As FAMU Searches for New Band Director, Band Member Thinks There’s One Obvious Choice

Mud puddles dotted the grassy field. It had rained earlier that day, and “The Patch” was still showing signs of the recent downpour. But still Florida A&M’s Marching “100” practiced.

The band’s formations took crooked, meandering turns around the 30-year practice field — all under the gaze of then-band director Julian White. “Ya gotta get in the mud,” a percussionist remembers White yelling.

The students were still trying to avoid getting soaked.

And then White stopped the practice and climbed down from the tower overlooking the field. It was just mud, he told hundreds of students who formed the vaunted band. Clothes can be washed, he reminded them.

And as snare drum player Wesley Cargill remembers, White found a puddle and sat directly in it.

“Dr. White was a real big music dude,” Cargill said.

Seven months after the death of drum major Robert Champion, FAMU has begun its search for a new marching band director for the university’s famed Marching “100.”
Administration, faculty, staff, students and some alumni are expected to make up the 13-member committee that will be deciding the band’s future.

Provost Larry Robinson said that soon, administrators will pick committee members and that the committee will receive its first orientation. The university hopes to have a new band director start by the end of the semester.

“I think we’re going to get some very good people in this national search,” Robinson said. “Our goal is to have identified someone, such that, we are ready to bring them on board, sometime in this next academic year.”

Someone could be chosen by the fall semester, but Robinson is doubtful that that will happen.

“Remember, that we have to let it sit out there, until sometime in August, to make sure we get a good pool of candidates,” Robinson said. He said that it’s possible the band director job will remain open until mid-to-late August.

Knowledge of FAMU’s unique marching style is also important in the search, but Robinson said the committee would be instructed to not give extra favor to alumni or music experts who didn’t march with the “100.”

“We shouldn’t prematurely rule anybody out or anybody in,” the provost said.

Many band students view Associate Director of Bands Shelby Chipman as second in command to White.

Cargill believes that Chipman is the only person capable of “extending the legacy” of FAMU’s band.

“You may want to talk to Dr. Chipman about that,” Robinson chuckled.

Chipman declined an interview with the Famuan.

White resigned officially as band director in May in the fallout from the November 2011 hazing death of drum major Robert Champion, who died after a ritualistic beating called “Crossing ‘Bus C,'” after the annual Florida Classic in Orlando. The university had placed White on inactive leave pending his dismissal after Champion died, but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ordered a reversal to that decision pending the outcome of its criminal investigation into the Champion killing.

White had been planning to sue FAMU to get his job back until he made the abrupt decision to quit. The university blamed him for poor leadership. He blamed administrators for not listening to his urgings about hazing. That week, a Board of Trustees investigation revealed that 101 members of the band were not students during the Florida Classic, and some of them participated in Champion’s hazing.

White has also spoken to Florida Public Radio, cautioning that it was “not prudent” to reinstate the “100.” Former FAMU President James Ammons in May suspended the band until the 2013-2014 school year.

He also told The Famuan that he would split the posts of music department chair and director of bands into jobs for two people. White had occupied both positions when he worked here.

Chipman is a “by-the-book guy,” who uses tough love to drive the “100,” according to band members. Cargill said he respects Chipman. He has known Chipman since the older man’s time as band director of Miami Central High School.

Cargill reminisced about times that Chipman would not only tell the students to run, Chipman would also run with them. Cargill said he was usually leading the pack, and would run to the back to help the slowest reach everyone in front.

“He’s literally the epitome of what (former band director William) Foster wanted for us,” Cargill said.

Chipman’s tough love style left Cargill with the impression that he is “born to do it.”

Besides knowledge of the marching style that made our university award-winning, Provost Robinson said that the candidate who’ll replace White must be “a great musician, fond of students, have a passion for advancing the education of those in the band, management and fundraising skills, as well as be a sort of coach for students who need help and guidance.”

“Do what’s right for the department, and not what’s right for the public eye,” Cargill suggested to the committee.