Pioneering Band Director & Frost Alumnus Dr. Wright Passes at 104

Pioneering Band Director & Frost Alumnus Dr. Wright Passes at 104

By UM News

Pioneering Band Director & Frost Alumnus Dr. Wright Passes at 104

By UM News
Dr. Wright’s experience at the University of Miami, and as the band director at Miami Senior High from 1938-54 set in motion a tremendous career, with influences that reverberated well into the 21st century.

Al G. Wright was an alumnus of the University of Miami School of Music (now the Frost School of Music) where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees( B.M. ’37, M.M. ’47). Dr. Wright’s experience at the University of Miami, and as the band director at Miami Senior High from 1938-54 set in motion a tremendous career, with influences that reverberated well into the 21st century.

“His legacy reminds us of the importance and responsibility of our calling to help students become influential leaders in a rapidly-changing future, stated Steven Moore, Professor in Practice, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies at the Frost School of Music.  “In his passing Al joins a pantheon of famous University Miami wind band luminaries including Henry Fillmore, Fred McCall, Clifton Williams, Alfred Reed, Frederick Fennel, and Sam Pilafian, who have served wind band members in various capacities.”

Dr. Wright was a pioneer in the band profession, having served as President of numerous professional organizations. In 1961, he founded the National Band Association (NBA), serving as the founding president, secretary-treasurer, and Honorary Life President.  He was eventually inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame of Distinguished Band Conductors at Troy University. He served as the President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of the John Philip Sousa Foundation and founded the United States Collegiate Wind Bands. He was inducted into the prestigious American Bandmasters Association in 1949, served as ABA President in 1981, and Honorary Life President until his death. He held memberships in the Big Ten Band Directors Association, the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA), the Music Educator’s National Association (MENC), and was a 4-year member of the Jury for World Music Festivals in Kerkrade, Holland. Dr. Wright also served as President of the Florida Bandmasters Association, the Florida Orchestra Association, and the Florida Music Educators Association. He was also inducted into the Florida Bandmasters Hall of Fame and the University of Miami Band Hall of Fame.

Steven Moore further stated:  “We have lost a titan in the wind band world.  Al’s leadership was prodigious in the profession, as he was an innovator in the pageantry arts, founded the National Band Association, and was honored by all the important band organizations in America. But he was also a tremendous person, who was gracious to students and colleagues alike—even during an era in which conductor leadership styles were influenced by the autocratic methods of the military and Toscanini. I’m honored to have conducted the famous Purdue Wind Band in concert with Al G. Wright and his equally accomplished wife, Gladys Wright just a few years ago. It is obvious to all who interact with the Purdue Bands that Al's legacy of excellence, professionalism, and grace continues under the leadership of Jay Gephart.”

Alfred George James was born in London, England on June 23rd, 1916. After he finished the first grade his family immigrated to America on the Mauretania and settled in Pontiac, Michigan. The family stayed with Al's Uncle, George Wright, for six weeks before buying a small house. His father started working for the Pontiac Motor Company as a tool and machinist while his mother was a professional seamstress. The local band director, Dale Harris, who was also the founder of the American School Band Directors Association (ASBDA), visited Al's parents and recruited him to play horn the high school band. After graduation from Pontiac High School, Dr. Wright earned a full music scholarship to the University of Miami in Florida where he earned both a bachelor's degree (1937) and a master's degree (1947). He taught band and orchestra at Miami Senior High School from 1938-1954, where Dr. Wright led the program to national prominence. The Miami Senior High Band performed at the prestigious Midwest Clinic in Chicago in 1951.

Numerous organizations honored Al Wright with honorary memberships including Kappa Kappa Psi, Phi Beta Mu, and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. He was elected to the Academy of Winds and Percussive Arts and received the Star of the Order of Merit from the Sousa Foundation. Kappa Kappa Psi presented him with their Distinguished Service Medal and in 1982, Purdue University awarded him the Distinguished Alumnus Award. In addition, he was the recipient of an honorary LLD degree from Troy University. In 2016, both Al and Gladys Stone Wright were awarded the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award by the Midwest Clinic. Both Al and Gladys were also awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the international band fraternity, Phi Beta Mu and ASBDA.

Wright served as a guest conductor, lecturer, and adjudicator in most of the 50 states, in five Canadian provinces, Japan, Europe, and England. He is listed in Marquis' Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the World. In 2003, Dr. Wright was honored by Purdue Band Alumni when a bust of his likeness was placed outside the Purdue Bands entrance at the Elliott Hall of Music. The Purdue Bands & Orchestras department chair position bears his name. The largest rehearsal hall in the new Purdue Bands & Orchestras facility will be named for Al G. Wright.

In 1938, Al Wright married Marie Farmer. Their daughters and families include daughter Adele Marie Wright, married to George Ronald Needham; grandson Scott Needham, wife, Anne-Marie Szabo and great-granddaughter, Melanie Needham; grandson, David Needham, wife, Kimberly Routh, and great-granddaughters Delaney and Kaitlyn Needham; granddaughter, Jennifer Needham Graf, husband Shawn, and great-grandsons Jordan and Peyton Graf. Daughter, Cynthia Elaine Wright, married to the late Lawrence Edward Williams; grandson, Charles Williams, wife, Melody Shanks, and great-grandchildren, Kiley Shanks and Calvin Williams; granddaughter, Laura Williams, husband, Chris Saucedo and great-grandchildren, Nick and Mia Saucedo.

Al married Gladys Stone Wright in 1953. They were married for 67 years. Al and Gladys traveled the world together and she was the love of his life. She survives. Gladys Wright's family includes a brother Murvel Stone Jr. and a sister Carole Stone Willavage, 13 nephews and nieces, and over 25 great-nephews and nieces. A "Celebration of Life" will be held in the coming months to honor Dr. Wright. You may sign the guest book and leave memories at www.soller-baker.com.