Alto Tatum was born February 19, 1912 in Timpson, Texas. When he was a young boy, the family moved to Ft. Worth where he was educated. He also began studying cornet with a violinist by the name of Medsker. Most of his early playing was in a R.O.T.C. band. He graduated from Texas Christian University with a Bachelor and Master’s degree in History and Philosophy. He played in the band and orchestra at T.C.U. and upon graduation became a trumpet player in the Ft. Worth Symphony Orchestra.
His band directing career began in 1934, when he organized one of the first bands in east Texas at East Mountain High School in Upshur County near Gilmer and Gladewater. He moved to the oil field boom town of Gladewater in 1937, where he developed one of the best school band programs in the state. His Gladewater High School Band received national recognition and was for years considered to be “East Texas’ Finest.” He also served as T.M.E.A. Band Chairman in 1947.
Alto left the band directing field in 1945 and began a retail band instrument business in Longview. He not only is a successful band director, but also a successful business man, as his first business venture has expanded from one store to several different music stores in different cities. He is presently a partner with Neil Grant in the Longview and Tyler branches of Tatum Music Company.
Alto is well-known in the music industry and among band directors as a person who has worked hard to promote the band program. He is recognized in east Texas as one of the most outstanding band conductors and clinicians, as well as a music dealer, teacher, counselor, and friend. His sincere love of bands and young people has obviously been the driving force in his over half a century of supporting bands, directors and students. One day when Alto dropped in on a friend’s band rehearsal the director began making excuses about the .way the band was playing that day. The director said to Alto, “the band played much better yesterday”, and alto quickly responded, “no they didn’t, you just listened better today.”
Alto and his wife, Margaret, reside in Longview. He is still active in his music business where he continues to work a full day, every day. He is always available to talk band, history, and politics with those who drop by. He has a wealth of knowledge and experiences to share. Alto was accepted into Phi Beta Mu in 1947 with Dean Shanks as his sponsor.