He wanted to be a conductor but was told there were no such opportunities for colored men. Hearing that from a professor gave William P. Foster, who died Aug. 28 at 91, the determination to become one of the great band directors of all time with the Florida A&M University (FAMU) Marching 100 band.
At FAMU, Foster pioneered distinctive marching-band techniques. If you've ever seen a modern college-football half-time show--with energetic bands playing popular music, doing fancy choreographed moves and high-stepping their way on, off and around the field--then you've seen Foster. Or at least his influence. Before him, marching bands played it safe. After him, there was nothing they couldn't do.
From 1946 to 1998, Foster built up a group that performed at Super Bowls, was seen on all the major TV networks and marched in three presidential Inauguration parades, including Barack Obama's.
Over the years, I grew to love the way he showed grace under pressure, as well as his manner of communicating in a way that had everyone around him looking for the nearest dictionary. His legacy will live on in all who knew him.
Gaines is a former head drum major of the Marching 100 band and the current president of the Marching 100 Alumni Band Association Inc.