The Franz Klaber Orchestra is Hamilton, Ohio’s oldest band! Although the FKO is a popular band at Oktoberfests and other German functions, the band has never been strictly German in nature. The original Franz Klaber Orchestra was founded in 1930 and led by Franz Klaber, a German immigrant from the Saxony region of Germany, who taught himself to play stringed instruments even before he had an instrument. He used to fasten a string to a windowsill and pluck out tunes! He taught himself to play mandolin and violin, and later, the saxophone.
The first version of the Franz Klaber Orchestra consisted of a five piece band of fellow German-Americans that played a lot of German folk songs at gatherings and festivals of the Deutscher Hausverein, the local German Society. Franz Sr.’s vision was a band that mixed popular music with traditional German songs. Franz’s daughter Mary Ann sang in the band, and Bill and Franz Klaber, Jr. both joined the band while they were in junior high school.
At the age of 24, Franz took over the band when his father died in 1963 (and played a gig the very next day after Franz Sr.’s untimely death). Franz Jr. took his father’s musical passion and built upon it; leaving his own indelible mark by expanding the band, its repertoire, and instilling an enthusiasm and showmanship that is truly unique. Under his leadership, the band played in Disney's EPCOT Center! During his leadership, the band affectionately became known as the Klaberheads. It’s a name that is used for the band as well as the fans!
In 2006 he suffered a stroke and, through his unbelievable determination and courage, was able to make a comeback and resume performing with the band. Through physical therapy he was able to recover from his paralysis and regain his speech and the ability to walk. He even regained the ability to play his trombone and sing! While he was recovering, he turned over the group to his daughter, Erika Klaber.
Erika has continued with her father and grandfather’s vision, and has put her own imprint on the group as well. At her father’s urging, she began to play her steel drum in the band. No one could have imagined how well this beautiful instrument would blend with German music! With a Masters degree in Music Education and Ethnomusicology, Erika has been able to expand the musical repertoire, even adding some original music to the line-up with the help of drummer, Mark Becknell.
The fourth generation of Klabers are making their mark as well. Erika’s daughter, Emily Muench (19), has been an active member of the band for nearly a decade. Several of Franz and Bill’s children and grandchildren have been apprentices and active members as well. This past season Erika's sons John-Wallace (9) and Franz Horton (7) have begun their apprenticeships! John-Wallace on the accordion and clarinet, and Franz on percussion.
The Klaberheads have not only kept a family tradition alive, but have helped keep German Heritage alive musically in Southwest Ohio. Because of the foundation Franz Sr. laid down, and Franz Jr. helped build upon, the Klaberheads have expanded their operating territory and have performed at Oktoberfests in Cincinnati, Columbus, Minster, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Lexington, Maysville, New Braunfels, TX. Knoxville, TN. Nashville, TN. St. Charles, MO. and most recently Ruidoso, NM. and Mt. Angel, OR!