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 proceed by a public concert of tribute at 10 a.m. as performed by the FAMU Department of Music. The memorial service is scheduled for Friday, September 3, at 6 p.m. in Lee Hall Auditorium. There are also public viewings scheduled for Friday, September 3, from noon to 6 p.m. 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.”
A remarkable footprint was left by this innovator.