Detroit musician ‘played beautifully’ through his 90s

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

For much of his life, Mike Mainguth was a music man.

Between awing bar patrons as a child and regaling wedding guests in his 90s, the Metro Detroit native notched numerous performances in a lauded professional career that led him to teach youngsters, entertain elites and even play for United States presidents.

“It was his whole life,” said his daughter, Megan Miller. “When we were kids, we took vacations and my dad stayed home and gigged because he loved it. He loved the people, he loved interacting. He loved making people happy through music.”

Mr. Mainguth, a noted trumpet player and violinist considered among the Detroit Federation of Musicians’ longest active members, died Monday, Aug. 29, 2016, at Botsford Hospital in Farmington Hills. He was 92.

His lifelong love of music guided him through more than 70 years of entertaining audiences far and wide.

As a concert master leading other hired musicians, the maestro accompanied an impressive list of celebrities and noted figures, his resume showed: Tony Bennett, Bob Hope, Johnny Mathis, Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr.

At other times, Mr. Mainguth also played for four American commanders-in-chief at political and other events: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, his daughter said.

Beyond that, he was tapped to showcase his prowess at corporate parties, private functions and social affairs. “He was in a group of people that would be called for those kinds of shows,” said George Troia Jr., president at the Detroit Federation of Musicians, AFM Local 5. “He was a consummate musician.”

Mr. Mainguth balanced those high-profile gigs with his full-time job: teaching music in the Detroit Public Schools.

“He’d get home, take a nap for an hour, then I’d hear Mendelssohn’s violin concerto in E minor playing and I knew Dad was up,” Miller said. “He was putting on his tuxedo and cologne and he was out the door.”

Mr. Mainguth’s musical skill emerged early. Born Nov. 5, 1923, in Hamtramck and hailing from a long line of musicians, he started playing the violin without formal lessons then picked up the trumpet, relatives said.

The youth joined the Army Air Corps after high school, but his trumpet earned him a spot in its band instead of in combat, which led to touring the country, according to Miller. “He always said if it weren’t for music, he would’ve died with the rest of his unit.”

On tour, Mr. Mainguth stood out for his mastery and honesty, said Sam Shreiber, a former bandmate and longtime friend. “He did the job. He was a very good trumpet player. He was very talented.”

After his honorable discharge, Mr. Mainguth earned a master’s degree in music and education from Wayne State University, according to family.

In 1951, he wed Donatha Kubasiewicz. The couple spent a few years in New York City, where Mr. Mainguth worked at Radio City Music Hall, relatives said.

They returned to Michigan, where he taught music in Highland Park then DPS. In Detroit, he instructed many students — including some who went on to become musicians — in brass instruments, Miller said. “My dad inspired a lot of kids. He always felt he was an artist first and teaching was the fun part.”

Long after retiring, Mr. Mainguth shared his expertise with students of various ages — even adults.

“He always treated me and encouraged me to approach the music, as he would say, as a pro, not like a beginner,” said Dr. Jocelyn McCrae, a clinical psychologist who spent nearly five years receiving lessons at his home. “I could play no notes when I first met him and now I’m still learning but I’m playing with the Redford Civic Symphony Orchestra.”

Besides instructing his pupils on proper finger positions and reading scales, Mr. Mainguth could also write them song sheets from memory.

“Anything that you wanted to play or hear, all you had to do was tell him the name of the song,” said Don Johnson, a retired Detroit police officer who also studied with Mr. Mainguth. “Mike had one million songs in his head. They were all there, memorized.”

His talent and broad repertoire of standards, Broadway tunes and other styles kept him in demand for gatherings even until recently. “He still played beautifully,” his daughter said.

Other survivors include another daughter, Michaella Jacoby; two grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; sisters Evelyn Wiskowski and Theresa Dzialo; a nephew, Michael Dzialo; nieces Sandy Coon and Beverly Gay-Photiades. He was predeceased by his wife and a sister, Leona Gay.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Oct. 1 at the St. Joseph Mercy-Oakland chapel, 44405 Woodward, Pontiac.

Interment with military honors is set for 1 p.m. Oct. 7 at Fort Custer National Cemetery, Augusta, Michigan.

Memorials may be made to the Detroit Musicians Fund, 20833 Southfield Road, Suite 103, Southfield, MI 48075.