A History of the Charleston High School Band, Part 2

"Notes da Capo" by John L. Puffenbarger

Fall 2004

Editor's Note: Part 1 of this article appeared in the Spring 2004 issue of Notes A Tempo.

Instrumental music has been a part of West Virginia public schools since the early 1900s. Most band programs were organized during the 1920s. By the end of World War II, band programs were more numerous than string orchestras, and several band directors had begun to develop outstanding groups. Examples include Bob Hill of Morgantown High School, Frank Schroeder of Parkersburg High School, Pete Raspillaire of South Charleston High School, AI Frey of Stonewall Jackson High School, and Loren Mercer of Warwood High School.

According to authors Stan B. Cohen and Richard A. Andre (Roar Lions, Roar - A Pictorial History), the 1940s, 50s, and 60s were the heydays for Robert "Bob" Williams and the Mountain Lion band. Its accomplishments could fill many pages in a book. For example, the band was cited by the U.S. Treasury and the Music War Council of America in 1944 for its performances for bond drives; chosen best high school band and majorette corps at the Winchester, Virginia, Apple Blossom Festival as well as at the Charlottesville, Virginia, Apple Harvest Festival, 1952 and 1953; the only band to represent West Virginia in President Eisenhower's Inaugural Parade in Washington, D.C., 1952; West Virginia's representative at the Lions Club Convention Parade, Atlantic City, 1959 and 1961; chosen to lead the Miss America Pageant Parade, Atlantic City, 1955 through 1957; the lead band at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, 1960; and chosen to perform at the 1964 New York World's Fair.

The band also made countless appearances at college homecoming games, state fairs, professional and all-star games, and other civic, patriotic, philanthropic, religious, and charitable events. The band consistently received "superior" ratings in regional and state band festivals in both concert and marching performances.

For many years, Bob Williams took his band back to his alma mater, Ohio State University, Columbus, for a weekend sojourn to witness a football game and to see the nationally known Ohio State "Buckeye Band" maneuvers.

Until1940, the only Kanawha County school that had majorettes was the all-black Garnet High School, where they had proven to be a great success. The administration of Morris Harvey College called upon Bob in 1940 to assist their band, which gave him an opportunity to experiment with the then new concept of a majorette corps. During the fall 1940 football season, the Morris Harvey Corps made its appearance. The girls were such crowd pleasers that Williams was determined to introduce majorettes into the CHS band routine in1941.

In William's own words, "I went out and stood in the halls - a good looking girl would come by, and I'd ask her if she wanted to be a majorette? She'd say, 'a what?' I finally recruited six girls and sent them to one of the women teachers who taught them how to dance. We outfitted them in short-skirted, gold satin costumes, and we used the hats from the 1937 era band uniforms. On the night of the Weirton game, they were kept under wraps behind the band. They had on football capes, and when the band played A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody, they slipped out on the field and went into their routine. The crowd tore the walls down!"

From that moment on, the CHS majorette corps became a permanent fixture in band performances. Williams helped the Charleston Daily Mail originate the Majorette Festival in 1946, which became nationally prominent.

Dozens of former band members went on to local or national band directorships, including AI Frey at Stonewall Jackson High School, Robert Brown at Dunbar Junior High School; Karen Haas at Lincoln Junior High School, and Bob Leurant at CHS. Leurant took over the Mountain Lion band when Bob Williams became director of the countywide music program in 1965. Leurant, only the third music director at CHS since 1903, carried on Francis' and Williams' traditions. During his 22-year tenure, he took band students to the New York Macy's Day Parade, the New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade, the Rose Bowl Parade, and to music festivals in Florida, Hawaii, and the Bahamas. He did this in spite of a great reduction in student population, which began in the mid-1960s.

Capital High School opened in 1989 and is now carrying on the traditions of both Charleston and Stonewall Jackson High Schools.

(Material from Roar Lions, Roar was used by permission from author Richard A. Andre.)