Dr. William P. Foster (1919-2010)

A genius has passed on.

A consummate teacher, musician, and leader.

Dr. Foster was a visionary who took his personal lack of opportunity and turned it into a marching band that perpetually creates opportunities for hundreds of talented and bright musicians to receive and education and travel the country.

He created the “Marching 100” in 1946 with less than 30 members and borrowed instruments. The band’s name, “the 100,” that was then aspirational is now a funny misnomer for the 400+ musicians and nine drum majors who take to the field at halftime.

Many of my earliest memories of Florida A&M University Rattler-dom  are tied up in Dr. Foster’s creation. My parents had the album FAMU Spirit on vinyl and I remember playing it until I had memorized their arrangement of “If Loving You is Wrong” and all the trumpet fanfares. The “surround sound” of the band made me want to go to that place called “FAMU” and be a part of whatever was going on there. Even in my Rattler-centric family, to me, Dr. Foster and his Marching 100 was the embodiment of all things FAMU.

Dr. Foster and the Marching 100 achieved astounding levels of popularity and success not because of the novelty of being black kids from the South who could play a tune, but because they were excellent and wholeheartedly embraced their own musical traditions along with those of John Phillip Sousa . Dr. Foster’s vision of perfection carried hundreds of talented and hard-working students from Tallahassee, Florida to: Paris for Bastille Day, three Presidential Inaugural Parades (including President Obama’s), numerous Super Bowl appearances, television commercials, and countless television and live appearances.

The impact of Dr. Foster’s vision of what a band should be cannot be overstated. Every HBCU Marching Band is a direct beneficiary of his ideas. Even non-HBCUs are getting on it. The abounding presence of HBCU band tradition in pop culture; the transformation of half time from soda break to headliner; the ascent of the Marching band as University ambassador and money maker all have their origin in Foster’s vision of how a marching band should be.

It feels apropos to say farewell to Dr. Foster at the beginning of the football season.

The Fall is the season of the FAMU Marching 100. Their presence is ubiquitous as you see young band members toting instruments while scurrying from “the Caf” to “the Patch” to Foster-Tanner Hall. Their sound reverberates throughout the campus from dusk to dawn as you hear trumpet fanfares practiced in the morning and tuba’s tightening up the bassline to “Hay” in the evening.

For you vision, life, and legacy Rattler Nation gives Total Praise.

Onward and Upward Dr. Foster!

Onward and Upward Rattlers!