Former Directors

Background

William Grant Still, Sr (Bandmaster)

Our band program was established in 1890. William Grant Still, Sr., graduated from Alcorn A&M College in 1892 and accepted the position as our first bandmaster at the Huntsville Normal School (the name of our university at that time). Our school was also affectionately known as Mr. Councill’s School, honoring its first principal and president, Dr. William Hooper Councill. Of course, the institution changed its name several times: The State Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes and Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College. In 1962, the school’s name was ultimately chanced to Alabama A&M University!

A highly intelligent and talented individual, not only did Mr. Still teach band, he was also an outstanding choral music conductor and an instructor of bookkeeping. By 1894, Mr. Still relocated to his hometown of Woodville, Mississippi, where he eventually married the former Carrie Fambro.

Mr. Still met his untimely death, which was allegedly orchestrated by whites who were jealous of the Still family’s amassed wealth in land. Supposedly, a group of white men paid a scorned ex-girlfriend of Mr. Still to invite him to her house. It is rumored that this woman poisoned Mr. Still, and he became very ill and eventually succumbed to a fever. Mr. William Grant Still passed away on September 26, 1896. At that time, his only child, the famed African-American composer, William Grant Still, Jr. was a little over four months old.

Background

William C. Handy, widely known as the “Father of the Blues”

William Christopher Handy was an American blues composer and musician.  Handy remains among the most influential of American songwriters

Background

James Hembray Wilson, Sr. (musician / band director)

(born: 1880  –  died: 1961)

Born in Nicholasville, KY, James Hembray Wilson was a noted band director and musician, he played the cornet. He was a faculty member at Alabama A&M College [now Alabama A & M University] 1903-1904, he took over the school band, succeeding W. C. Handy, the former band director. Wilson left the school to tour with Billy Kersands and the Georgia Minstrels. Wilson returned to the school in 1907 to remain there until his retirement in 1951. He had been a musician in Jacob Litt’s ‘In Old Kentucky’ Company in 1896, bandmaster in Al Martin’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin from 1897-1899, cornetist in Mahara’s Minstrels in 1899, and worked with many other groups. He became the first African American treasurer at Alabama A&M in 1947 and served as the first African American postmaster at the school from 1919-1942. The James Hembray Wilson Building, located on the Alabama A&M campus, houses the James Hembray Wilson State Black Archives Research Center and Museum. James Hembray Wilson was the son of Hester and Jacob Wilson, and the husband of Eveline Wilson. He graduated from high school in Cincinnati, OH, and from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. He died in Normal, Alabama on October 2, 1961 [source: Alabama, Deaths and Burials Index]. For more see Who’s Who in Colored America, 1950; “New Acquisitions” on p.3 in the Newsletter of the Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments, Fall 2006, no.29 [online .pdf]; and Alabama A&M Wilson Building under the headline “Why is it named that” by D. Nilsson on p.6 in Pen & Brush, February 2003, vol.43, issue 4 (newsletter of the Huntsville/North Alabama Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication and others).

Additionally, “With Trumpet and Bible: The Illustrated Life of James Hembrey Wilson” written by Frank Tirro ( a Yale professor) should be required reading for your music majors; actually for all students.

 

The description reads: “James Hembray Wilson was an African-American soloist, composer, conductor, and music professor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today it seems that his name has slipped into one of time’s hidden corners. This book brings that story and other significant issues to light: What was life like for an African American raised in the South in the 1880s? Were there paths to education and success for Black Americans facing the terrible prejudicial environment in the states that lost the War Between the States? What kind of life and what possible hope might they have during the years before World War I to the years after the Second World War? Exploring these questions and illustrating one black man’s life are but some of the many threads Frank Tirro weaves into the fabric of his fascinating biography, With Trumpet and Bible.

This compelling story is the documented account of the talented, intelligent, and ambitious African-American musician, James Hembray Wilson, a man who faced the challenges of his day and succeeded, despite his modest education and limited financial resources to become one of the most respected and idolized professors of a vital historically black college in the South. Working hand-in-hand with Alabama A&M’s first four presidents, teaching courses as diverse as Rhetoricals, Band, and Bible Study, and serving as Postmaster, Bookkeeper, and, finally, Treasurer of the college, Wilson guided generations of young African Americans to the brink of the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ’60s. “His is an American tale that weaves together the history of the shocking inequalities of our educational system, the dawn of the civil rights movement, and the flowering of the African-American musical tradition.””

Background

Wade Hammond

Our third Band Director, Mr. Wade Hammond, was born in Huntsville, Alabama in 1879. According to his obituary in the Arizona Republic newspaper, Hammond graduated from the Alabama A&M College at Normal, AL. It is not certain about the year of his graduation because records were not maintained. Shortly after leaving A&M, Mr. Hammond attended Kittrell College, located in North Carolina. His stay at Kittrell was cut short, due to his enlistment in the U.S. Army at the start of the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Although we have no official about Mr. Hammond’s employment at Alabama A&M College, it is believed that he became our Bandmaster sometime in 1904. During his tenue at A&M, he traveled quite often to Tuskegee Institute, where he served as a guest conductor within their music program.

In 1909 Warrant Officer (WO) Hammond became the first Black Bandmaster in the U. S. Army. He served as the bandleader of three different outfits: the 9th Calvary U.S. Calvary, 10th Calvary U.S. Calvary, and the 25th Infantry Division. WO Hammond was highly respected for his skills as a bandmaster in the U.S. Army! In 1912 the officers and enlisted soldiers of the Ninth U.S. Calvary contributed funds for Hammond to attend the Royal Academy of Music in London, England.

After retiring from the U. S. Army with over 35 years of service, Mr. Hammond moved to Phoenix, AZ in 1942 at the request of Governor Sidney P. Osborne. Once in Phoenix, Mr. Hammond was tasked to help the Black residents of the city. Thusly, the Greater Phoenix Urban League was established in 1945 and Mr. Hammond became the organization’s first president. The purpose for forming the Greater Phoenix Urban League was to improve the quality of life Black residents through better education, employment, leadership training, and civic affairs.

Mr. Hammond became band director of George Washington Carver High School (formerly known as Phoenix Union Colored High School) for a short time until school officials hired a permanent director. Mr. Hammond died surrounded by loved-ones and friend at his home in on January 15, 1957.

Background
Thomas Dawson

Mr. Thomas Dawson

Background

Barney Smart, Sr.

Before Hampton, Smart’s collegiate experiences included being Director of Bands at Alabama A&M University. While at Alabama A&M, he was selected twice as the College Band Director of the Year by the Birmingham Grid Forecasters.

Background

Arthur B. Wesley, II

Arthur Bernell Wesley, II attended Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida where he performed with the “Marching 100” under the direction of Dr. William Foster, and studied percussion with Dr. Samuel Floyd, Director of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College, Chicago, Illinois. Later, Wesley attended Mississippi Valley State University as a music major and performed as a percussionist with the Marching Band, Symphonic Band and Percussion Ensemble under the direction of Russell Boone.

He has performed on drum set with many Rhythm & Blues stars such as Al Green, Denise LaSalle, Bill Coday, Major Lance, Jean Knight, Betty Wright, Little Milton Campbell, “Nate” Allen & Dr. Vickie Allen, “Mac” Brown & the Soul Crusaders, the Ikettes, and the Kelly Brothers. Wesley has performed with many jazz and gospel groups such as the Afro Jazz Quartet, the A’la Turks Quartet, the University of Alabama in Huntsville Lab Big Band, Dr. Horace Carney & Omni, the Delta Gospel Choir, the Alpha Ensemble, the Greater Huntsville Inter-Denominational Choir, the Huntsville Community Chorus and many others.

Since 1974, Wesley has been a member of the faculty at Alabama A&M University in the area of Band and instrumental music

Under Wesley’s direction , the Alabama A&M University “Marching Maroon & White” Band has revived an astounding sense of pride at the institution through the student body, faculty, alumni and general public. This renewed sense of excellent musical showmanship prompted the Birmingham Grid Forecasters to select Arthur B. Wesley as the “TOP COLLEGE BAND DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR” for the years 1983, 1986, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997 1998, and 1999. Wesley was selected for inclusion in “Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers”, 1998. He has also been nominated to “Who’s Who In America, 2002.”

Background

Interim Director of Bands Derrick K. Yates

Derrick K. Yates was the Assistant Director of Bands since 2000. He was the former Assistant Coordinator of Band Logistics since 1995. Bandmaster Yates assisted the University Marching Band and directed the University’s Concert, Brass Ensemble, and Pep Bands.

Prior to his appointment at Alabama A&M University, Mr. Yates was Band Director at Oakwood Academy in 1995. In 1997, he became the Band Director of Chapman Middle School. During his tenure, these band programs received superior ratings on the district, state, and national levels. These programs produced some of the finest musicians in the country. Mr. Yates is a graduate of Alabama A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in Music Education. He later received his Master’s degree in Music Education from Alabama A&M University.

Yates was inducted into the 2003 (57th edition) and the 2004 (58th edition) of Who’s Who in America. He was also inducted into the 1998 (31st edition) of Outstanding Young Americans, just to name a few. In the Fall of 2001, he worked with the Director of Marketing and Community Relations and his staff to become the premier Pep Band for the Huntsville Flight Semi Pro Basketball League (NBDL).

Mr. Yates is a member of the Alabama Bandmasters Association, Music Educators National conference, College Band Directors National Association, the International Trumpet Guild, Phi Mu Alpha Professional Music Fraternity, and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. He also served on the Executive Board for HBCU National Band Director Consortium.

Mr. Yates is currently the Band Director at Stillman College.

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