Keith Bearden was born on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1947, in Hale Center, Texas, and somehow avoided being named Patrick! His parents Henry and Geneva Bearden provided a loving and supportive atmosphere for Keith and his talented sister Patsy. Keith remembers their presence at all his events and their example of a work ethic second to none. Hale Center, Texas, had one blinking light, everyone knew everyone and it was a community which strongly supported the local schools. Keith was bound to be an Owl football player but was sidetracked in the fourth grade when close friend Mark Laney came over for a visit with his cornet. After being shown how to make a sound, Keith gave it a try, and Mark exclaimed, “You’re better than me; you should be in the band.” Ego took over and Keith joined band the next day, which even though he was halfway through the school year. His dad, an auto mechanic and his mom, the HCISD cafeteria supervisor, came up with an extra $25.00 to purchase Keith’s first instrument, a Martin standard trumpet with a missing valve cap and no case. His band director Mr. J.W. King assured him that a trumpet would be ok, since it was very similar to the cornet. Mr. King was “Mr. Music” in Hale Center, so Keith trusted his advice. Years later, Keith would come to realize the impact of King’s influence on his life.
After a few years of playing the trumpet and junior high football, Mr. King and the band won Keith over. Another interest began to develop in junior high---science. Mr. Lester Carr, the science teacher was a great teacher, role model and mentor. Keith traveled with Mr. Carr and the science club on many hiking, climbing, camping, and snake collecting trips. Probably some of Keith’s mischievousness and love of pranks developed on these trips: like scattering popcorn around the sleeping bags of rookies in hopes the skunks would soon appear, hiding rocks and sticks under bedrolls for a late night surprise and placing harmless snakes inside backpacks to greet the unsuspecting camper.
After leaving junior high, Keith made the All-Region band his freshman year and found he was seated ahead of the seven Hale Center junior and senior trumpet players. Although Keith now had a new Conn copper bell cornet and an All-Region patch, Mr. King’s rule was that no freshman would play first part in the Hale Center band. So, Keith happily played third part until his sophomore year when he made the All-State band with the copper bell cornet. He missed out on cornet his junior year but had a chance to audition against area players on trumpet. Out came the old Martin standard, with no first valve cap and once again, he made All-State. He worked hard sacking groceries, mowing lawns and roofing houses to pay for summer band camp. He also started saving money for a better instrument. In a bidding war between Earl Ray and Jack Delahunty, the King silver bell cornet won out over the Conn 38-A and Keith made All-State again his senior year, this time on cornet! He was torn between a career in science or music. After performing in the All-State bands and making new friends, his choice was made! Mary Jane King was his piano accompanist during high school on all the Herbert L. Clarke solos. He remembers being inspired by band clinicians Dean Killion, Dub Crain, Bill Trego, and Doc Haddon. He appreciated the times during the summer, when Mr. King would drive a busload of Hale Center band students the 35 mile ride to summer band camp at Texas Tech, stopping in Abernathy to pick up Everett Maxwell’s students. Camp directors J.R. McEntyre and Dean Killion were motivating and inspiring.
After high school, Keith made the decision to attend Texas Tech on a full music scholarship-$60.00! He promptly lost it after the first semester for being one tenth of a point below the required GPA. The GPA came back up and the scholarship was later “fully” restored. During his collegiate years, Keith was active in many ways. His leadership skills were developed as Kappa Kappa Psi president, band president, band librarian, and band wagon driver. He played in Dean Killion’s symphonic, marching and basketball bands. He played in Joel Leach’s jazz ensemble and Paul Ellsworth’s symphony orchestra. He was principal in the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra under William Harrod. He credits these men along with the different directors during the summer camps for giving him further insight and inspiration.
Keith held several jobs during college to help with school expenses. He worked as a grocery cashier during the school semesters and had two summers of employment at Glacier National Park in Montana. College students from across the country came together each summer to work in park hotels and share their musical talents. A variety of groups were formed and they performed for park visitors in the evenings at the Many Glacier Hotel. He made enough money in tips as a bellman to pay for school each fall and to purchase a Mt. Vernon Bach trumpet.
After graduation from Texas Tech, he was fortunate to be hired to work for Superintendent R.N. Pierce in the Jayton-Girard ISD. He was excited to follow Jim VanZandt as band director until he learned he was not as good on the piano as his predecessor. While delivering a fair rendition of “Ancona Chicken” to his third grade music class, one of the students remarked, “Mr.VanZandt played piano better than you!” After that innocent but true remark, Keith headed to the practice room every day after school to catch up on his piano skills in order to play such demanding literature. His first year was memorable, both for making his first Sweepstakes award and being drafted into the military due to the Vietnam War draft lottery number 33. The induction, fortunately, was postponed until the school year was finished. During the spring he auditioned for the Air Force Academy band and the NORAD band. He was selected for both groups but chose to fulfill his military obligation in the United States Air Force. Keith played in all ensembles at the Air Force Academy and achieved the rank of E-5 staff sergeant after only one year of military service. He became section leader of the concert band and played in the brass quintet. Keith took advantage of an opening in the Falconaires Jazz Ensemble, auditioned, and was able to continue his love for jazz which was planted by Joel Leach. He holds his Air Force colleagues in high esteem-Col. Richard Thurston, Col. Lowell Graham, Col. Mike Bankhead, Lt. Colonel Alan Bonner and CMSGT Jack Tardy.
After three years and eight months of memorable service in the Air Force Academy band, the war was winding down and he became eligible for an “early out” on February 1st. After calling Dean Killion about possible job openings, he learned there were two: Albany, Texas, and Clayton, New Mexico. He was hired in Albany and began teaching duties on February 3, 1974. Although he was in Albany only four months, he rekindled the community interest in the band program by winning several festivals, conducting the Easter cantata at a local church, and staging a memorable spring concert. That summer, he brought seventeen Albany students to the Texas Tech summer band camp.
In late April of that year, C. Doyle Gammill phoned to inform Keith that LISD had approved high school assistants and he wanted Keith to join him at Monterey. Keith loved working with Doyle and learned so much about how to work with students, parents and school personnel. In 1976 after only two years with Keith, Gammill moved to the administrative ranks and Keith was promoted to director of the 310 member Monterey Plainsmen Band. As a young director at Monterey and camp director at the Tech summer band camps, he continued to learn from Francis McBeth, Claude Smith, Bill Woods, Lee Boyd Montgomery, Barbara Lambrecht and James Sudduth. He remained at Monterey for four years where he enjoyed working with wonderful colleagues Rusty Sherman, Mack Bibb and Alan Shinn. As winners of numerous festivals and contests, the Plainsmen band was an innovative powerhouse in West Texas. The jazz ensemble was featured on the NAJE Project II record album featuring top jazz bands from across the United States. He was honored in 1979 as Phi Beta Mu’s Outstanding Young Bandmaster.. Keith treasures the memories and achievements of those days at Monterey. He still enjoys reunions with the Plainsmen band alumni.
Dean Killion called in 1980 inviting Keith to work with him at Texas Tech and Keith gladly accepted. In 1981, health issues forced Mr. Killion’s retirement and Keith became the interim Director of Bands for the spring semester. James Sudduth was hired as Director of Bands and told Dept. Chair Harold Luce he would come only if Keith was given responsibility and title of Director of the “Goin’ Band from Raiderland.” Out of these discussions, conducting duties for the marching and concert bands were split for the first time. During his tenure at Tech, Keith had numerous opportunities to move to other jobs, including a conductor/commander position in the Air Force. Due to his family living in the Lubbock area, he was happy to stay at Texas Tech.
During his tenure at Texas Tech University, Professor Bearden was honored as Outstanding Faculty Member by Omicron Delta Kappa and Mortar Board, and in 1999 the Goin’ Band won the Sudler Trophy which is given to university bands with a long history of continued excellence. He enjoyed his years with colleagues James Sudduth, Cody Birdwell, Tony Brittin, Dick Tolley, Robert Deahl, Alan Shinn and others. He became director of the summer band camp he had attended as a 6th grader. Although his marching band was his primary responsibility and held the community spotlight, Keith also enjoyed conducting the concert band, teaching music education classes, and playing in the faculty brass quintet. Other honors include Kappa Kappa Psi’s Distinguished Service to Music Medal, Texas Tech’s Department of Residence Life’s Professing Excellence Award, the Lubbock Independent School District’s Meritorious Service Award, the Texas Tech Committed of Champions Meritorious Service Award, The Goin’ Band Alumni Ken Porter Service Award, the Texas Tech Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award, and the Texas Tech School of Music’s Distinguished Alumni Award. He has also received the Texas Bandmasters Lifetime Meritorious Achievement Award. At Texas Tech, he attained the academic rank of full professor. And, upon retirement in 2003, the title of Professor Emeritus was awarded to him in recognition for his service to Texas Tech University. Keith valued his association with his wonderful secretaries over the years, Paula Ammons, Celia Webb, Mary Sharon Greene, and Jan Oldham. Anna Henry, camp coordinator was invaluable and her efforts were greatly appreciated. Keith sums it by saying, “We were a team!” He retired after twenty-three years at the helm of the nationally acclaimed “Goin’ Band from Raiderland.”
He is past president of Texas Music Adjudicators Association and Alpha Chapter-Phi Beta Mu. He is a member of the Texas Bandmasters Association, Texas Music Educators Association, Pi Kappa Lambda, Phi Mu Alpha, and a lifetime member of Kappa Kappa Psi. He served as a board member of the John Philip Sousa Foundation and is a current member of the Sudler Shield selection committee. In 2013 he was elected vice president/president-elect of the International Phi Beta Mu Bandmasters Fraternity and chairs its outstanding bandmaster committee.
Since retirement, he has continued to be actively involved in clinics, adjudication and conducting. He enjoys working with and adjudicating many great bands in our great state, nationally and internationally. He is especially fond of being a Festival Disney adjudicator at Disney World and has recently become a member of the adjudication jury of the World Association of Marching Show Bands. These competitions have taken him in the last three years to Malaysia, Brazil, Canada, Thailand, Germany and leaves soon for an assignment in Chiba, Japan. His love of the outdoors is fulfilled with playing every golf course in sight and especially those in the host city the day before band clinics and competitions. When he retired from Tech, he had played 143 different golf courses and today that number stands at 595! He has some great Bobby Knight stories from several golfing trips with the ornery basketball coach.
He enjoys traveling, yard work, and golf with his best friend-wife June. She is his soul mate, a very talented middle school band director, super grandma, and loving wife. They have been privileged to judge, conduct honor bands and teach summer camps together in recent years. Included among their hobbies are a 1966 Mustang and a 1928 Model A truck. They are members of Lakeridge United Methodist Church in Lubbock. They also enjoy Keith’s boys, Stephen and Daniel along with their families in Lubbock and Anchorage. Both boys played trumpet and are successful businessmen, Stephen as owner of the Lubbock Discount Realty and Daniel as a petroleum engineer with Conoco-Phillips Alaska. Keith is very humbled and honored to be inducted into the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame. He credits his family, friends, mentors and the many former students for all his success. He says, “It took a village with me!”