Henry Shadwell: "Pace Yourself On the
Road to Excellence!"

"Notes da Capo" by John L. Puffenbarger

May/June 2000

Musicians by nature have always been competitive. In an orchestra, principal players are given most responsibility for each performance. They are the highest paid members of their section, and they practice hours each day to maintain their place in the ensemble.

During the 1920’s, highly competitive band contests were held in West Virginia and many other states. Contests in West Virginia were usually held in Wheeling or Huntington. One day in 1935, Huntington band director Henry Shadwell invited two other band directors, Charles Gorby of South Charleston and Carl McElfresh of Logan, to his home. (Charles Gorby points out that the three schools often exchanged band concerts, and he remembers how informative it was to work together.)

Sometimes, an idea comes from nowhere. While discussing band concerts they had heard recently, Henry Shadwell suddenly spoke up, saying, "Let's have a band festival so we can pace ourselves on the road to excellence." Since Shadwell wanted to emphasize cooperation and learning in a friendly atmosphere, his idea of a festival was different than the highly competitive contests of the time. It was natural that Huntington would serve as the host town for the first WV Band Festival, with Henry "Shad" Shadwell serving as festival chairman.

Shadwell had a reputation as a fantastic organizer. The late James Rathburn of Huntington recalled that "Shad" created several committees to plan the huge Huntington Band Festival. He arranged for townspeople to house and feed the thousands of students in attendance. The festival ran smoothly because of Shadwell's emphasis on details. The Huntington festival grew from a little over a dozen bands to about 75 at the time of his death at age 52 in 1951.

Henry Shadwell was born in Caldwell, Ohio. He attended Ohio State University and later earned bachelor's and master's degrees in music from Capitol College of Music in Columbus, Ohio. In January 1918, he was hired to teach science at Huntington (WV) Central Junior High School. His love of music prompted him to teach music after hours. For five years, he directed the Huntington Boy Scout Band, which played before the United States Congress in 1926.

For many years, Huntington had a tradition of music organizations, including fireman’s bands, dance bands, and a town band. In 1923, John Philip Sousa’s band performed a concert in Huntington. Shadwell arranged for about thirty of his music students to sit in with Sousa’s band on the afternoon of the concert. Interest in music was beginning to grow in the hearts of school children.

Shadwell began a campaign to persuade the Cabell County Board of Education to offer music in the public schools. Although it was difficult to convince the members of the board that music was a worthwhile subject for the public schools, Shadwell prevailed in 1926. He served as the first supervisor of instrumental music in the Huntington schools, and he also directed the band at Huntington High School. He took the band on concert tours as often as possible, including concerts at the Canadian National Exposition in Toronto in 1937, the Chicago Exposition in 1935, and the New York World's Fair in 1939.

Charles Gorby states that, "Shadwell had a great sense of showmanship. 'Shad' liked to have his bands play 'Overture 1812.' Once, while playing at the Huntington City Hall auditorium, Shadwell decided to add some flare to the finale. He had black powder placed in empty drums offstage to simulate cannon fire. However, the charge was larger than planned, and dirt and debris from the rafters were shaken loose, and drifted down onto the band members and Mr. Shadwell. The stage filled with clouds of dirt and dust. Fumes from the explosion prompted someone to call the fire


Henry Shadwell was a fine musician and a compassionate teacher, whose love of music filtered down to countless students. He is remembered as a pioneer of the high school band movement in West Virginia, organizer of the first Huntington High School Band (1924), and founder of the West Virginia High School Band Festival (1935).