July 25, 2016, Rotogram: 3

Band Director Traces More than a Century of Musical Heritage at MSU

July 18— From a cadet bugler to 382 student musicians, the Famous Maroon Band has charted an illustrious history.

“Little is known about the early musicians on the campus,” said Elva Kaye Lance, director of bands. “But, since it was a military school, the bugler obviously was the first musician engaged by the college.”

Acknowledging George McKee’s presence, she recounted her first encounter with his father. As a new assistant director 25 years ago, she made a history presentation to a group on campus. At its conclusion she was greeted by Chester McKee who said, “Well young lady, you got most of that right.”

The MSU grad and Waynesboro native explained that a lot of eclectic musicians have played in various campus venues over the years. The majority of early music making was affiliated with the drilling of the cadets.

In 1892, 142 students petitioned the board of trustees for permission to assemble a brass and percussion band. By 1902, the first official group formed and was led by a playing member of the band, W.W. Roughton.

He requested a stipend for band students, thus making the institution’s first request for scholarship money. Roughton added woodwinds to make the unit more of a concert band.

The band’s first official director was Carl Leake who came to State College to teach woodworking. He served from 1911 until 1916. Lance noted that last year his great grand-niece from Minnesota offered his memorabilia to MSU. Now displayed in the band hall, the collection includes his heavy, engraved silver plated director’s wand.

With no band programs in the state, he advertised in Billboard magazine for musicians to come to Mississippi to play for the cadets and offered the stipend as incentive.

Henry Walmsley was one of the recruits from Illinois where he had been part of one of the nation’s top band programs. He served as director from 1922 until 1952.

He received clearance to move band drills to football games, making the school the first in the SEC to march at games.

In 1926, he put away military style uniforms in favor of maroon and white ones. After seeing the 40-member unit at the Alabama game, a sports writer tagged it as “one famous maroon band.”

A 1929 contest, sponsored by the Reflector, replaced the fight song based on the World War I tune La Madelon. J.B. Peavey penned Men of State whose last refrain is known as today’s Hail State. At the same time an alma mater contest yielded submissions that were terrible, so Walmsley set Paul Haney’s poem Maroon and White to music.

The first women joined in the 1930s with the director’s daughter as the sponsor. Twirlers were added in that era.

In the 30s, he took the band on recruiting tours to compensate for the dearth of band programs. Then, he started two-week summer camps for persons interested in starting high school bands.

In the 1950s, under W. Thomas West, the 100-member unit’s drill changed from military style to pageantry. In 1957, a music department to officially license high school music teachers was started.

Pete Crowder succeeded West. Kent Sills came on staff in 1967 and started the stage band.

The first spell-out drills developed in the 1970s as the band grew to 200 members. The flag corps was added and percussion expanded.

Following James Hale’s tenure, Sills became director in 1984. He and Jerry Williams, choral director, started the annual patriotic show in 1985.

Membership topped 300 in the 1990s. Students qualify by audition and hail from 18 states with 60 percent from Mississippi. Their average ACT score is 26.

Today there are four concert bands in addition to the Famous Maroon Band. There also are two jazz ensembles and a basketball pep band. In recent years, the wind ensemble has toured the British Isles, Germany and Austria.

The band program finally got into a specifically dedicated building in 2007. The first band room was in Old Main. Then it moved to Middleton Hall. In 1952, the unit moved to the shop building across from Bowen Hall.

Starkville’s Distinguished Young Woman

CiCi Zhang is the current Distinguished Young Woman of Starkville. Carrie Beth Randall will introduce her.

Next Week: Starkville Community Theatre

Gabe Smith is the chief administrative officer of Starkville Community Theatre. Briar Jones will introduce him.

For the Record—July 18

Invocation and Pledge:              Bud Gordon

Attendance:                                          68.0%

Present — 102 (40 exempt)

Absent — 80 (20 exempt, 12 honorary)

Guests: Visiting Rotarian was George McKee. Member guests were Jerry Foil of Rodney Foil, Dianne Jackson of Gary Jackson and Gabe Smith of Briar Jones. Guest of the club was Alex Onken, Starkville Daily News.

Meeting Notes

  • President Briar announced that the year’s budget has been set and encouraged committees to move forward with their plans.
  • Members are invited to volunteer and help with the annual Get Swept Up! event on Aug. 31. Carrie-Beth Randall is coordinating the activity.
  • Members under the age of 40 were reminded of the young professionals’ summit in New Orleans on July 29 through 31.
  • Looking ahead to next summer’s Rotary International convention in Atlanta, the president announced that members from District 6820 can travel together by train from Meridian for $121 round trip.
  • While welcoming guests, Vice President Marc noted that George McKee, our visiting Rotarian, was the son of Chester McKee, a long-time leader in our club.
  • The president offered the club’s condolences to Joe Thompson on the death of his brother.
  • He also noted that Jack Forbus was recovering from rotator cuff surgery.
  • A thank you note from Ben Burwell, a Mentor Scholarship recipient, was made available for members to read.

Board Starts New Year

The first monthly board meeting of the new program year is tomorrow at 11:45 AM at Harvey’s Boardroom.  

District Summer Meeting Was a Success

Kudos were given to Larry and Janet Mullins and other members who made the summer district summer conference a success. Columbus and Starkville clubs co-hosted the event at The Mill at MSU on July 15-16. The Mullinses entertained participants with a dinner at their home.

Looking Ahead

The year’s district activities include:

  • Oct. 31 —District governor visits Starkville
  • March 18 —Presidents-elect seminar in Natchez
  • March 30 —Rotary Youth Leadership Awards camp at Lake Tiak O’Khata
  • May 19-21 —District conference in Mobile


Previous post:

Next post: