GENE C. SMITH
A native of Abilene, Texas, Gene C. Smith was born July 31, 1929. Following a serious bout with pneumonia in 1936, the family doctor recommended that young Gene start playing a wind instrument to strengthen his lungs. This doctor was W. B. Adamson, who just happened to be the brother-in-law of Texas Bandmasters Hall of Famer, Raymond T. Bynum. Gene started playing the clarinet in the summer of 1939 at beginning band classes held on the auditorium stage at Abilene High School.
Raymond Bynum was an enormous influence on Gene. Not only was he a great band director, but he was able to instill in his students a great love for music and composers and was able to teach a substantial amount of basic music theory during band rehearsals. At Abilene High School, Gene played clarinet in the Eagle Band and saxophone in the Dance Band. As a sophomore, Gene remembers telling Mr. Bynum that he was going to be a band director—a statement at which Bynum scoffed.
Another influence was Gid Waldrop, band director at Baylor University in the early ‘40’s. Gid came back to Abilene for one year following World War II before returning to Baylor in 1946 as orchestra director. Gene studied clarinet with Waldrop during that year and Waldrop recruited him to attend Baylor. Gid Waldrop later served for 25 years as Dean of the Juilliard School of Music.
Many positive experiences as a student at Baylor proved highly beneficial to Gene’s future as a band director. He had strong music theory and music history teachers and marvelous playing opportunities in the Baylor Golden Wave Band under another Texas Bandmasters Hall of Famer, Donald I. Moore, and the Baylor Symphony Orchestra under Gid Waldrop and Daniel Sternberg. Gene was an active member of both Kappa Kappa Psi and Phi Mu Alpha fraternities and served as President of each. Gene has also been grateful for the many friendships he made. Two of those friendships were with fellow clarinetists, Bill Dean, also a Texas Bandmasters Hall of Famer, and Phillip Miller from Odessa. Miller’s father, W. A., was the Superintendent of Schools in Odessa, and gave Gene his first teaching job. On leaving Baylor, little did Gene know that 19 years later he would return as Director of Bands.
His first position was teaching beginners in 10 elementary schools, five schools per day. Gene states that all of his buddies were telling him “Man, you don’t want that kind of a job—get you a band!” However, that first year was invaluable. Not only did he learn to play all the instruments right along with the students, but he had the opportunity to observe, in action, band directors and fellow Hall of Famers Ralph Mills and J. R. McEntyre. After that year, Ralph Mills left Odessa and Gene inherited the Crockett Junior High Band, a position he held for six years. It was during those six years that Gene had the privilege of knowing and competing with fellow junior high directors, Bill Dean at Bowie Junior High and J. R. McEntyre at Bonham Junior High. Gene says that “We loved each other like brothers - we and our families were together almost every day - we ate, slept, and breathed ‘band’ - but there was nothing we wouldn’t do to beat each other.”
In 1957, Odessa opened its second high school, Ector High School, and Gene Smith was its first band director. The following year Odessa opened its third high school, Permian High School, and J. R. McEntyre was its first band director. That same year, Bill Dean became the band director at Odessa High School, following Robert Maddox, who became supervisor. It was at Ector High School that Gene Smith’s “show-style” marching band concept began to emerge.
In 1962, Gene Smith accepted the band position at Denver City High School. His band earned three Sweepstakes, and Gene became proficient at, and well known for, his own marching band arrangements. As a result, he was asked to serve as marching band clinician in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and California.
Then, in 1965, Gene was named band director at Midland’s Robert E. Lee High School. With 200 students who could play on a very high level of competency and musicality, he embarked upon four fantastic years which put life in the fast lane. The Lee Band went on to win Outstanding Concert Band award at Tri-State performing Richard Strauss’ tone poem, Don Juan.
In January 1969, Daniel Sternberg, Dean of the Baylor School of Music, summoned Gene to come to Baylor. While at Baylor from 1969 to 1973, Gene successfully promoted a commission from the Ludwig Drum Company for Karel Husa to compose his “Concerto for Percussion and Wind Ensemble.” The Baylor Symphonic Band performed at the TMEA Convention in 1971; the Golden Wave Marching Band performed at a Dallas Cowboys game in 1972, and the Baylor Wind Ensemble performed at the MENC conference in Wichita, Kansas, in 1973.
The next five years Gene was simultaneously involved in two careers. In 1973, he moved to Lawton, Oklahoma, to become Director of Instrumental Music at Cameron University as well as serving as conductor of the Lawton Philharmonic Orchestra. An opportunity to return to Texas as conductor of the San Angelo Symphony and coordinator of the San Angelo ISD orchestra program came in 1978. Gene retired from the San Angelo Symphony in 1997, but continues to serve as Music Director and Conductor of the Big Spring Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
Gene served two years as TMEA Band Chairman in 1968-1969 and many leadership roles for TMEA and UIL. He also played principal clarinet in the Midland-Odessa Symphony and section clarinet in the Waco Symphony. As a hobby, he plays clarinet and saxophone in the Angelo Jazz Band, a professional Dixieland band.
Gene is married to Jane Hays Smith who has degrees from the University of Texas at El Paso and the University of North Texas. She teaches elementary music and is organist for First United Methodist Church. Jane and Gene have an 11 year old son, James Hays Smith, who is quite a pianist, golfer and soccer goalie!