raised him. He enrolled in SMU in 1948, when college football great Doak Walker was still a future Heisman Trophy winner. Having played the trumpet since childhood, Tommy was in the Mustang Band at SMU. In his first service to his country, Loy spent two years in the Air Force stationed in Selma, AL (where he met Carolyn) and then returned to Dallas to finish his music education degree from SMU in 1955. During his SMU years, Tommy was invited by friends to join a jazz band called The Cell Block Seven. Anyone living in Dallas back then knew and enjoyed that group of talented musicians. That started his reputation as a hot horn player which continued for many decades.
Tommy and Carolyn raised their girls in Dallas’ University Park suburb, where the girls graduated from Highland Park High School. “Dad worked two jobs to keep us there and Mom at home to raise us,” Lindi says. His day job was that of a recording engineer that took him to “several well-known recording studios, one being PAMS Recording Studio in Dallas. He was instrumental in the jingle industry during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Eventually he owned his own production studio and later moved into real estate sales. Tommy’s night job, Thursday through Sunday, was playing his horn in his Dixieland Band.” He had a great following no matter which venue he played. “That was dad’s true love,” added Lindi. “If he could have solely made a living playing Dixieland music, he would have done just that. And the older he got, the more he played.”
Loy’s Super Bowl V experience is embedded in the family folklore. Singer Anita Bryant was supposed to perform the national anthem, but she got sick. The late Tex Schramm, then the Cowboys’ president and general manager, told network officials: “I have a guy who can play the anthem for you.” So Loy got the call the night before the game. He and his wife, Carolyn, hopped a quick flight from Love Field to Miami just in time for him to blow his horn while wearing a white dinner jacket and black bow tie.
Whether at the Cotton Bowl, Texas Stadium or the Super Bowl, his anthem experience was, daughter Lindi says, the thrill of a lifetime. “It was really meaningful to him. My dad was basically a patriot,” she added. “It was an honor, a privilege. He took it very seriously. And, of course, being a musician, he loved the attention, because he was a natural performer.”
Growing up “a part of that whole experience, I loved it,” added Lindi, recalling fondly the times her dad took her onto the field at the Cotton Bowl, allowing her to snare the autographs of some of the teams’ most iconic players, from wide receiver “Bullet” Bob Hayes to Hall of Fame defensive tackle Bob Lilly, to free safety Cliff Harris. “It was magical,” says Lindi who’s working on a book about her dad, titled Tommy Loy: The Man Behind the Horn.
In 2000, Loy was requested to serve by playing The Star-Spangled Banner once again. This time was at the personal request of the family of the Dallas Cowboys’ first and most respected Coach Tom Landry. The family thought it would be fitting for Dad to perform once more at his Memorial Service at The Meyerson Symphony Center. The combination of honors was profound.
Tommy loved nothing more than playing. Whether it was a long running gig at one of many restaurants or bars around Dallas, a racetrack he was flown to for performances, private parties or a family event – one or more horns was with him and ready to play. Loy also loved being part of the Dallas Christian Jazz Band and performing throughout the years. Tommy’s grandchildren loved getting to hear “Granddaddy” play with the DCJB at NorthPark Center during their annual Christmas performance there.
Loy died of pancreatic cancer in October of 2002 when he was 72. “He passed away at the prime of his musical career,” Lindi says. Prior to his death, he crossed off a big bucket list item. One of Tommy’s long-time dreams was to travel to Europe for a Jazz Festival he’d long heard about in Edinburgh, Scotland. In the late summer of 2002, Tommy (and a couple of pals from out west) flew across the pond and experienced the festival first-hand. He didn’t have much nice to say about the food there – but Tommy had a ball playing and meeting so many new friends. He had great stories to tell and smiled all the way through them. Unfortunately, that elation didn’t last long as just weeks after returning from the trip Tommy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his liver. With performing still on his mind, Tommy chose not to endure any chemotherapy so that he could still play. After six short weeks, and a little playing time, Tommy’s battle was over. He passed on October 17, 2002.
In 2013, the Dallas Cowboys made a change in their programming by looking back and honoring the original tradition of the trumpet-solo national anthem. The new trumpeter chosen was and is jazz musician Freddie Jones.
At the opening home game of the 2013 season, the Cowboys invited the Loy daughters to the game and lined them up on a platform near Jones as he played the anthem. “Each sister was given a Dallas Cowboys jersey with the number ‘22’ on it, representing”, Lindi says, “the 22 years Dad played The Star Spangled Banner.” One sister held the Cowboys blazer her dad used to wear; another held his trumpet. It was a very proud moment for each of them to experience.
On a fall Saturday in 2016, The Sherman Jazz Museum in Sherman, Texas, held a Tommy Loy Celebration Day. Loy’s widow, Carolyn, attended the opening party, along with Lindi and Laura, two of the couples’ four daughters. “He was my dad, but as a child I had no idea how good he was, what an influence he was on other musicians or how well-known he was,” says Lindi Loy. “His name, Loy, was even the answer to a New York Times crossword puzzle many years ago. The clue was ‘Cowboy trumpeter’ — the answer of course was Loy. Tommy enjoyed the national notoriety.
The famous Tommy Loy trumpet and the cornet he used to play with his Dixieland band, are at The Sherman Jazz Museum, where the museum showcases horns played by such greats as Doc Severinsen, Maynard Ferguson, Clark Terry and Marvin Stamm, among others. And now, Tommy Loy’s horn is right there with them.
Excerpts from this article were written by Michael Granberry.