On Saturday, revolutionary band director and musician, Dr. William P. Foster, died at a nursing home in Tallahassee at age 90. During his 53-year tenure at Florida A&M University, Dr. Foster permanently changed the look, feel, and sound of college football halftime shows by invigorating them with popular music, the latest dances, polyrhythmic cadences, and the band’s signature entrance and exit marches: the rapid-fire “rattle” and the suspenseful “death march.”
Born in Kansas City in 1919, Dr. Foster faced serious racial discrimination in the field of music education and embarked on a journey to build “a black band that was equal to, or finer than, any white band in the country.” Settling at FAMU (incidentally, my alma mater) in 1946, with only 16 members in the band, Dr. Foster called his charges the “Marching 100,” surpassing that number by another 300 by the time he retired in 1998. Under Dr. Foster’s baton, the Marching 100 performed at innumerable national events, including two Super Bowls and both Clinton inaugural parades (followed by Obama’s under his successor), but shining internationally as the sole U.S. representative at the 200th Anniversary of the French Revolution in 1989.
On a personal note, three members of my family and countless friends and acquaintances have studied and worked with Dr. Foster. I, however, not only have been entertained at innumerable football games and parades during my youth by the Marching 100, and by hundreds of other colleges and high schools that have modeled their marching styles on Dr. Foster’s work (some of which you might recognize in the movie, Drumline), but I’ve been blessed to recognize Dr. Foster’s sound as the pulse of a people throughout the African Diaspora, be it at a samba school rehearsal in Brazil, an impromptu jam session in Lagos, or band practice in Tallahassee.
A consummate musician and showman, Dr. Foster will be missed.
Click here to read Dr. Foster’s obituary from the New York Times, and watch “The Hundred” get down to James Brown on the Champs-Élysées back in ’89. They wasn’t ready.