African Americans and the Band
April 14, 2019
When the Municipal Band was first organized in August of 1922 racial segregation was, unfortunately, the norm throughout the United States. It’s safe to say that including any African American musicians in the Band never occurred to the white businessmen and civic leaders who organized the Band and formed its original members. This is despite the fact that there were many talented black musicians in Charlottesville and all across the country. The Band regrets this early display of racial prejudice but—historically—those were the customs at the time.
It would not be until February 1968, some 46 years after it was organized, that the Municipal Band invited its first African American members to join the group as players. Early in that year James W. Simmons, who was at the time director of the Albemarle High School Band and a long-time Municipal Band member, had just been elected the Band’s President. He and the Band’s music director Sharon Hoose invited two outstanding African American educators and musicians to become members of the Municipal Band. Both men accepted. In the years since 1968 there has rarely, if ever, been a time that there were no black musicians in the Band. Let’s take a closer look at these two pioneering members.
The first to join was Elmer F. “Sonny” Sampson, who joined on February 6, 1968 and who remained a member for the next twenty years. Mr. Sampson was a native of Charlottesville, born here November 10, 1925. He had a life-long interest in music and could play many instruments, but his favorite was the trombone. His early musical experience came from playing in his older brother Percy’s swing band called “Sampson’s Happy Pals”. Mr. Sampson was also 1st chair trombone and student conductor in the band at Jefferson High School. During the latter stages of World War II Mr. Sampson served in a U.S. Navy Band and after the war he attended James Millikin College in Decatur, IL, where he received a bachelor’s degree in Music Education. He taught music in a number of Virginia schools for some 38 years, eventually becoming the band director at Albemarle High School. There he developed an outstanding music program and was an outspoken advocate for music and the arts. During his career, Mr. Sampson performed in bands for such notable persons as Bob Hope, Lena Horne, Red Skelton, and The Temptations. He was named to “Who’s Who Among Black Americans” in 1980. Municipal Band members remember Mr. Sampson as a friendly, fun-loving person with a penchant for practical jokes. He died December 11, 1999.
The second African American musician to join the Municipal Band arrived just a week after Mr. Sampson, on February 13, 1968. His name was Calvin Cage, and he would remain a member of the Band for 23 years. Mr. Cage was born in Memphis, TN, on April 27, 1924. He, too, was a man of many musical talents, a clarinet and saxophone player, who had a particular passion for big band, jazz, rock ‘n roll, and blues music, which he learned growing up in the Deep South. He served in the Army during World War II in the European Theater. After receiving a Music Education degree from Dillard University in New Orleans, Mr. Cage moved to Charlottesville, where he taught band and vocal music in a number of city schools before eventually becoming the band director at Western Albemarle High School. In addition to his teaching activities, Mr. Cage played in a number of local jazz and swing bands, including two he organized himself. He also was an avid golfer and after retiring from teaching worked for the University of Virginia at their Birdwood Golf Course. Mr. Cage died November 25, 2007. Municipal Band members also remember him fondly.
Other African American Band Members
In the years since Sonny Sampson and Calvin Cage joined the Municipal Band there have been other fine African American musicians in the Municipal Band. They include the following members.
- Andrew Bennett-Jackson – Bassoon; Materials Engineer at Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA
- Travis B. Clark – Trumpet; Elementary school music teacher in Richmond, VA; piano teacher, church musician, Son of Wayne Clark
- Wayne Clark – Baritone, Retired Accountant and Auditor, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Father of Travis Clark
- Janelle Ellis – French Horn; Band Director at Jack Jouett Middle School, Albemarle County, VA
- Dana N. Hackett – Flute; Former Television News Anchor and Reporter; Associate Director of Marketing at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, Los Angeles, CA
- Nicholas P. Jellins – Tuba; Lawyer, founder of The Jellins Group APLC, Menlo Park, CA
- John E. Mason – French Horn; University of Virginia History Professor
- Chauna R. Phiri – Flute and Saxophone; School Counselor, Nansemond River High School, Suffolk, VA
- Paul T. Richards – Trumpet; Composer and Circus Music Expert
- James Tolliver – Trumpet; Jazz Musician
- Clifford E. Watkins – Guest Conductor & Percussion; former Professor of Music at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, South Carolina State University, and Tennessee State University. Deceased 2016.
If there are others not listed here, please contact the Municipal Band with information, so that we can include those persons here.