William Patrick Foster was born on August 25, 1919 in Kansas City, Kansas. His family endured poverty even though both of his parents worked. Despite the hard financial conditions Dr. Foster faced, he managed to find a love for music. At the age of twelve he used the money he saved to buy himself a used saxophone; a decision that changed his life forever. He honed his skills and gained an opportunity to train with the Horner Institute of Fine Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. During his high school years Foster begin playing the clarinet which became his primary instrument. Dr. Foster improved his skills so much that he was appointed first chair clarinetist in his school’s orchestra.
Dr. Foster would soon begin learning more and more about music and improving his skills. By the age of seventeen, his improvements were noticed by his band director who named him as a student director of the summer high school orchestra. His next step was to become director of the All-City Band in 1937. In 1941, Dr. Foster received his Bachelor of Music Education Degree from the University of Kansas. In 1950, he received a Master of Arts in Music Degree from Wayne State University. In 1955, he received a Doctor of Education Degree with a major in music from Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Foster’s career as a marching band director started at Fort Valley State University. His next stop was becoming the director of the marching band at Tuskegee Institute. During a football game between Tuskegee and Florida A&M University the sound, style and precision of Tuskegee’s band caught the eye of Florida A&M’s President William Gray.
A meeting was arranged between Dr. Foster and President Gray, which eventually lead to the hiring of Foster as the director of Florida A&M’s marching band. In 1946 Dr. Foster debuted as the leader of a band without a reputation and only sixteen members. But Dr. Foster had vision and the encouragement of a president who wanted him to succeed. He incorporated 30 new marching techniques that would revolutionize marching bands worldwide. By incorporating fast-tempo marching, high-stepping, dancing and showmanship; over time the band gained a new nickname, “Marching 100’s.” The band was also the most talked about and mimicked black college band in the land. By 1960 Dr. Foster’s vision changed the way black college bands performed. He created a culture that still stands to this day.
Because of Dr. Foster “The Marching 100’s” became the most popular marching band in the world. The band has traveled across the world sharing Dr. Foster vision with others. The band has been featured in over 30 nationally televised programs, received features in magazines newspapers and films, performed at halftime at the Super Bowl, and performed at two presidential inaugurations. In 1985 The Marching 100’s” received the John Philip Sousa Foundation’s Sudler Trophy; which is the highest honor a marching band can receive. In 1989 Dr. Foster’s band represented the United States at the French Bastille Day Parade in Paris. This event was the celebration the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.
Dr. Foster was also an author, he wrote the book Band Pageantry, A Guide for the Marching Band; this book is considered the “Bible” for marching bands. He also authored 18 articles for professional journals and published 4 marching band shows. He is also the composer the four pieces, Marche Brillante, National Honors March, March Continental, and Centennial Celebration. Dr. Foster is a true legend. He was named to the National Association for Distinguished Band Conductors hall of fame. He was also inducted into the Florida Music Educators Association and the Afro-American Hall of Fames. He was elected president of the American Bandmasters Association in 1994. In 1996 he was appointment by President Clinton to serve on the National Council on the Arts.
In 2001 Dr. Foster retired from directing the world renowned “Marching 100’s” but his legacy never stopped. He was succeeded by Dr. Julian White who continued to lead the band to prominence. In 2010 Dr. Foster died at the age of 91 having realized his dreams and much more. He had a vision and he trusted his talents enough to change the way bands in America performed at half-time. Dr. Foster made half-time “show-time” and created a culture that many have tried to duplicate. Florida A&M University is known for its academics, athletics, civil rights history, but most of all it is known for the “Marching 100’s.” Dr. William P. Foster we stand on your shoulders.
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