A Brief FMHS Band History
excerpts taken from Rhapsody in Blue by Jason Ford
The Fort Mill Band program began in 1949 when two new courses were added to the curriculum of the Fort Mill Schools: textiles and general music. The school system hired Ben Stevenson, a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music at Boston and fifteen-year veteran of band, piano, organ, and voice instruction to teach music and begin a band program. By the end of August, over 30 kids had joined the band and were learning the language of music. Four and a half months later, the band totaled 60 kids and played its first concert and parade.
In the spring of 1953, Ben Stevenson passed the conductor’s baton to James Blanton, and left the Fort Mill Band to grow in its new setting: the new high school campus on Banks Street (what is now the middle school). For the next seven years (four under Blanton and three under Joseph Womble) the band took great strides in the development of a more balanced sound by adding more players to underplayed instruments and introducing new instruments for students to play. Mr. Blanton and Mr. Womble guided the band through its adolescence and all of its difficulties; but in 1959, the band named a new director, and this man forever changed the Fort Mill Band.
Keebler Mills came home to Fort Mill in 1959 and for almost thirteen years guided the band to some of its highest moments. He brought to the band program a warm personality, a love for music, genuine concern for the kids, and lots of class. He also brought a new sense of dignity, polish, discipline, and style. As band director, Mills took the band farther than it had ever been before. In 1971, Keebler Mills stepped down as Fort Mill’s director of bands and began to work exclusively with Fort Mill’s middle school bands. George Wingard, a graduate of New York University, was named as director of the high school band in Fort Mill. He served as band and chorus director for only a year before leaving the school district in the summer of 1972.
In the summer of 1972 John DeLoach, a graduate of the University of South Carolina, came to Fort Mill as director of the high school band program. DeLoach’s five years at Fort Mill mark the band’s transition from a traditional football game and parade high school band to a competitive high school band. The 53 member band advanced by leaps and bounds under Mr. Deloach’s leadership. He improved the sound, enhanced the visual package, explored the use of a color guard, and established a booster club for the band. By the time Mr. DeLoach resigned in the spring of 197?, he had doubled the size of the band to over 100 members, had taken the band to the National Bicentennial Parade in Philadelphia, founded the Blue and Gold Band Booster Club, had replaced the uniforms, had moved into a new band room, and had taken the band to the AA state championship. He left Fort Mill for a promotions job in Columbia and left it having accomplished all that he had set out to do and much more.
Ernie Thigpen came to Fort Mill fresh from graduate work at Northeast Louisiana University. Mr. Thigpen, a clarinet and saxophone player, made the reestablishment of a jazz band one of his earliest priorities. He continued the building process Ben Stevenson began in 1949 and John DeLoach expanded in 1972. The Fort Mill Band continued their marching success winning the AA state championship in 1977 and by 1979 the high school band had grown to 140 members. In 1981, Ernie Thigpen left Fort Mill to take the band director’s position at his alma mater, Dorman High School, in Spartanburg, SC.
From the fall of 1981 to the spring of 1987, the Fort Mill High School Band program improved to a higher level of performance. Terry Holliday, a graduate of Furman University, came to Fort Mill after teaching in Greenwood, Gaffney, and Greenville, South Carolina. He established Fort Mill as a marching band of regional and national prominence. The concert bands consistently received superiors at concert festival at the same time that the marching band continued to improve. Mr. Holliday led the band to great success without sacrificing his band members or his dedication to music education. In 1987, Terry Holliday resigned as band director to become the assistant principal at Fort Mill High School. He left the Fort Mill Band, in many ways, better than he found it.
Bob Cotter grew up in Clearwater, Florida, graduated from the University of South Florida, and pursued his Master’s degree at Northeast Louisiana University. Mr. Cotter brought with him a great deal of enthusiasm and motivation for the students in the Fort Mill band. He introduced the concept of a single theme show for the marching band in 1988. In 1991 Mr. Cotter reintroduced the band to the Bands of America regional competitions with tremendous success. Before Mr. Cotter’s departure in the spring of 1991 he had the band exciting the crowd as much as ever.
In the summer of 1992, Scott Lambert came to Fort Mill from the doctoral program at the University of South Carolina. He received his undergraduate training at East Tennessee State University and his Master’s degree from Radford University in Virginia. Previously having a band perform at the prestigious Mid-West International Band and Orchestra Clinic, Mr. Lambert brought a wealth of knowledge and musicianship to the Fort Mill program. While his tenure was short lived, he paved the way for continued musical growth.
Martin Dickey, a graduate of East Tennessee State University and Master’s degree graduate of Southern Oregon University, took over the reins at the beginning of the 1994-1995 school year. He has increased the number of students participating in All-State, All-Region, Solo & Ensemble, and continued to raise the musical maturity of the band. The Fort Mill Band has received superior ratings at state concert festival for seven consecutive years and in 1997 moved successfully into grade VI literature for the first time. Mr. Dickey continues the tradition of excellence at Fort Mill through a competent staff, supportive administration, great boosters, and highly motivated students.
In 2007, as the community continued to grow, an additional High School was needed. Nation Ford High School opened in 2007 and Martin Dickey left Fort Mill High School to establish and build the Nation Ford High School Band Program. John Pruitt from Cheraw High School was hired as Band Director of Fort Mill High School. John Pruitt has maintained the long standing tradition of excellence of the Fort Mill Band and in 2009, the Fort Mill Band captured their 22nd State Championship in South Carolina. Mr. Pruitt leads the band currently maintaining the long held traditions and excellent reputation of the Fort Mill Band Program.
To view band awards and accomplishments, got to the Accomplishments Page