By Carole Kelly
January 20, 2023, marks the 70-year anniversary for the Clinton High School band marching in the inaugural parade of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“There are still band members around who get excited about their memories of the experience,” says Jasper S. (Jack) Lee, one of the band members, now a resident of Georgia.
Sharing his memories and newspaper clippings about the experience, Lee recalled that Clinton band director Dewey Camp received word of the inaugural marching opportunity in late December 1952. He called a meeting of the band members to share the word and moved on to facing preparatory steps, a priority being obtaining permission from school authorities.
“That came easily for such an opportunity,” says Lee. Details of travel, uniforms, practice, and precision marching, as well as necessary fundraising, were major points of concentration.
Rehearsals were constant every day for two weeks, with “straight lines and marching snappily the goals,” according to Lee, who played the clarinet. “Of course, we diligently practiced our program for the parade and for the reviewing stand where the President, his wife, and others would view us. We played three different John Philip Sousa marches for the parade route. At the reviewing stand, we played “Happy Days Are Here Again,’ followed by chanting ‘We like Ike!’”
A televised replay of the parade was shown that night at the hotel, which, unfortunately, families back home could not enjoy, because Mississippi did not have a television station at the time.
Byline stories in The Clinton News by Mrs. W. Y. Quisenberry, whose son Bill was in the band, foretold the upcoming trip. Once, with a dateline of Clinton, January 15, was titled, “Clinton High’s Band Takes Off Saturday.” Another story, with a dateline of January 17, Chattanooga, Tennessee, was headlined “Clinton Band Rolls Merrily to Capital,” which described the long trip to Washington. Mrs. Bea, as the popular newspaper editor was known, was on the trip, and, through her reports, ensured the keeping of special trip memories. One detail shared the challenge of a band member oversleeping and rushing to get to the bus on time. He made it.
“Mrs. Bea was a mother to all of us,” says Lee.
Fundraising was not the huge challenge that had been feared. The community came together, and the mission was soon accomplished. Band boosters, local businesses and government officials contributed. All travel costs were covered, including an allowance of $3 a day to each band member for food. Details about the band included the addition of six bell lyres, new accessories for the uniforms, and glamorous new ensembles for majorettes.
Photographs with cutlines and news stories in the newspaper explain that the Clinton High School Band was Mississippi’s only unit in the event, marching behind the car of Lt. Gov. Carroll Gartin and the state float. A photo shows School Superintendent S. M. Crain; Wanda Harrison, drum majorette instructor; Winston Swinney, Hinds Junior College band director, who assisted; Mrs. Allen Bee, a coach for marchers; and Camp, band director. Another photo lists several band members modeling their uniforms, including Jerry Rankin, Tim Spire, Barry Hannah, Jimmy Gordon, William Quisenberry and Jack Lee.
All the members of the band were listed with their sections. Several of them were junior high ages who were good enough to be in the high school band and make the trip.
Lee recalls, “The travel was an adventure. Two chartered buses transported us from Clinton to Washington, D.C., virtually non-stop, except for food and restroom breaks. Each bus had five parent or teacher chaperones.”
Departure was early Saturday morning, January 17, 1953, with arrival at Hotel Harrington in Washington on Sunday evening. The trip was before the building of the Interstate Highway System that was pursued by President Eisenhower during his administration.
“The roads we traveled were typically two-lane and somewhat narrow,” says Lee, who pointed out that bus drivers changed along the way.
Mrs. Bea wrote that gaily decorated letters along the sides of the Trailways coaches proclaimed they were transporting the Clinton High School Official Inaugural Band. Five persons traveling by car also made the trip, with the car and buses departing on a rainy Saturday morning, January 17. Seventy-three band members on the two buses were accompanied by five parent or teacher chaperones on each bus. The long trip was enhanced with games of checkers, chess, and magazines to help pass the time for the long ride to Washington.
“We have traveled 500 miles on the first 12-hour leg of our trip,” wrote Mrs. Bea, noting that, after a stop in Birmingham, they “were settling down for an all-night ride.”
Stops at the major cities en route and sightseeing enhanced the experience, which also included Sunday school lessons on Sunday. Mrs. W. E. Hannah, described as a leader in the state Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) work and parent of band member Barry Hannah, taught a class, and Mrs. R. A. Eddleman taught the lesson on the other bus. Videographer for the event was Edward Blake. Two days of sightseeing in Washington also made for an educational experience.
Bill Quisenberry recalls he was eleven years old at the time and had to run to keep up, since he and his clarinet were at the back of the procession. It made playing the clarinet pretty much an impossible challenge. Memories of the event have faded, but he does recall sickness hitting some of the members, including him, either on the way to Washington or on the trip back.
The group returned to Clinton on Friday, January 23, at 7:30 p.m.
It was Clinton’s fifth year for a full-time band and Camp’s first year to direct. A native of Itawamba County, he graduated from Mississippi Southern and received a teacher fellowship at LSU. Among his impressive career accomplishments, he had toured Europe with his private orchestra. The question remains about how the band director received the invitation. Exact details are unknown, but it is known that Camp was affiliated with the Mississippi Southern College when it played at the Franklin Roosevelt Inauguration in 1933.
“He had developed quite the reputation as an outstanding band director of high school and college bands in the state before coming to Clinton two years before,” states Lee.
Camp later was the manager and developer of Cleary Heights Subdivision in Florence, Mississippi, where he created over a dozen lakes as well as a country club, a 27-hole golf course, tennis courts and a residential community.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Special thanks to Mr. Jasper (Jack) Lee for alerting us of the memorable date and supplying the clippings and photos.