published Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

More than $100,000 raised for Howard band

Tyler Patton holds a new marching baritone trumpet in the Howard School band room. The Howard Band is adding new instruments thanks to fund-raising efforts that have brought in $85,000 in cash and $15,000 worth of donated instruments.
Tyler Patton holds a new marching baritone trumpet in the Howard School band room. The Howard Band is adding new instruments thanks to fund-raising efforts that have brought in $85,000 in cash and $15,000 worth of donated instruments.
Photo by John Rawlston.

Some of the donations were as small as $5, others as large as $3,000.

They came from grandmothers, local families and Howard alumni, from throughout Tennessee and Georgia and from as far away as Seattle.

In all, 135 checks arrived in the mail, all toward one purpose -- help the Howard High School Band buy new instruments to replace those held together by duct tape and string.

The goal was to raise $50,000. But the final tally was twice that: $85,000 in cash contributions and more than $15,000 worth of instruments -- a total of more than $100,000 for a band that is as far from its glory days as north is from south.

But thanks to the donations, the band's on the way back now.

Howard alumnus Reuben Lawrence, 77, whom band supporters call "the godfather," was the man behind the fundraising campaign.

"It just touched me so that they were concerned about children," said Lawrence, referring to the donors. "Numerous people expressed that they hoped their small effort could help. The lady from Seattle ... probably couldn't find Howard School if you gave her a week. Her check wasn't that large.

"But it was like a million dollars to me because she was so concerned."

Lawrence organized a day of Thanksgiving this month at The Howard School to announce the results.

Soul singer R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" rang out over speakers in the auditorium. Students stood and clapped as donors, elected officials and school supporters walked to the stage.

"Thank you for saving our music program," said Cherilyn Bryant, Howard band sponsor and a drum major in the late 1970s. "I took it upon myself to talk to the godfather [about the band] and he put the wheels in motion."

Lawrence recounted how Howard started the school year with only about 15 instruments, many held together by string, glue and tape.

How only 30 students were accepted for the band at the start of the year because there weren't enough instruments for the additional 40 students who signed up.

How some students marched with no instruments and stood in line formation and pretended to play.

Those days are gone for now, band director Dexter Bell said.

Then came the booming thunder of Howard's drum line and brass section playing the Temptations' "Get Ready."

Band students held their heads high as they danced and played music in the auditorium aisle.

This time many students played new instruments. There are plans to purchase even more. And now more students are asking to join the band, said first trumpet player Tay Rounsaville.

"Having new instruments makes us feel better," said Rounsaville.

Bell said he wants to have the band back to 100 students by 2015, the school's 150th anniversary.

"Know that you're going to rise to that glory again. In fact you're already there," said Alison Lebovitz, who spoke at Howard.

Glory days

The band was at its peak in the late 1980s with about 150 members. In 1978, the year Bryant graduated, the band played Mardi Gras in New Orleans and performed so well that city leaders gave them a standing invitation to return.

Bell said he's so confident that the band's membership will increase to 100-plus that he's already working with groups to raise money for more band uniforms.

At the end of the program, Lawrence announced the money raised for instruments.

Upon hearing the contribution, students erupted with a standing ovation.

"Ain't God all right," said Lawrence. "I believe if you pray, God will answer."

He recognized donors like Sarah and Chuck Mills, who gave one check and then donated again because they felt they had not given enough.

Then Lawrence called Bruz Clark to the podium. Clark, president of the Lyndhurst Foundation, talked about being a teenager in the early 1970s and participating in the Armed Forces Day parade as a student in Baylor's military cadet group.

"Our parents pretended like they were coming to see us. We knew they wanted to see the Howard band. I even wondered, 'Is there a way to get out of this school and into the Howard band?'" he said.

He also talked about how his friend George Fountain, who started the Riverview Foundation, also appreciated the band even though he didn't know how to play an instrument. Then Clark presented a check from the Riverview Foundation for $10,000 and the students erupted again.

"You can't perform music on an air trumpet," said Clark. "It takes money."

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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