The occasion of the Nathan B. Forrest Rebel Brigade Band Reunion was held last evening, June 21, 2014 at the Sheraton Hotel (Deer Creek) in Jacksonville, Florida @ 7:00 p.m. It was a culmination of years of murmurs, suggests, ideas, non-ideas, and finally, band members Russ Carpenter and Leonor Diaz took the helm as leaders do and said, “Let’s put on a SHOW!” But wait: Where is everybody?
So for four months, nearly everyday, the duo of “Do It” commenced to social media and other gorilla tactics to locate band members of every section (brass, percussion, woodwinds, color guard, drum majors, drum minors, mini-minors, majorettes, fans of band and, well, you get it: THE BAND!”
The big question on everyone’s mind who wanted to attend, considered, did or didn’t have a schedule conflict, or otherwise were simply unable to make it was:
Is Winford Coming?
This Winford of which I speak (sigh…)
Just know that when we were in high school and Mr. Franklin (we privately called him “Winford” for fodder) was mentioned: lighting struck, dogs ran for cover, saloon doors opened and closed in sync, and he’d appear with a megaphone and command troops in line-up for the business of band: marching, symphonic, ensemble, competition, all-county, all-state, ALL MUSIC.
THAT Winford Franklin of which I speak is pictured below:
He has aged fabulously after an illustrious career in music education in Duval County, Clay County, and North Carolina where he currently resides, but for the purpose of this occasion, he served as the consummate professional, stern, wise, no-nonsense, talented, band director who mentored and planted seeds into the lives of thousands of young musicians and for this reason and more, many trekked to Jacksonville, Florida to reunite and share preserved and coveted memories.
The Forrest High School band program from years 1970 to 1990 (give or take) was a phenomenal offering of excellence and high standards. I feel so incredibly privileged and honored for the labor of love endured, the hours of practice under hot sun, marching, traveling, learning discipline, competing all over the country, and having some of the best fun I’ve ever had in my lifetime. Being a part of the Rebel Brigade molded and shaped much of who I am as an individual and professional and I feel confident that a plethora (if not all) of my bandmates from all decades whole heartedly concur. Without a leader who was essentially “a leader’s leader,” the program and it’s award-winning reputation would not have been as it were. So for this reason, again, again, and “one ‘mo gin'” we thank you Winford Franklin for who you were and remain in our lives. Now, YOU run a lap…with a snare drum on your head (kisses!)
It was so great seeing everyone again who did or did not make it to the Friday evening “Mixer” held in the Sheraton’s bar. Vickie Diaz served as a lovely welcome host as we each entered and were forced wear shameless names tags that didn’t stick to our clothing (o.k….it stuck to some), but we’ve all aged and without them, we would have increased the awkward staring moments of looking into each other’s eyes and saying, “Oh Yeah! It’s YOU! Ummm Umm, yeah you played saxophone right?” Followed by the corrective, “No, I’m Jackie Acierto, I was a drum major.” Our great Jackie is pictured below with her spouse.
We were greeted with flutes of champagne and light fare followed by a buffet meal and open bar that was enjoyed by all. Below Winford Franklin chats-about with Mrs. Kraft (Good ‘Ole Band Parent Mrs. Kraft and Vickie Kraft) and Arlene Mills (wife of the Late Tom Mills whose obituary is at the end of this tribute).
There were plenty of opportunities for all to mingle and talk and glance at photos of memorabilia from years and years of band life.
It’s amazing that our lives have intersected from so many backgrounds and ethnicities and interests and talents. Undoubtedly, when we took to the field or stage, we were essentially “One Band, One Sound.” (I’ve been waiting years to use that cliché.”)
I’m going to cut the gab and just run a photo gallery of some of the many images captured throughout the evening. Place “Guess Who” and/or zoom in and see if you can read names on the name tags. We sure do age beautifully Rebel Brigade. What a beautiful group of people:
Of course there was dessert and Mr. Franklin showed footage of one of his earlier year marching bands as much of the available tapes of our decades are on VHS and had yet to be reformatted. Chuck Lorbeer sent DVD’s of 1971 to 1979 and if you’re interested in owning one, see Russ Carpenter.
Personally, I want to insert the hyperlink to The Florida Times-Union article that recently ran announcing the name change finality and the signs of Nathan B. Forrest Senior High are coming down and Westside High school is going up.
I posted last week on social media the following:
“I have zero regrets regarding my attendance and graduation from Nathan B. Forrest Senior High School. I was a member of an award-winning music program led by a phenomenal leader. I have never at any age or juncture in life confused negative symbolism with positive reality and pray that the attendees of Westside High School are blessed with the same quality education and experiences as I.”
This is not an endorsement of the Klan or the controversial Nathan Bedford Forrest. Despite the offerings of photographs in this blog, there were numerous African-Americans in this music program who were integral contributors and quite frankly to me, my high school was neither white nor black: it was brick.
We would be remiss and Stephen Campbell absolutely did not mince words during his heartfelt tribute to Mr. Thomas Mills who served as band director following Mr. Franklin’s departure. I had a deep respect for Tom Mills and his family. His daughter Sue Mills drove me to Memphis, Tennessee to audition for a music scholarship and I’m eternally grateful for the faith and belief in how much Mr. Mills believed in my talent and ability. I wholeheartedly feel that I failed him miserably (collegiately I transferred from Memphis State after one semester), but he did bestow the John Philip Sousa Award to me my senior year. Staying in touch with those who positively deposited into our lives is crucial and while I regret I did not see him again prior to his demise, I thank him, I thank him, I thank him and the aforementioned is for legions of others as well. May he rest in the peace he lived in and exuded.
THOMAS P. MILLS Thomas P. Mills, loving husband to wife Arlene for over 50 years, lost his battle with cancer November 15, 2007 at their Port St. Lucie home with his beloved wife at his side. He had been in home care provided by Treasure Coast Hospice for a short period of time. His life was all about music, teaching both privately and in the public school systems in Massachusetts and in Jacksonville, FL. His real love was his career as a church organist and choir director spanning more than 5 decades. While residing in Vero Beach he was involved in establishing theTreasure Coast Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, and8 Voices of Song, a vocal group in affiliation with theVero Beach Opera Guild. In Palm City Mr. Mills helped create the Academy of the Performing Artslocated at Immanuel Lutheran Church. A diverse composer, he had numerous commissions over his career. Beyond church music his writing included, children’s musicals, band and choral works and a composition to help a town celebrate its Tri-Centennial. As the music director for the Martha’s Vineyard, MA school system, he foundedThe Minnesingers, a special group of high school vocalists who succeeded in taking music to the next level. After 40 years, this group of musicians continues to share it’s musical gifts both nationally and abroad. He had such a love for gardening which helped him create beautiful landscapes everywhere he lived. His pride and joy was his tropical garden with over 150 species of different plants. He also loved woodworking, building furniture, cabinets and decorative art. Tom Mills grew up in Rensselaer, NY and graduated from New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA, with his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Choral and Orchestral Conducting. He also received a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Framingham State University, MA. He was preceded in death by his father Thomas B. Mills and mother, Gladys (Wainman) Mills.He is survived by his son Steve Mills and his wife Leigh of Jacksonville, FL; daughter Sue Mills-Fliss and her husband Jim of Cape Coral, FL; mother-in-law May H. Monington of Port St. Lucie, three step-grand children and one step-great-grandchild. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Treasure Coast Hospices, 1201 SE Indian St., Stuart, FL 34997; or Immanuel Lutheran Church, 2655 Immanuel Dr., Palm City, FL 34990 or The Treasure Coast Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, Trinity Episcopal Church, c/o Brady Johnson, 2365 Pine Avenue, Vero Beach, FL 32960. A Celebration of Life service will be held Monday, November 26th at 11:00 am at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 2655 Immanuel Drive, PalmCity, FL 33990.
Published in the TC Palm on Nov. 24, 2007