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FAMU Mourns the Loss of Dr. William P. Foster
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August 28, 2010

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida A&M University (FAMU) family is mourning the loss of one of its legends, Dr. William P. Foster, who was known as the “Dean of America’s Band Directors.”

Foster, who was also called The Law and The Maestro, was the creator of the noted FAMU Marching “100.”  He served as the band’s director from 1946 to his retirement in 1998. He is credited with revolutionizing marching band techniques and reshaping the world’s concept of the collegiate marching band.  Foster brought more than 30 new techniques to the band that have now become standard operating procedure for high school and college bands nationwide.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Dr. Foster,” said FAMU President James H. Ammons.  “As a visionary leader, he built America’s greatest band by departing from the standard routines and maneuvers to showcase band pageantry. I can attest to the fact that what he created was magical.  It was the marching band, at an Orange Blossom Classic in Miami, that sparked my interest in attending FAMU.  The band was dynamic, larger than life and something that I wanted to have access to even though I was not a musician.”  

Ammons went on to say, “Dr. Foster was a legend during his reign and will always be remembered as a key figure in the life and history of FAMU, helping to build our brand not only in America, but internationally.  He left an indelible mark on this university.  His work will live on at FAMU and in bands across this nation and the world.”

Foster’s funeral is scheduled for Saturday, September 4, at 11 a.m. in Lee Hall Auditorium on FAMU’s campus and will be preceded by a public concert of tribute at 10 a.m. as performed by the FAMU Department of Music.  To accommodate the overflow of attendees, a live broadcast of Foster’s funeral will be in the Grand Ballroom.  The memorial service is scheduled for Friday, September 3, at 6 p.m. in the Alfred Lawson, Jr. Multipurpose Center and Teaching Gymnasium.  There are also public viewings scheduled for Friday, September 3, from noon to 6 p.m. in the Alfred Lawson, Jr. Multipurpose Center and Teaching Gymnasium and Saturday, September 4, from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. in Lee Hall Auditorium. 

In lieu of flowers, donations are requested to be made to the “William P. and Mary Ann Foster Endowed Scholarship Fund” at FAMU in support of FAMU band scholarships.

On June 1, 1946, William P. Foster became Director of Bands at FAMU with 16 members, and created what is known today as “The Most Imitated Marching Band in America.”  His textbook Band Pageantry is considered to be “The Bible” for the marching band.

“Dr. Foster, who is founder and creator of the FAMU Marching “100,” is viewed with great respect among hundreds of past and present members,” said Dr. Julian White, FAMU’s director of Bands.  “We are deeply saddened by his death, but appreciative that we had him so long to share with us his great love for music and the profession.  We pledge to continue this outstanding legacy that he created and offer our condolences to the Foster family.”

Foster began his music career by learning to play the clarinet at age 12. While in high school, his talent was recognized and he was appointed student director of the Sumner High School Orchestra in Kansas City, Kansas.  In 1936, he became the director of an all city band.  Foster was a fellow of the Rosenwald General Education Board at Teacher’s College, Columbia University from 1953 to 1955 for doctorate studies. He received his bachelor of music education degree from the University of Kansas in 1941, the master of arts in music degree from Wayne State University in 1950, a doctor of education degree with a major in music from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1955, and the honorary Doctor of Human Letters Degree in 1998 from FAMU.

Under Foster’s direction, the Marching “100” has appeared in films, commercials, numerous magazine and newspaper articles and nationally televised performances. In 1989 the French chose Dr. Foster and his band as America’s official representative in the Bastille Day Parade, celebrating the bicentennial of the French Revolution.  On January 27, 1996, the Marching “100” was the centerpiece of the opening ceremonies of the Walt Disney Indy 200.  The “100” was also the featured attraction at the 15th and 25th Anniversary for the National Telecast of Walt Disney World in 1986 and 1996. In January 1993 and 1997, the band appeared in the Inaugural Parade of former President Bill Clinton.

Dr. Foster has been inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, the National Association for Distinguished Band Conductors Hall of Fame, the Florida Music Educators Association Hall of Fame and the Afro-American Hall of Fame. He has also served as national presidents of the American Bandmasters Association, the College Band Directors National Association and was appointed to the National Council on the Arts by former President Bill Clinton.
Foster is the author of the book The Man Behind the Baton and Band Pageantry: A Guide for the Marching Band.  He is the composer of Marche Brillante, National Honors March, March Continental, and Centennial Celebration.

Curtis B. Inabinett, Jr., a former City Councilman in Ravenel, SC, remembers the first time he saw the Marching “100” during halftime of Super Bowl III.

“I fell in love with the band and have been in love with it since,” said Inabinett.  “He is like a giant to me, a person that commanded respect and got it.”

Inabinett was instrumental in bringing to the attention of the College Band Director’s National Association the achievements of Dr. Foster.  This fall during the October 2 FAMU football game, the president of the organization, Dr. Thomas Duffy, was to present to Dr. Foster the “College Band Directors Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.”  Foster is the only African American to serve as national president of the organization and only one of five individuals ever selected to receive the award.

Bishop Adam J. Richardson, who was elected and consecrated the 115th Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1996, said Dr. Foster was a class act.  

“He was an extraordinary scholar, gentleman and icon not only at FAMU, but in the United States,” said Bishop Richardson who served as drum major of the Marching “100” from 1966-1969 and participated in Super Bowl III.  “He believed in quality and excellence.  He helped us to strive toward that to the point that we did not think of ourselves as second to anyone.  He was revered by every person who ever participated in the band at FAMU. It is a sad day in the life of us all.”

Linda Dilworth, a close friend of the Foster family and president of the Tallahassee Chapter of The LINKS, Inc., said that Dr. Foster was able to unify and strengthen the community through his work.

“He offered a focus that everybody could rally around,” said Dilworth, who also attends Dr. Foster’s church, St. Michael and ALL Angels Episcopal Church. “He brought a lot of pride to FAMU and he was always there to lend his support through music. Music was his passion and through music he was able to advocate for education, good character and leadership.”
The following is a list of the Marching “100” achievements under the leadership of Dr. Foster:
  • 1950 - The Marching Band consisted of 110 members and became widely known as the Marching “100”;

  • March 17, 1950 - The Marching Band became the first black band to appear in the Festival of States Parade;

  • 1953 - The Marching Band incorporated a dance routine using the music of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in a half-time performance at the Orange Blossom Classic in Miami, Fla.;

  • April 1953 - The Marching Band was featured in an article in The Courier Magazine;

  • January 1956 - The Marching Band was mentioned in an article by Ebony Magazine titled Orange Blossom Classic Is Top Negro Grid Bowl Game;

  • December 1958 - The Miami Herald proclaimed the Marching Band as The Marchingest, Playingest, Band in the Land;

  • January 6, 1963 - The Marching Band made its national television debut at the Pro Playoff Bowl on CBS TV in the Orange Bowl Stadium in Miami, Fla.;

  • November 1963 - The Marching Band appeared in an Ebony Magazine article titled The Best Band in the Land;

  • December 1963 - The Marching “100” received its first international recognition when it performed for the Kiwanis International Cultural Exchange Program in Nassau, Bahamas;

  • January 5, 1964 - The Marching Band made its second nationally televised appearance at the Pro Playoff Bowl;

  • December 27, 1964 - The Marching Band made its third nationally televised appearance for the NFL Championship Game in Cleveland, Ohio;

  • 1966 - The Seven Up Company of St. Louis, Mo. and the Sterling Drug Company of New York established an annual $1,500 scholarship in music in honor of Dr. William P. Foster;

  • 1968 - Dr. William P. Foster authored Band Pageantry: A Guide for the Marching Band;

  • January 21, 1968 - The Marching Band made its fourth national television appearance at the AFL All-Star Game on NBC television;

  • August 1968 - The Marching Band appeared in the Paramount News Film Half Time USA;

  • January 12, 1969 - The Marching Band performed at Super Bowl III in the Orange Bowl in Miami, Fla;

  • January 19, 1969 - The Marching Band performed at the AFL All-Star Game in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.;

  • October 10, 1969 - The Fine Arts Center on FAMU’s campus was named in honor of Dr. William P. Foster, and well-known African-American artist Henry O. Tanner;

  • November 30, 1969 - The Marching Band performed at halftime for the NFL Game between the Boston Patriots and the Miami Dolphins;

  • September 25, 1971 - The Marching Band represented the University of Kansas Band during halftime at a Kansas vs. Florida State University game at Doak Campbell Stadium;

  • 1971 - The Marching Band recorded an album, FAMU Spirit;

  • 1975 - The Marching Band made its first national television commercial for Coca-Cola: Look Up America, I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing;

  • October 1975 - The Marching Band performed at halftime for the Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Redskins;

  • December 1975 - The Marching Band performed at halftime for the Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills;

  • 1977 - A Joint Resolution from the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate was presented to Dr. William P. Foster;

  • 1978 - The Marching Band performed at the first NCAA Division 1 - AA National Championship Game at the Pioneer Bowl in Wichita Falls, Texas;

  • 1978 - The Marching Band performed at the “Battle of the Bands” in the New Orleans Super Dome;

  • February 24, 1979 - The General Assembly of Washington, D. C. proclaimed February 24 as FAMU Band Day;

  • February 20, 1980 - The Marching Band made its second national television commercial for Welch’s Grape Soda;

  • March 29, 1981 - The Marching Band was featured in a 60 Minutes documentary on CBS TV;

  • January 1983 - The Marching Band performed at Super Bowl XVII in Tampa, Fla.;

  • August 1983 - The Marching Band was featured in a documentary on ABC’s 20/20 television show;
  • November 1983 - The Marching Band was featured in a PM Magazine documentary on CBS television

  • November 14, 1984 - Dr. Foster and the “100” appeared in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Learning;

  • December 1984 - Ebony Magazine featured Dr. William P. Foster and the Marching Band in an article titled William P. Foster: A Fabled Director and His Band;
  • 1984 - The Marching Band performed at the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif.;
  • October 26, 1985 - The Marching Band was presented the Sudler Intercollegiate Marching Band Trophy. The “100" became the fourth recipient and the first (still the only) historically black university band to receive the trophy. This award is the highest honor a collegiate marching band can receive. With the presentation, the  “100” became the first southern band to receive the award;
  • 1986 - The Marching Band performed for the 15th Anniversary Celebration of Walt Disney World on national television;
  • February 4, 1986 - Dr. William P. Foster and the “100” were honored on the floor of the 99th U.S. Congress for receiving the Sudler Award;
  • 1987 - Dr. William P. Foster and the Marching Band appeared in a book, America Is My Neighborhood by Williard Scott of the NBC Today Show;
  • March 12, 1989 - The Governor of Florida and the Mayor of Tallahassee proclaimed that March 12 is Dr. William P. Foster Day in the State of Florida;
  • 1989 - Governor Bob Martinez issued a proclamation declaring July 18 as The Florida A&M Marching 100 Day in the State of Florida;
  • July 1989 - A major news story about the Marching Band was broadcast on the Voice of America, international radio station of the United States government;
  • July 14, 1989 - The Marching Band was selected to be the official United States representative at the Bicentennial Celebration of the French Revolution, better known as Bastille Day in Paris, France. This celebration was seen live worldwide by millions. Front page articles about the “100” appeared in newspapers such as the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times
  • July 1989 - Lead story in the New York Times, A Birthday Gift to France: 500 American Feet in Paris referring to the “100;”
  • July 18, 1989 - The 101st session of the United States House of Representative honored Dr. William P. Foster and the “100” on the floor of Congress for being the official United States Representative in Paris, France for the French Revolution Bicentennial Celebration;
  • 1989 - The House of Representatives of the State of Florida honored Dr. William P. Foster and “100” for being the only band in the United States selected for the honor of performing in the French Revolution Bicentennial;
  • 1992 - Sports Illustrated magazine listed the Marching Band as The Best College Marching Band in the Country;
  • 1993 - The Marching Band represented the State of Florida in the Inaugural Parade of former President Bill Clinton in Washington, D.C.;
  • 1994 - The Marching Band’s percussion section and four drum majors performed at the Kennedy Center Concert for former President Bill Clinton in Miami, Fla.;
  • 1995 - The Marching Band performed for President Bill Clinton’s visit to Tallahassee;
  • 1995 - The Florida General Assembly recognized Dr. William P. Foster for his 50 years of service and outstanding achievements to the State of Florida;
  • July 26, 1996 - Dr. William P. Foster and the Marching Band were inducted into the Afro-American Hall of Fame for Fine Arts. The Marching Band became the first student organization to be inducted into the Hall of Fame;
  • December 19, 1996 - The Marching Band received its second invitation to participate in former President Bill Clinton’s Inaugural Parade in Washington, DC;
  • 1996 - The Marching Band participated in festivities marking the 25th Anniversary of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.;
  • 1996 - The Marching Band performed for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit to FAMU's campus;
  • 1997 - The Marching Band represented the State of Florida at the second Inaugural Parade of former President Bill Clinton in Washington, DC;
  • 1997 - A New York Times article: 50 Years as a Marching Band Guru, which referred to Dr. William P. Foster; and
  • 1998 - Dr. William P. Foster retired after 52 years of service to the university, the State of Florida, the nation and the world. As of August 9, 1998, he holds the position of Emeritus Professor, chairman of the Music Department, Emeritus and Director of Bands. His legacy, influence, and presence is still being felt as the Marching Band continues to break ground and receive national attention, and awards.
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