The Big Blue and White Band
One of the most widely known and highly respected programs of Tifton High School was the Big Blue and White Band. The director of this magnificent program was a man who played a crucial and important part in the development of many lives and especially mine. Every time I think of Uncle Len Lastinger, I do so with reverence and respect. He and Aunt Ruth were two people who were held in the highest respect among the people in Tifton. Uncle Len was an icon and is still held in that position by those who knew him and were a part of the Tifton High School band program. He and his family, Aunt Ruth, Lanny and Darlene were a special family to the people of Tifton and particularly to those under Uncle Len's direction.
Until I reached High School, I was a very good student. I never had to worry about giving my report card to my parents. They were always pleased. But, when I reached High School, there were more "important" things to do. It was a "cool" day in which to live and there were many things which could and did attract the attention of young guys. We didn't get involved in anything destructive but the major requirement of being cool was that a person spent most of his time being just that: cool. It was easy to lapse off into some frame of mind which excused the fact that one had no direction or desire except to be seen as cool. A person had to act certain ways, wear the right clothes, hang around the cool gang and exude this atmosphere which declared your "coolness." In addition to all of that, I happened to land a job at the local radio station, WTIF. It was a new station in town that had a Top Forty agenda. It took up a lot of time to work there but I loved it and invested myself heavily into being a "Disc Jockey." It also took the place of more important things like my educational preparation for life. Needless to say, the job and being cool didn't suffer; my education did.
One day I went by the school office to get something I needed and found Uncle Len in the office. He had always been nice and friendly to me and during our conversation he said: "Bill, how would you like to be in the Big Blue and White Band and play the bass drum for us. I need someone who can carry a steady beat while marching and not everyone can do that. I believe you can." I told him I knew nothing about playing a drum or anything else to which he said: "You have musical talent and I can teach you to do the job in no time." I surprised myself and said that I would love to try it. Uncle Len then surprised me and said for me to come to practice that afternoon and he would start to show me what to do. I must say that playing the bass drum properly is much more involved and difficult that I ever imagined but somehow I caught on rapidly and also played the timpani drums when we focused on being a symphony after finishing football season. Much to my additional surprise Uncle Len said that I was to go to practice with the marching band that afternoon and play the drum. So, I did exactly that. I will never forget that first marching practice as we readied ourselves for the coming Friday night and the Blue Devils football game. It all went well and there I was.....in the Big Blue and White Band! I have never been more proud of anything in my life. I began to "find myself". My grades greatly improved because one had to maintain a certain grade point average to stay in the band. I let a lot of things go that had formerly had my attention. I did, however, keep my radio job. It was hard to do that and the band at the same time but somehow I succeeded in doing both.
As I look back on my life, that fateful day in the school office comes to mind. I believe, and always have, that had Uncle Len not asked me to play the drum for him that my life would have been quite different. I can mark that day as a turn-a-round in the life of Bill Harrell. He showed me that I could do something that had never crossed my mind and certainly was beyond me. From that day forward I looked at myself quite differently. I began to really enjoy being successful and to set goals and work toward them with success in mind. Making good grades was suddenly a priority for me and I found that I could do it. I surprised myself. Seven years after high school, I started college with the result that four years later I graduated with honors from Valdosta State College (University). I really should say that Carolyn and I graduated because without her I could never have accomplished that high goal. The Lord matched me up with just the right person. And, I might add, I found my wife...where?... in the band room. She was a majorette and played the flute. I remember many things about my band experiences which pop into my mind from time to time. My favorite instrument is the French Horn and Lanny Lastinger had a lot to do with that. He played a mean French Horn. I remember how he would "honk" down on that horn and make it really shout out its brassy voice. I think often of the guys that stood to my right in practice and played the Coronet or the Trumpet. There was Freddy Butterfield and Tommy Pittman. Joe Biddy played the snare drum standing to my right as well. Bobby White and Tommy Parkman were our Baratone players. I also recall Sonny Walton with his trombone and Buster Monk on the snare drums. The flute players which included several of our pretty majorettes sat up front on Uncle Len's right. I still want to start marching when I hear "On Wisconsin" and remember how fast Uncle Len had us march. I still walk fast and I think our marching speed in the Big Blue and White Band has a lot to do with it. It was always exciting to be invited to go somewhere and be a part in a parade. Many places requested our band because it was big, loud and well directed. We were one of the first high school bands to use dance steps and routines other than just marching and playing. Sometimes it was hard to maintain a steady beat on my drum while executing some of those formations and movement. They just didn't go together easily. I recall going to Thomasville for the Rose Parade as well as performing at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta and the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. That was a long parade and I remember that when we finished I could not raise my right arm for about two or three hours. By some miracle I was able to play at the halftime show. We were all worn out! Parades in Tifton were a lot of fun. It seemed as if the whole town turned out for a parade event. I remember the big photo of the band that hung on the wall in the Varsity. I am familiar with who has that picture and I am told it is to be restored. Needless to say, that being a part of the Big Blue and White Band was a lot of fun as well as a great privilege.
In only a few years the Lord would also surprise me when He called me into His service as a Preacher of the Gospel. Many of my life experiences resurfaced in my mind and I realized that the Lord had used those experiences to prepare me for my life's work but the experience that set me on the right path started in the principle's office when Uncle Len asked me to play the drum for him. He never knew how the Lord had used him to set me on a new and successful path in life. I can never fully express how much Uncle Len meant to me. But, his confidence in me and his encouragement were crucial to my life.
So, the Big Blue and White Band was a big deal to me and still is! Many times over the years I have used my experiences in the band in sermons that I preached. I still tell people with great pride that I was a member of that great band under the leadership of Uncle Len Lastinger. Yes, it was a life changing experience for me to be a part of the Tifton High School Big Blue and White Band.
William F. Harrell