Willis Giddens (officially, Jesse Willis Giddens, Jr.) was born January 3, 1935, in Plainview, Texas, to Jesse Willis Giddens and Alma Sanford Giddens. The family moved to Littlefield, Texas in 1937, and Willis enrolled in the first grade in Littlefield Primary School in 1941.
He began band in the fifth grade, playing a school-owned mellophone until his parents could afford a $50 second-hand trumpet. From the sixth grade through high school, Willis’ band director was Don Hayes. Hayes, no doubt, was Willis’ vocational inspiration. He studied trumpet with Ted Crager and Jo Haddon, and at the old Gunnison music camp had several lessons with Rafael Mendez.
He graduated from Littlefield High School in 1953, and in January of 1954, entered McMurry College in Abilene. At McMurry, Willis was the student of pioneer Texas bandmaster Dr. Raymond T. Bynum. Bynum was the major influence in Willis’ teaching career, offering not only instrumental and conducting techniques, but also much practical wisdom. Willis graduated Cum Laude from McMurry in 1957. In 1960, he received a master’s degree from West Texas State. Further graduate study followed at the University of Colorado and at Texas Tech.
He first band job was at Shamrock High School, where there were twenty-eight players, including eleven eighth graders. In the following six years contest ratings were low, but the players and the teacher improved and the numbers tripled. In 1963, Willis moved to Friona, where he worked for seven years. His high school bands made appearances at Tri-State, Six Flags, Buccaneer Days, the Texas State Fair, and the Cotton Bowl parade.
In 1970, Willis decided to give up Friday night halftime shows, and become a junior high band director. He was hired by O.T. Ryan to work in the Plainview junior highs, and this he did for the next twenty-seven years. In these years his bands received twenty-one Sweepstakes awards, plus numerous other 1st Division ratings. There also were many 1st Divisions and several outstanding awards for stage band.
Willis and his wife, Jane, have been married since 1971. She has been a constant and indispensable source of encouragement and inspiration in his career and life. Willis has one brother, Joe B. Giddens, of Post, Texas.
Willis states that his teaching was influenced by O. T. Ryan, J. W. King, Gary Garner, and Dean Killion, in addition to many high school and junior high colleagues.
Willis is a life-long member of the Methodist Church, where he at times has served on the administrative board, sung in choirs, and directed choirs. He has been a member of both Lions and Rotary Clubs. He has served on the boards of the Plainview Symphony, and the Plainview Community Concerts Association. He professional organizations include, TMEA, TBA, TMAA, Phi Beta Mu, and TSTA.
He retired in 1997, after forty years of band directing, although he still shows up at the band halls to help with solos, ensembles, and section rehearsals.