John Howell 7-3-12

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Band director’s influence, work ethic fondly recalled

Lamar Ferguson was one of those people whose influence — in the lives of the many young would-be musicians who came under his tutelage — was greater than the actual amount of time spent in his presence.

Ferguson was band director in Batesville for nine years, from the 1956-’57 school year through 1964-’65.

Joe and Joanne Boyles called last week to alert us to his obituary (published on page 2A) and to remind us that Ferguson wrote the fight song still in use at South Panola today, “Roll On Tigers.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Joanne talked about how unusual it is for a high school to have its own, original fight song and how remarkable it is that “Roll On Tigers” still serves so well after at least 50 years.

Ferguson died last week in Grenada where he has lived following his retirement as band director and teacher during a career that took him from one end of Mississippi to the other and to schools in Georgia and Louisiana as well.

And for a generation of Batesville youth, he was the band director, occasionally assisted but always in charge.

His love for music dated from childhood, he told us, and he lived to share that love with others, especially his students.

Jerry Lightsey can recall that once he interrupted Ferguson’s focus on music. His was in junior high and the band hall then shared one half of what was the high school shop.

“Us boys,” Lightsey said, though he could not remember who else was involved. “It could have been Hal Herron.”

Herron denied any memory of the incident, but allowed about Ferguson, “He always ran a pretty tight ship.”

They were outside in the gravel drive that surrounded the building and found a newly-dumped pile of sand. As boys that age would do, they soon put it to good use, throwing into the air, letting if fall wherever it would.

“I’m sure we’d been told not to mess with it,” Lightsey said.

Several girls, Rebecca Lovelace and Fran Wood, maybe among them, Lightsey said, soon registered a complaint with the band director: To hairdos so carefully coiffed in anticipation of a dance that evening had been added a bit of sand, they said. They were not happy.

Faced with several irate junior high girls whose mamas would be even more irate, Ferguson grabbed up a paddle and delivered corporal punishment on the spot.

But it really wasn’t a paddle, Lightsey said. It was a flute lyre, a long, wooden affair that curved to fit the contour of a flute player’s chest, tucked under the arm.

“It was one of the better ‘whoopings’ I ever got,” Lightsey recalled last Friday. “It hurt.”

Later, after Ferguson had moved on to other schools, he returned to Panola County for a one-year stint as band director at North Panola High School. Lightsey, who would later become band director at Northwest Mississippi Community College, would practice teach there under Ferguson’s supervision.

I suspect that as each generation reaches a certain age, they look back on the older generation who were their teachers and realize how fortunate they were to have been in those classrooms.

No doubt there are students today of current SPHS band director Linda Davis who will one day discover that regard for her. A few will be lucky enough to find it even while they are still under her instruction.

I could not now blow a note through any of the horns that Lamar Ferguson circulated me through in an unsuccessful attempt to find something I could make a joyful noise on, but whenever I hear “Sea Portrait” or “Brighton Beach” or Beethoven’s “Unfinished Symphony,” I recall Lamar Ferguson and appreciate that he helped mold young adolescents’ musical efforts into reasonable presentations of those classics and many more.

But who would have thought all those years ago that the fight song he composed would survive and find its way to a national audience via the nationally recognized Tigers?

Lamar Ferguson, 1924-2012.