The Jerry Bobo Memorial Scholarship Fund had its inception with the idea of a surprise 82nd birthday party for Mr. Bobo to take place in September of 2017. Funds were solicited from band alumni from all over the country and by the time the fund was set up as a non-profit scholarship fund, $12,700 was collected.

The news about the scholarship fund was formally presented to Mr. Bobo with over 300 band alumni in attendance. However, the committee realized that the scholarship fund lacked the money to be self-perpetuating, which was the original idea. Even so, scholarships were awarded to deserving high school seniors who planned on majoring in music education both in 2018 and 2019.

The committee began soon afterward brainstorming ways to raise the necessary funds in order to formally endow the scholarship. Eventually, with the help of the Bobo family, Jerry Bobo’s entire music library was professionally digitized.

As of November 2019, CDs of the music recorded from 1966-1992 are now available for purchase. All monies raised through this effort go directly into the scholarship fund. Please give so that Jerry Bobo’s vision can live on.

Remembering Jerry Bobo

by Frank Buck, Ed.D.

Hearing the Fayette County High school Band at State Competition was an experience hard to forget. Fayette is not a large town, but you’d never know it from watching the band take the stage. Often the stage was barely large enough to hold everyone.

Who could forget the iconic smile on the face of its leader, Jerry Bobo? Was that smile a sign of confidence that he knew the band was well prepared? Or maybe it signified the love he had for every young person as they filed onto that stage. Maybe it was some of both.

Jerry Bobo was a product of Fayette. After graduating from Fayette County High, he attended the University of Alabama. His goal? To be a band director. That goal was realized sooner than expected. In 1956, two years into his collegiate career, the job at Fayette came open. Jerry Bobo was hired. It would be the only band job he would ever hold.

The Fayette program numbered 54 at that time. For the next two years, Mr. Bobo drove back and forth from Fayette to Tuscaloosa to finish his degree. Over the years, the program grew to well over 400 students. For most of his 35 years on the podium, Jerry Bobo taught the entire program by himself. During his tenure, the Fayette County High School Band earned a “Superior” rating at State Competition a remarkable 31 times.

The school enrollment placed the band in “Class B.” However, the Fayette Band elected to play some of the most challenging music of any band in the state. Through the years, they impressed judging panels with such “warhorses” as “March Slave,” “Light Cavalry Overture,” “Finale from Symphony #4” (Tschaikovsky), “Morning Noon and Night in Vienna,” “The Universal Judgment,” “The Barber of Seville,” “La Forza Del Destino,” “Rienzi,” “The Marriage of Figaro,” and “The Poet and the Peasant.”

What made the band program at Fayette so good for so long?

Setting Expectations

A Fayette rehearsal always started on time. Regardless of the demands for his attention, nothing stopped Jerry Bobo from stepping on the podium at precisely the right moment. He was ready and insisted everyone else was as well.

Though the groups were large, discipline was never a problem. April Renfroe Tolbert, a stellar clarinetist who became an outstanding band director herself, adopted many of the techniques she learned from her teacher. She related that Mr. Bobo kept you so busy you had no time for mischief. In the early grades, if he asked the trumpets to play “line 10,” everyone else in the band had their instruments to their faces fingering line 10 as well.

The Fayette program was large, but nobody could hide. Jerry Bobo called on students at random to play their parts in front of everyone. It was a practice that started in 6th grade beginning band and continued through high school. He would also play the “chair game” without warning. If he picked your section, you could gain or lose several chairs by how well you played your assignment. The message was clear: Everyone was important. Everyone had a responsibility. Everyone was capable.

Mr. Bobo had a collection of sayings. James Hall, who worked with Mr. Bobo during the last 10 years of his career, recounted one of his favorites: “Every tub needs to sit on its own bottom.”

Another Jerry Bobo saying was, “Practicing is like putting money in the bank.”

Leaving your instrument in the band room overnight was unheard of. If you did leave your instrument, you wouldn’t find it the next day in the spot you left it. You had to go and ask Mr. Bobo for it. It’s something that seldom happened with a student more than once.

Living up to the expectations of the “leader of the band” had nothing to do with fear. It had everything to do with not wanting to disappoint Mr. Bobo. This theme was echoed by one former member after another. His care about the band program and every student in it gave every member something to live up to. Expectations were high. However, Mr. Bobo stressed that the expectations in the band room were no different than expectations in the workplace. “This is a dress rehearsal for life,” he would say.

Building Tradition

Consistency was a hallmark of the band program under Jerry Bobo. When you arrived in the morning, Mr. Bobo greeted you at the band room door, calling you by name. The same happened in the afternoon as you left with instrument in hand.

The high school band rehearsed every Thursday evening…no more, no less. Employers in town came to know that if you had a Fayette band member on the payroll, they needed to be off on Thursday evenings. Thursday evenings was band practice night for you, just as it had been for your parents when they were in the Fayette Band.

When helping an incoming 6th grader to select an instrument, Mr. Bobo would stress, “This is going to be a 7-year journey. According to James Hall, Mr. Bobo’s mantra was: “Don’t quit.” Throughout that journey, he would talk to the students about the tradition of Fayette County High School Band. They knew they were part of something special. They also knew they had the responsibility of continuing that tradition.

There’s something to be said for changing with the times. There’s also something to be said for figuring out what works in your community and sticking with it. Mr. Bobo used the same beginning band method book throughout his career. When the band got new uniforms, the new ones were identical in style and color to the ones that had gone before them. The style of halftime show remained unchanged throughout the years. These traditions gave Fayette a certain uniqueness. It also united generations of band students who shared in those traditions.

Playing an instrument well was the heart and soul of the program. When the marching band took the field, there were no flags or dance lines. The band consisted of playing members and majorettes. Every majorette also played an instrument. In fact, one of the requirements to be a Fayette majorette was you had to try out for All-State. There was no drum major. Four short whistles from the head majorette kicked off the show.

Leaving a Legacy

During his time at Fayette County High School, Jerry Bobo was elected President of the Alabama Bandmasters Association, Alabama Music Educators Association, and Rho Chapter of Phi Beta Mu (Alabama chapter of the national band fraternity). He was also inducted into the Phi Beta Mu Hall of Fame. Locally, he was named “Fayette Man of the Year,” “Fayette County High School Teacher of the Year,” and President of the Fayette County Teachers Association.

After his retirement, Jerry Bobo was elected mayor of Fayette. He remained an avid supporter of the Fayette program. Often, he volunteered to carry on rehearsals in the absence of the director. If you drive by Fayette County High School today, you’ll pass the “Jerry Bobo Music Building,” named for him following his retirement. And as you drive through town, you just might be driving on “Jerry Bobo Drive.” Today, the “Jerry Bobo Memorial Scholarship” ensures that good things keep happening for this program and that the legacy of this master teacher lives on for generations to come.

Jerry Bobo Quotes

On his 82nd birthday, more than 300 former students turned out for a surprise birthday party. This story wouldn’t be complete without including some of his sayings, well-remembered by former students. You’ve read a couple already.

Here are some others, each accompanied by that iconic Jerry Bobo smile:

  • “That’s slower than cream rising on buttermilk.”
  • “That sounds like a dying calf in a hailstorm!”
  • “Can’t never could do nothing.”
  • “Stop sitting there like a bump on a pickle.”
  • “Don’t give me that flappy dap and ropey dope.” (Directed to the drummers)
  • “Ya’ll are as lost as a ball in high weeds!”
  • “You don’t know if you are washing or hanging out.”
  • “You look like grandma with her teeth out chomping on a biscuit.” (Directed to clarinetists with incorrect embouchures)
  • “They wouldn’t know the beat if it came up and kicked them in the knee.”
  • “Your fingers are as slow as molasses on a cold morning.”
  • “Cho-co-late, cho-co-late, cho-co-late pie” (to teach a rhythmic figure).
  • “If you can play a piece perfectly (with no mistakes) five times in a row, it is ready to perform!”
  • “We don’t do things bush league.”
  • “The hay is in the barn.”

But there’s one more. It’s a belief that kept him excited about band for 35 years. April Renfroe Tolbert talked about the many times Mr. Bobo said,  “If there’s anything in this world better than young people, I’ve never seen it.”

Jerry Bobo died on June 9, 2019, at the age of 83.

A Biography of Jerry Bobo

Fayette’s Leader of the Band

Jerry Bobo was born in 1936 and reared in Fayette County, Alabama. He graduated from Fayette County High School in 1954 and enrolled in the University of Alabama. The only job he ever wanted was to be the Band Director at Fayette County High School. He lived his dream.

Under the direction of Miss Betty Tinsley from 1953-1956, the Fayette band membership grew from 30 members to 70. In Miss Tinsley’s first year, she was assisted by a student band director named Jerry Bobo, who was to become the full-time director. In the early 60s, the band continued to grow and increased to 84 members.

At the University of Alabama, Jerry was first chair clarinetist in the Million Dollar Band. Just two years into his collegiate career, he was offered the Fayette job and he quickly took it. He said years later that he always felt that the Fayette kids deserved to have a superior band program and he spent his life seeing that through. In 1956, he began directing the Fayette County High School band program while he drove back and forth to Tuscaloosa to complete his degree. In 1956, the bands contained only 56 musicians in grades seven through eleven, but by the early 60s band membership had grown to 84. By 1966, Bobo’s senior bands had received 10 straight “Superior” ratings under his leadership.

Jerry Bobo received his Bachelor’s degree in 1958 and his Master’s degree in 1962. He was selected as Fayette’s Man of the Year in 1969 as a tribute to his strong commitment to the community, the band program, and most of all to his students. In 1986 he was inducted into the Alabama Band Masters Hall of Fame and was honored during the All-State Music Festival. In 1987, Jerry was named Outstanding Music Educator in the State of Alabama. His bands received unprecedented acclaim on a regular basis from State Content judges and others throughout the state of Alabama and the South.

By 1970, the Fayette County High School Senior Band had 128 members with 84 intermediate musicians and 50 members in the Beginner Band. His bands received a “Superior” rating an unprecedented 31 times out of his 35 years, with 4 “Excellent” ratings. Under his leadership, the Fayette Band regularly placed 14-20 students in the Red, White and Blue bands in the annual All-State Band Competition where each student competed individually to earn a chair in a special area of interest.

A volunteer Stage Band grew out of the 70s and practiced on Monday nights. Members were selected by tryout and were also members of the Senior Band. The Stage Band performed at school functions and community events and consisted of brass, percussion, saxophones, and keyboards.

By the time Jerry Bobo retired in 1991, band membership had grown to a staggering 400 members in 5 bands. Under his leadership, Fayette Bands have performed in inaugural parades for Alabama Governors and for the President of the United States. One of the earliest band trips Bobo made was in the early 60s when he carried a group of French horn players to San Antonio, Texas. Since then, the bands traveled to Mexico City, Disney World, Montreal, Toronto, Denver, Six Flags Over Georgia, and Six Flags Over Texas for Music Competitions.

Jerry Bobo died on June 9, 2019. His legacy will be that he encouraged young people to achieve high standards in education through music as he taught his students the value of personal character, cooperation, responsibility, and pride in achievement.

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