Searching for a leader

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

The band’s formations took crooked, meandering turns around the 30-year-old 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.

Stopping practice, White climbed down 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.

Snare drum player Wesley Cargill remembers White finding a puddle and sitting directly in it.

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

Seven months after the death of drum major Robert Champion, FAMU began its search for a new band director.

Administration, faculty, staff, students and some alumni are expected to make up the 13-member committee that will decide the band’s future.

Interim President Larry Robinson said administrators will soon pick committee members with hopes of having a new band director by the end of this 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.”

Robinson added, “Remember that we have to let it sit out there until sometime in August to make sure we get a good pool of candidates.”

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

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

Daniel Goodman, a former Kappa Kappa Psi president, said White’s attention to detail made him an outstanding band director.

According to Goodman, the marching concept is focused heavily on “knee light,” and pointing toes while keeping feet back.

If students missed a single step or note, they would practice repeatedly until it satisfied White.

“I’m a band director now, so I understand,” Goodman said.

Goodman believes White should’ve petitioned to get his job back. He said there was nothing more White could have done.

“He warned everyone, every year.”

Goodman said there were three meetings at the start of every fall. One for section leaders, one for section leaders and freshmen, and another for leaders, freshmen and upperclassmen.

White had been planning to sue FAMU to get his job back until he abruptly quit in May. The university blamed him for poor leadership while he blamed administrators for ignoring his warnings of hazing. A Board of Trustees investigation revealed that 101 members of the band were not students during last year’s Florida Classic. Some even participated in Champion’s hazing.

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

Goodman, Cargill and many band members see Shelby Chipman, the associate director of bands, as second in command to White.

“I would want to see Dr. Chipman replace Dr. White because Chipman is familiar with our style and could take the band to an even greater level,” Goodman said.

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

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

Cargill reminisced about times that Chipman would tell the band to run laps as punishment and join them. Cargill said he usually lead 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) Foster wanted for us,” Cargill said.

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

Chipman declined an interview with The Famuan.

Bethune-Cookman University’s Marching Wildcats have reportedly received more interested freshmen because of the FAMU band suspension.

Donovan Wells, B-CU’s band director of 15 years, said the rivalry between the Wildcats and the “100” is in good nature and is healthy competition.

Wells said a school’s band director and students should have a clearly defined relationship where students respect the director.

“You have to be a good person, you have to be knowledgeable of your craft, and you have to be willing to work a lot of hours that you’re not being paid for,” Wells said. “And you have to be committed to your students.”

Wells said his heart goes out to the students who weren’t involved in the hazing incident and will now miss out on their college band experience. He also said he understands that the “people in charge” have to show the severity of the situation – a loss of life.

“The “100” is probably the only band that I know that can go through a one-year suspension and bounce back,” Wells said.

Besides knowledge of the marching style that made the band famous, President Robinson said 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.”

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