Violinist Noel A. Gilbert was born in Scott's Hill, where he learned the fundamentals of the violin. In 1925 he moved to Memphis and began studies with Joseph Henkel, teacher and conductor of the Memphis Philharmonic. After joining the Memphis Federation of Musicians in 1926, Gilbert played in the pit orchestras at the Palace Theater and later the Orpheum Theater, where he absorbed the mystique and routine of the vaudeville era from older musicians.
Gilbert then began advanced studies on the violin with Scipione Guidi, concertmaster of the St. Louis Symphony and former concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic. By 1939 Gilbert merited the concertmaster position of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Burnet Tuthill.
Beginning in the mid-1930s, Gilbert organized and conducted small orchestras for local hotels and led both the WREC and WMC radio staff orchestras. From 1947 to roughly 1980 he led an eight-week summer season at the Memphis Overton Park Shell, playing light classical and popular music.
As an educator, he taught at both the Memphis College of Music and Memphis State College (now the University of Memphis) in addition to instructing private students. In 1952 Gilbert was also the leader and organizer of the Evening Serenade on WMC-TV, a pioneering fifteen minute show that lasted three seasons.
Gilbert was also the associate concertmaster of the Memphis Sinfonietta, which eventually became the Memphis Symphony Orchestra in 1960. From 1961 through 1985 he was an active player, contractor, and coordinator for recording sessions held at the local Sun, Stax, American Sound, Hi, and Tanner studios. He can be heard on recordings by Elvis Presley, Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Dionne Warwick, Neil Diamond, and others.
Always eager to conduct, in 1976, after his retirement from the MSO and the University of Memphis, Gilbert founded the Germantown Symphony Orchestra, which performed four to six classical and pop concerts per season. Gilbert resigned in 1986 and immediately formed a similar group, the Memphis Civic Orchestra, which he conducted until a month before his death in 1991.
Roy C. Brewer, “The Story of Noel Gilbert and His Contribution to the Growth of Music in Memphis, Tennessee,” West Tennessee Historical Society Papers 50 (1996)