An employee at Miracle Hill Nursing Home comes in his room and brings him today’s lunch: a baked pork chop, mixed vegetables, a roll and iced tea. Being a gentleman, he decides to wait until later to eat.
He takes a deep yawn, the yawn of someone who has lived a long satisfying life. He fidgets and picks at his hand and closes his eyes as he speaks. He’s tired.
William Patrick Foster was born in an entirely different place and during an entirely different time. He has the wrinkles and wisdom to prove it.
He recently celebrated his 90th birthday and remembers details and stories dating back to his childhood in Kansas City, Kan.
Foster founded Florida A&M University’s Marching “100.” He single-handedly created one of the nation’s top collegiate marching bands but didn’t become interested in music until late in his adolescence.
“I was always interested in sports when I was younger,” Foster said. He played horseshoes, tennis and basketball in elementary school. He ran track in junior high school.
“It wasn’t until that time that I started music and dropped sports,” he said.
Foster’s first instrument was the B flat clarinet. After initial struggles, he learned to play efficiently.
“From money I made working various jobs, I went to the pawnshop and an instrument that appealed to me greatly was the saxophone, and I purchased it,” Foster said. “I took that instrument and at that time there were no bands in the public school system, but I wanted to learn how to play.
With the help of an Italian music teacher at Sumner High School, he started down the road to musical success.
“I went for my first lesson and he looked at the instrument and asked me to play a few lines,” said Foster of his initial instrument, a saxophone. “He said that’s a C-melody saxophone. He told me that saxophone was obsolete.”
“The Italian teacher indicated that I would need to get another instrument, and he would recommend a B-flat clarinet.”
Hearing the teacher’s recommendation, Foster went home and told his sister, who bought him the instrument.
“I made very good progress evidently,” said Foster, who was then promoted to solo clarinetist and then appointed as the director. “And that was the beginning of my musical career.”
Foster has two sons, but he is a father figure to several other young men. He has earned much respect and admiration from those he’s helped. Andre Moses-White said he was banned from his hometown in Florida, and because Foster stepped in to help, Moses-White considers him blood.
“When I was 18 years old I was put out of Tampa,” said Moses-White, an Atlanta resident.
“I was breaking the law and being thuggish. I hurt a couple of police officers and the judge did me a favor by putting me out rather than killing me.”
Moses-White was then introduced to Foster.
“I was taken to Tallahassee and put into a dorm at FAMU,” Moses-White said. ” I was sent to Lincoln High School and that’s when I met Tony, his son. We became good friends and
Dr. Foster and his son took me in. Dr. Foster made me who I am today. He is the most intelligent and determined person I have ever known. He really brings the best out of you.”
Foster’s son, Anthony, said his father’s achievements established him as the perfect role model.
“If someone had to pay him by the hour, they couldn’t afford him,” he said. “He worked long and hard and no one could outwork him. My father was really busy with the band but when you look back on it now, it was a situation where he still found time to help with homework and help with things around the house.”
People associated with the band know the title, “Hubba Doc” well, but for the man behind the name, it isn’t too familiar.
“They have been calling me that for so long, I don’t even really know what it means,” Foster said with a smile.
Foster’s career started in Springfield, Miss., as a choir director. He said they did well and the recognition received earned him a job at Fort Valley State (Ga.) College. From there, he accepted a job at Tuskegee Institute as the director of band and orchestra. After that, he arrived at Florida A&M College.
“It started after I arrived in 1946,” Foster said. “They made great progress in the first year.
Enrollment increased and it was used as the chief recruiter for students to attend. I said I would like to have a 100-piece band so I coined the name Marching “100,” although it’s far more than 100 in the band today.”
The Marching “100” has performed for audiences across the globe. It has been featured in films, commercials, presidential inaugurations, magazine and newspaper articles and has been in more than 20 nationally televised programs, according to florida-arts.org.
Foster was inducted into several halls of fame, including the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, the National Association for Distinguished Band Conductors, the Florida Music Educators Association and the Afro-American Hall of Fame.
With so much prestige and honor surrounding himself and his work, people naturally respect and admire him, band members especially.
Craig Beacham, 21, from Prince Georges County, Md., is a drum major in the Marching “100.”
“I revere Dr. Foster for not only his contributions to the FAMU band, but to all bands,” the public relations student said. “Dr. Foster is known for his ingenious and innovative ideas, which have manifested themselves as the standard 90-degree knee lift marching style and the upright trumpet, which is utilized by a vast majority of bands across the nation.”
Band members know to show respect and admiration for Foster.
“When Dr. Foster comes around the band, everyone shows him the utmost respect and appreciation for what he has done,” Beacham said. “When Dr. Foster opens his mouth to speak you can hear what we know as “the sound of the room,” meaning everyone falls silent and doesn’t so much as move until he’s done speaking.”
Beacham recalled a touching experience with him.
“I remember conversing with him and I was surprised of how driven he was even in his old age, still thinking about what else he could do to teach people with the wisdom he has earned in his years on this Earth,” he said. “I also remember thinking to myself, that if it’s true that people’s minds deteriorate with old age, then in his prime Dr. Foster must have been and extremely intelligent man.”
Foster has definitely lived his life. He has traveled and taught and authored books and conducted concerts. He has been knighted in France and acknowledged internationally.
Now, he relaxes at his nursing home.
“The service here and the workers and people are very nice and accommodating,” he said with a slight smile. “They do everything possible to take care of me. I was at another convalescent center before this and I had a very unpleasant stay there. I was in my wheelchair most of the time or in my bed. I did not exercise or go to therapy. I called my son who then left his job to come down and get me a room here at Miracle Hill. My son has provided me with all of the mechanical machinery to make my stay here one of pleasure.”
And Foster makes sure that feeling of contentment lasts.
“Dr. Foster has a demanding personality,” said Kennedy Nwokeji, a licensed practical nurse at Miracle Hill. “He knows what he needs and he knows how to get it. He is an above average resident here. He wants his mirror in a certain place and he wants his lighting. He wants everything a certain way. He’s a very intelligent man.”
Nwokeji said Foster always wants to stay current and informed about what’s going on with the nation’s president and what’s going on with FAMU.
Foster is satisfied with his life post Marching “100.”
In the mornings he wakes up, takes his pills and gets drops in his eyes . His life has slowed down from its once demanding pace. In a room filled with cards and flowers, newspapers and band books, a flat-screen TV and a DVD player, Foster feels comfortable and at home.
“I like looking at TV shows,” he said. “I watch Oprah and ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and I like to look at the news several times a day. I always turn to CNN. I am in very good health and very pleased and very happy to be here.”