Jimmy Nathan Yancey was born September 17, 1930, in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, to Linnie Allen and Charles Watson Yancey. Both parents were from large families who lived and worked farms north and west of Arkadelphia. Both of Jimmy's parents were from "hard scrabble" Arkansas church-going families who fervently believed a person's word was sacred, all liars were going to hell and a lazy person was just about the sorriest creature on earth.
Jimmy's father left the farm in the 1920's to become a successful Singer Sewing Machine salesman and convinced his future wife to meet him in Cairo, Illinois, where they were married on April 4, 1926. Because the grass was always greener just over the way, the family was always on the move. Between birth and first grade, the family lived in Cairo, Illinois; Paducah, Kentucky: and Cape Girardeau, Missouri. When time came for Jimmy to start the 1st grade, the family had moved to Vernon, Texas; his 2nd grade year was spent in Abilene and the third grade in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.
It was during Jimmy's 3rd grade year that his mom, whose family was very musical, decided that Jimmy should play the soprano saxophone. She enrolled him in the Arkadelphia High School Band as age nor talent seemingly was no barrier. The band director was a nice old fellow, and although blind, he managed to teach everyone very well, except for Jimmy. When Jimmy's mom realized that all Jimmy could play was the C scale, and that was from rote, she ended his saxophone career. Next year she bought a $20 violin for Jimmy, but after several weeks of study his teacher, a very compassionate lady, informed Mrs. Yancey that "this was just not going to work out" and the world lost another great violinist.
Since Mrs. Yancey came from a very musical family, she insisted that Jimmy learn music, and she signed him up for piano lessons. Two sisters had now been added to the family and a new moving sequence began. Jimmy completed the 7th grade in Oakland, California; the 8th grade in Texarkana, Texas; the first twelve weeks of his 9th grade year in Arkadelphia and the remainder in Wichita Falls. At mid-term of his 10th grade year, the family moved to Hope, Arkansas, and remained there through Jimmy's 11th grade year.
It was at the beginning of his 11th grade year in Hope that one of Jimmy's friends, who was a member of the Hope High School Band, convinced Jimmy to talk to Mr. Cannon, the band director. Not really knowing what he wanted to play, Jimmy responded with the first thing to come to mind, "the trumpet." "Son," Mr. Cannon replied, "the world is full of bad trumpet players, but I have the very instrument you need to play," and with that, he handed Jimmy the E-flat sousaphone. Thus began the band career of Jimmy Yancey.
In his senior year, the family moved to Russellville, Arkansas, and Jimmy continued playing the sousaphone throughout his senior year. He intended to enroll at Arkansas Tech and major in engineering until shortly after graduation, his father closed his sewing machine store, loaded his family in the 1946 Chevrolet and headed south looking for greener pastures. It was while passing through Arkadelphia that Jimmy finally became rebellious of the constant moving and disruptions and told his father to stop the car and let him out, that he was not going any farther. His father finally agreed to take Jimmy to one of his aunts who lived in Arkadelphia. Two hours later, his dad decided to turn around and come back to Arkadelphia where he bought a house, rented a building and opened up a new sewing machine business.
With his family now living in Arkadelphia, Jimmy decided to live at home and attend the local college, Henderson State. Because tuition would be waived if he played in the band, Jimmy played in the band but majored in engineering. During his sophomore year, Jimmy decided to change his major from engineering to music because he enjoyed music more. During his junior year at Henderson State, Jimmy was walking past a practice room one day when he noticed inside a very attractive young lady who not only was playing piano quite well, but also happened to have an exceptionally good figure. Naturally, he went in, introduced himself, and began a pursuit which ended in the marriage of Jimmy Nathan Yancey and Molly Lanette Smith on May 28, 1952.
Jimmy began his teaching career with a part-time job in Sparkman, Arkansas. He received his Bachelor of Music Education from Henderson State University Teachers College on August 8, 1952. Soon thereafter, with the Korean War in full swing, Jimmy joined the United States Air Force and was assigned to the Command Band of the Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Nebraska. Continued membership and assignment was held by competitive audition and this is when Jimmy started to get serious about his performance ability and general musicianship. In the band were men who had studied at Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska, Iowa and Eastman, all fine musicians and great players. From that day, he began to be a tuba player as opposed to a tuba holder.
"My best advice," recalls Jimmy "was from my cousin Charles Sheets." Charles, who had been teaching in the Longview area said to me, "Jimmy, when you get discharged, go to east Texas, snow any superintendent you can to hire you, walk into Tatum Music Company and convince Alto Tatum you want to learn to be a band director. And when he tells you something, keep your mouth shut and just do it." Upon discharge, Jimmy moved back to Texas and became the choir teacher and assistant band director in Van. After two years he moved to Hearne for a year and a half, and on to a junior high position in Big Springs for half a year. This was followed by three years at Gaston, two years at Gladewater and three years at Industrial. Jimmy calls these his "learning years," especially those in the east Texas area with Alto Tatum as his mentor.
In 1968, primarily to give his family stability, Jimmy moved from Industrial back to Longview as high school assistant to Neil Grant. Realizing Jimmy's teaching ability, Neil assigned him to Foster Junior High to help boost the quality of the Longview High School feeder program. There Jimmy stayed for seven years, steadily making improvements in musicianship and ratings until 1976 when the Foster band was named as a finalist in the CCC TMEA Honor Band competition. John "Pete" Kunkel had become the Longview High School band director, and Pete moved Jimmy to the high school and initiated an all-freshman band.
Jimmy remained Freshman director at Longview High School for eight years and all of them were Sweepstakes years. In 1985, he decided to teach the freshman band at the neighboring school district of Pine Tree. He taught there for two years, but returned to Longview as head director for one year 1986-87 at which time he began proceedings for retirement. Due to a concerned superintendent in the Brownsboro school district who wanted a successful band program and Lanette, Jimmy's wife, who obviously didn't want a retired Jimmy around the house, retirement was postponed and Jimmy spent three years producing a winning program in the Brownsboro school district before official retirement in December 1990. Part-time teaching in the Henderson ISD consumed his time for the next eight years with his last teaching duty ending in December 1999.
Jimmy and his wife and best friend, Lanette, an outstanding instructor of piano, celebrated their 48th anniversary in May of this year. The Yanceys have three sons who came through the Longview band program and set a family record. Not only were they successful in UIL events, but all three gained the prestige of winning membership into the Texas All-State Band. Their sons are Michael David Yancey, who died in a tragic airplane accident in 1994; Timothy Allen Yancey and his wife, Malia; their three children, Joshua, Rachel and Caleb; and Dr. Christopher Andrew Yancey and his wife Alisa, and their children Allison and Andrew.
Mr. Yancey has served his community throughout the years through his leadership as a choir director. He has also been active in judging across the state, most notably for eight years as a panelist for the final chair position with the Texas All-State Band. He has served as Region Chairman and Executive Secretary of Region IV, and has membership affiliations with the Association of Texas Professional Educators, TMEA, TBA, TMAA and Phi Beta Mu.