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In Memory of a Legend: Dr. William Francis McBeth

In Memory of a Legend
Dr. William Francis McBeth
 [March 9, 1933 – January 6, 2012]

Although born in Ropesville, Texas in 1933, a man who developed a love for cowboys, cattle, cars and music, Dr. McBeth was nonetheless a true Arkansas diamond. McBeth attended Hardin-Simmons University and played in the Cowboy Band in Abilene, Texas where he was presented the Presley Award for Outstanding Bandsman at Hardin-Simmons. He served in the military from 1954 to 1956 with the 101st Airborne Band and 98th Army Band.

His works led to many appearances as a guest conductor, where he often directed premiere performances of his compositions. Dr. McBeth’s conducting activities have taken him to 49 states, three Canadian provinces, Japan, and Australia. His “Double Pyramid Balance System” is a widely used pedagogical tool in the concert band world. Dr. William Clark from New Mexico State University said, “I learned the tone of the wind band is developable; you can change it, you can make it better. He gave me and thousands of others the tools to make the band sound much more palatable, much more flexible, artistic.”

Dr. McBeth was an active member of Phi Beta Mu Omicron Chapter and was the 1997 Phi Beta Mu International Outstanding Contributor to Bands. He served as Professor of Music and Resident Composer at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas from 1957 to 1996. The most outstanding of his awards have been the Presley Award at Hardin-Simmons University; the Howard Hanson Prize at the Eastman School of Music for his Third Symphony; recipient of an ASCAP Special Award each consecutive year from 1965 to the present; the American School Band Directors Association’s Edwin Franko Goldman Award; elected Fellow of the American Wind and Percussion Artists by the National Band Association; Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia’s 1988 American Man of Music; Kappa Kappa Psi’s National Service to Music Award; Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic’s 1993 Medal of Honor, and Past President of the American Bandmasters Association.

Dr. McBeth was music director of the Arkansas Symphony in Little Rock, and in 1975 was appointed Composer Laureate of the State of Arkansas by the Governor.

His greatest treasures, however, were his dear wife Mary, son Matt, and daughter Laura. Then came the in-laws and grandchildren — he loved them all!

Dr. McBeth established himself as one of the pre-eminent composers in the field of music for wind band, producing a body of work which is internationally recognized as among the finest of its kind. ASBOA commissioned McBeth to write Grace Praeludium to honor the many years of faithful, selfless service of Raymond [1992 Phi Beta Mu International Outstanding Contributor to Bands] and Ruth Brandon. That piece was premiered at the 1982 Arkansas All-State Band Concert under his direction. So many students fondly remember the 1994 All-State experience with Dr. McBeth which also included a second concert in June at the national ASBDA Convention that was held in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

We will continue to be able to play, conduct and listen to his amazing music. We will remember the incredible times we were able to share with him. One minute telling us about exciting and beautiful music or how to improve the sound of our bands — the next telling a funny story. Everyone was his friend — he genuinely loved people! The world lost an extraordinary musician — Arkansas lost a friend. How blessed we were to have crossed paths. Heaven is a little richer now.

–Julia Reynolds  ASBOA Executive Secretary

Hear interview with Dr. McBeth courtesy of the Arkansas Educational Television Network from their “Men and Women of Distinction” series.

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