top of page
Harry Wheeler

Harry Wheeler

1940s and 1950s - Music Masters in the Schools

From Carolina Music Ways:
A special aspect of the 1940s and 1950s that influenced musical families throughout the region was the existence of passionate music educators who taught and inspired their students. These music masters existed in rural and urban, as well as African and European American schools in the region. Two examples of such masters are Harry D. Wheeler of Atkins High School and Bernard Foy of Kimberly Park Elementary School in Winston-Salem. The work of Foy and Wheeler and other music educators in the segregated black schools was an extraordinary base for the vibrant African American community in Winston-Salem. The talent pool at Atkins created several
spin-off jazz and R&B groups that thrilled audiences at local clubs, as well as college campuses all up and down the East Coast.

Both Wheeler and Foy were extremely talented instrumentalists. Wheeler was best known as a trumpeter. Foy apparently was one of those musicians who could play anything very well. Sax, keys, woodwinds - nothing seemed to be out of the range of this extraordinary instrumentalist with perfect pitch. Winston-Salem jazz musician Joe Robinson simply describes Foy as "the coolest man I've ever seen."

Wheeler and Foy had extensive school responsibilities. Wheeler directed not only the concert band, but also a jazz band and choir, arranging all the parts and writing the music for the groups directly from recordings. He exposed young musicians not only to the extraordinary works of African American composers like Duke Ellington, but to an even broader array. Former student Shedrick Adams recalls, "Wheeler not only taught the black heritage music. To the old masters he exposed me,…to Oklahoma!, to the classical music, and to other things, so we became more well rounded, so we began to expand our horizons."

Foy and Wheeler, in addition to teaching, had a group called the Royal Sultans active in the 1940s and 1950s. Former student Dr. Fred Tanner states that there were many other jazz groups in Winston at the time, but this wasthe jazz group. Wheeler and Foy often supplemented the Royal Sultans with talent from Atkins High School. Former student Joe Robinson proudly recounts one such event from the 1950s: "They'd come over to Happy Hill for a dance. They would let me come in and play my one song…they looked like they were so glad I could play."

bottom of page