How the Hendersonville High School Band Got Its Start
by George Wilkins
When you say something happened over 50 years ago, you lose the attention of a large part of your audience. When you mention the same thing to people who share your interest, they all say, “Oh my,” or something similar. Most folks just are not interested in what happened a long time ago.
We were playing In A Persian Market at a band rehearsal not long ago. Why was this momentous or important? Who cares? Because the last time I played In A Persian Market was in the original HHS band 53 years ago! …So?
Soon, April 3, will be the dedication ceremony for the new HHS band room building. It is a musician’s dream – actually the culmination of 56 years of band music at HHS! We started that band back in 1937!
We rehearsed in a classroom for a year. Then the end of the west hallway was closed off, and some rough risers were built. A few years later the cafeteria-bandroom building was completed. An now the new building! But, again, why is this so important?
Just imagine the hundreds of students who have gone through the city schools’ band program. They are all invited to this dedication. One small trivia fact is barely evident. There are three of us still playing now who were in that very first band, and goodness knows how many are still around town?
Soon after the present HHS building opened in 1926, a Ms. Spring, the chorus teacher, organized about 15 students who (as Unk Barber said) made an acceptable racket on various instruments. Maybe there were two clarinets, two saxes, three trumpets, two trombones, three violins, one cymbal crasher and a piano. Grover Crawford, a sax player, got a combo of five together, and they each received a dollar a night for dances at the Druid Hills Tearoom! Do you recognize any of these? Grover Crawford, Van Cole, Virginia Cole (only girl), Murray and Wilson Hunnicutt, Albert Beck, Howard Garren and Unk Barber (plus others).
This is a history of the present HHS band. Many names have been left out because of ignorance. Forgive me.
What started the board of education to want a band is a mystery. But, when I got the word, it was off to Sears to buy a bright, shiny, new cornet! I was so excited I rushed over to the new band director’s apartment. He took my horn, played it for and hour and handed it back saying, “I enjoyed that!” He lasted one year.
That first year’s band was a collection (the only logical word) of odds, ends and, maybe, one or two musicians. We marched around the edge of the football field playing our hearts out on Bobby Shafto! Wilfred Croft borrowed a West Point uniform and led us. They wouldn’t let us play for the football games, even though we offered to “pay and play.” There were Fred Waters, Jody Barber, Harold Odell, Cullie LIppard, Charles Morrow, Billy Brock, Early Dolbee, Bobby Wilson, C.B. French, Louise Few, Gene and Larry Feagin, Jim Bennett, Rodney Keith, Bob Wisnewski, David Keith, Frank and Lenorah Todd, George Wilkins and a few I can’t remember – five girls and 35 boys made up this collection. Frank Todd played the bass horn like a pro and could never read a note of music!
The next April a young fellow, just graduating, came and tried to direct us through a piece of music. He reluctantly stated there was hope and signed on for the next year – 1938. He got us to try different instruments until finally we had the right balance. That very young, energetic man was Julian Helms. That first year was finished with our band receiving the first-ever “Superior” a HHS band ever won! And again the next year, and the next and the next!
Actually you could say this history is mostly due to proclaim how many superior ratings this band has received.
Mr. Harper started in 1937. Mr. Helms came in 1938. When he left in February 1942 for the service, Ms. Josephine Osborne took over. Then Roy Blanton and then Earl Martin. He taught Jim Stokes, who directed next. He taught Fran Shelton who is the present director.
My sister, Emily Lou, was the first “real” drum major. We wore red bow ties and sashes with white shirts and pants. I was the next drum major as we acquired brand new pro uniforms! Then Jody Barber strutted his stuff. Next was John McLeod, then Fred Higgins and so on. Incidentally, my youngest daughter was also the drum major.
This is all just a sentimental journey through some of those band years. However, the most important thing is, this band started in 1937, 56 years ago (some of us are still playing), and it’s still receiving those superior ratings!
Julian Helms was a remarkable teacher and a great friend to all his students. He inspired above average work and complete dedication to whatever band work was going on. I believe his attitude is what caused the complete work and superior ratings our band received, and influenced what has gone on ever since.
I may have missed some of you in that first band. There’s still lots of us around, and we’re having fun playing. Join a band or get your kids to do so. They’ll never forget the trips and good times that go with being in a band. It’ll turn out to be the best thing that ever happens to your child if he will only join a band and learn to play an instrument. There will be a great concert by the Hendersonville Community Band on Thursday, March 25, in the HHS auditorium. Jody, Harold, John Dills and I, all in J. Helms first band will play. That would have made Mr. Helms proud!
Then we will play again on Saturday, April 3, in the HHS gym for the dedication. This will be a rip-roaring dinner, dance, party, fun-time for the new bandroom.
Henry, can you play any real band instrument? Well, have a nice day, anyway!