TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — As Jerry Bobo and his family walked toward the Tom Bevill Center at Bevill State Community College’s Fayette campus on Sept. 23, the longtime band director had no idea what awaited him.
Bobo, who turned 82 that Saturday, was going to the center for what he thought would be a small group of friends wanting to celebrate his birthday. Nothing more, nothing less.
When he entered through the auditorium, Bobo was greeted by more than 300 people singing “Happy Birthday” to him. Many of these people were students he had taught over the years at Fayette County High School, where he served as the director of the marching and symphonic bands from 1956 to 1991.
“I am totally blown away,” said Bobo, with his hands in the air.
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Bobo, a native of Fayette, studied music at the University of Alabama during the early 1950s and served as lead clarinetist in the Million Dollar Band. In 1956, he went back to Fayette to teach at the school while still working his way through college. During his tenure in Fayette County, the band grew from 54 members the first year to more than 400 by the time he retired in 1991.
Throughout the years, his bands earned superior ratings at the local, state and national levels and performed across the country. In addition to serving in leadership roles with the Alabama Band Masters Association and the Alabama Music Educators Association, Bobo has received many honors, such as being named Fayette’s Man of the Year in 1968, as well as a recipient of the Alabama Band Director’s Hall of Fame and Alabama’s Outstanding Music Educator.
After his retirement from teaching, Bobo served as mayor of Fayette from 1992 to 1996.
During the afternoon, former members of the marching band joined the current iteration of the Fayette County High marching band to play a few songs. Some of those members spent several months relearning their instruments so they could perform for their former teacher.
“They may not be as good as they once were, but they’re as good once as ever,” said Jeanny Gilpin, a former student of Bobo’s.
Many of Bobo’s former students remember him as being inspiring and demanding. But they acknowledge that Bobo ultimately taught them a lot about life in the process.
“He was a strong influence in my life,” said Bryan Williamson, class of 1979, who played the tuba. “He was so talented and pushed for us to be our best.”
As part of the celebration, the alumni group announced that they had collected more than $12,700 to start the Jerry Bobo Scholarship, which will be used to keep the band running and support new members through the years.
“We could not think of a more fitting tribute to a great educator, who taught and motivated generations of fledgling musicians and molded them into good citizens,” said Charles Anthony, class of 1972 who played the alto saxophone.
Peggy Perkins Otto was one example of a student who made it a point to visit her former teacher, no matter what. Otto, class of 1958, who played the baritone horn, suffered a stroke a couple of months ago, but would not let it keep her from attending Bobo’s birthday celebration.
Otto, whose nickname was “Bubbles” during high school, vividly remembers how during her last game before her family was to move to Cullman, Bobo dedicated the Tin Pan Alley song “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” to her.
“The fact that he had highlighted me during a football game is still so memorable,” Otto said. “I’ve always had a heart for Mr. Bobo.”
Toward the end of the program, Bobo said he could not articulate the gratitude he felt for the honor and that he loved everyone who had participated in the band at Fayette County High.
“The band program is a special place,” Bobo said. “Music has a special way of reaching your inner being, if you do it right.”
Bobo encouraged the audience to keep supporting local music groups and to keep music alive. In closing, he reminded the audience where his heart has been throughout the years.
“I want you to know my heart is here in Fayette,” he said. “It’s always been here.”
Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, http://www.tuscaloosanews.com