Ralph Burford was born April 30, 1915 in Milton, Kansas. At age 12, he began his band career when he took his first trombone lesson from H. C. Patton. His lesson was the B-flat scale which was drawn out on the back of a postcard, and his teacher told him not to return until he could play it. He learned the lesson and ended up playing in the Milton High School Band and the Conway Springs Municipal Band.
Ralph received his Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Wichita in 1938 and he accepted the job teaching music at Clearwater, Kansas where he taught for three years. In 1941 he accepted a music position with the public schools in Indianapolis, Indiana as supervisor of 17 high school and junior high school orchestras. On December 8, 1941, Ralph was called into service as a second lieutenant and served in the Pacific theatre and was the recipient of the Bronze Star. In 1946, he was separated from the service with the rank of Major. He returned to the teaching field as band and choir director at Mexia High School in Texas. In 1947-48, the Junior Chamber of Commerce named Ralph the “Outstanding Man of the Year” award. After one year, he had shown outstanding teaching to the music students on the community.
In 1948, Ralph accepted the high school band job in Edinburg where he developed an outstanding instrumental program in both band and orchestra. In 1958, the band was selected what has become known as the honor band and they played their concert for the TMEA convention in Galveston. From 1948 to 1965, the Edinburgh band compiled a record of 57 first divisions at UIL, Buccaneer, and Tri-State in Enid, Oklahoma. The marching bands received top ratings for seventeen consecutive years. In 1959, Ralph was honored by The School Musician as one of the top ten directors in their series “They Are Making America Musical”. During these years in Edinburg, Ralph found a balance between service to the profession and service to the community. In 1962-63, he was president of the Kiwanis club and in 1964-65 Ralph served as President of the Texas Bandmasters Association.
In 1966, the Burford moved to Pasadena, where Ralph became the Director of Music Education. Under his direction, the music department, with its faculty of 81 teachers, developed an outstanding program. Ralph continued his community service as a member of the Kiwanis club, serving on the board of directors and was an active member of the First United Methodist church. In 1972, he was named “TBA Bandmaster of the Year.”
Texas and the band world lost a valued member on May 18, 1992. Many former friends and colleagues stand in tribute to a great teacher and friend, Ralph Burford.