William Penn Marching Band
The marching band at William Penn was far beyond an extracurricular activity or a class you could take. It was a congregation of talented high school students who could be rivaled by few in the state of North Carolina. From football games to homecomings at North Carolina A&T to annual Christmas parades, the William Penn marching band gained the attention and admiration of blacks and whites in the High Point community. While never having a complete set of uniforms, working around inadequate instruments, and always having fewer resources than their white counterparts, the William Penn marching band developed a reputation as the best in the region. Not one of the alumni we have interview has finished a conversation without mentioning the marching band and how fantastic they were. These memories, and contemporary sources, show that the band was a source of pride not only within the black community, but for the entire city.
"The band was the crown jewel of the city."
"I don't know if you've heard or not but William Penn was the bomb band back then."
By the late 1950’s, the marching band had achieved celebrity status within the High Point community. Dorothy Collins explains this phenomenon in her interview:
“The band was awesome and no one could touch us. They couldn’t, and when we marched in the parade, the Christmas parade, everyone was waiting for William Penn’s band. I’ve even had girls tell me… ‘man there was nothing like William Penn…I’d be waiting to see you come down strutting.’”
Not only did the band receive vocal praise from their community, they could also physically see that support. Fred Wright recalls how people would climb fences, buildings and poles to get a good view of the William Penn marching band: “We saved the best for last so when you came to parades people would be standing up on the roof, on poles, anyway they could to see over the crowd.” The year the city decided to put the William Penn band at the beginning of the Christmas Parade rather than in their normal position at the end just before Santa Claus, the crowd allegedly dissipated as the band marched forward leaving very few people to see Santa.
William Penn’s band performed in community parades, polio hospitals, homecomings, and solo concerts. During the 1960’s, it was so popular and renowned that it was invited to march in the Macy’s Day Parade in New York City. Perhaps its most anticipated appearances, though, were at halftime of football games. William Penn not only had an outstanding music program, it also had stellar athletics that drew sizeable crowds to High Point College’s field. Elwyn Crawford explains the scene leading up to halftime:
“The band would come down Washington, to Underhill, and then Underhill would cross Lexington…and the streets would be lined up with people watching, kind of like the parade.”
William Penn High School’s band was celebrated for their musical talent and their energy, but perhaps their greatest accomplishment lay in becoming a source of pride in both the black and white communities. The High Point Enterprise regularly covered the band, whether through small articles announcing a community concert or coverage of the band’s superior ratings at state music festivals. Editors placed large pictures of the band in prominent positions in the Enterprise to announce events like the prelude to William Penn’s Homecoming.
In a community dominated by whites, the High Point Enterprise regularly thought it newsworthy to inform the entire city where they could find the celebrated William Penn High School Marching Band.
Being in the band encourages profitable use of leisure time, giving the student an interesting and pleasurable activity in and out of school. It also teaches discipline and promotes a co-operative spirit as the student works together with others in a language which is truly international.
-Quoted from the 1958 Yearbook