The Distin family was a family of British musicians in the 19th century who performed on saxhorns and were influential in the evolution of brass instruments in then popular music. Henri Distin, son of John Distin eventually became a celebrated brass instrument manufacturer in England and the United States.
John Distin and his family constituted a musical group that toured in the mid to late 19th century. They performed on Saxhorns from the company of Adolph Sax. The Distin family quintet was importantly responsible for popularizing Saxhorns, and influenced further evolution of brass instruments. The Distins [sic] toured in the United States in addition to Europe. They accepted a 40 concert booking in New York for the 1849 season, but the venue burned to the ground while they were crossing the Atlantic. While critically hailed, their tour was plagued by illness, a Cholera epidemic that scared away the audience, and unrelated riots. A brief tour of Canada went no better.
Following the acclaimed but financially failed American tour, Henri Distin established an instrument manufacturing and sales concern, Distin & Co., in London after 1849. He sold Adolph Sax’s instruments alongside his own traditional brass instruments. Following receipt of a prize medal for the superiority of his instruments over European competitors at the Paris World’s Exposition, in 1868, he sold the business including a shop on Cranbourne to what would become the Boosey company and later Boosey and Hawkes. The acquisition of Distin’s brass instrument manufacturing positioned Boosey to become a well-respected brass instrument company in the late 19th through mid-20th century. Distin would subsequently lose most of his money on concert schemes and other ventures within a few years.
In 1876, Henri Distin returned to the United States and set up a small business manufacturing cornets in New York. In 1882 he relocated to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to produce instruments in partnership. The company would take his name in 1885 as the Henri Distin Manufacturing Company making a full line of brass instruments.
Henri Distin remained a performer and marketer of brass instruments. At the age of 70, he was still performing, playing "Tis the Last Rose of Summer" on an E-flat Tuba with the Gillmore Band in 1889 while attending the concert for the original purpose of presenting one of his company’s horns to Gillmore.
- Our Portrait Gallery: Mr. Henri Distin, The British Bandsman, April 1889, P.154
- Grove, Sir George, Dictionary of Music and Musicians, The MacMillan Company, New York, New York, 1904, P.362
- Our Portrait Gallery: Mr. Henri Distin, The British Bandsman, April 1889, P.155
- Hemke, Fred, The Early History of the saxophone, University of Wisconsin, 1975, p. 368
- Spillane, Daniel, Orchestral Musical Instruments, The Development of American Industries Since Columbus, The Popular science monthly, Volume 40, 1892, P.803
- List of Distin horns at http://www.horn-u-copia.net/display.php?selby=%20where%20maker=%22Distin%22%20&sortby=key_pitch retrieved 5/31/2011