John H. Davis Memorial - JonesValley


John H. Davis Memorial Remarks


Joan (Rickels) and I (Paul Stokes) are here, today, to try and describe to Mr. Davis’ family and friends just what a special person he was to so many of the students at Jones Valley High School, and how his tenure there influenced ALL of our lives in a VERY positive way. Joan will be relating some of the hundreds of stories about Mr. Davis, and I will be attempting to provide a fact-based scenario of the many accomplishments by, and attributed to Mr. Davis. I thought I would try and tie my thoughts to “Movie Titles”, which might help paint a better word picture of the details, and make it easier to remember them. The Miracle Worker - This is the best overall description I can come up with to describe Mr. Davis. He took a small, rag-tag group of kids, in the smallest and least-regarded school in the entire Birmingham City system and turned them into a force like none ever seen in that area. We were, for the most part, children of ore miners, steel mill workers, and other blue collar workers. He, literally, worked miracles with this group, raising funds for uniforms, instruments, etc. that we could not get from the school system. How did he do it, one might ask? By working us nearly to death, of course. But, at the same time, raising our status from the lowest to the VERY best, Mr. Davis was able to give us…the band…the school…and even the community, something we simply did not have. He made us PROUD to be a part of something that was regarded by ALL classes of people as the very best. 


Joan's Memories    


We were invited to all the “college band days” around the southeast. He let us vote on where we would go; we never voted to go in state, but once and that was to my school, Auburn. We went to University of Mississippi, University of Tennessee, and two times to the University of Georgia. The Georgia trip always meant dinner in Atlanta. When we arrived at Ole Miss, he was told that we would also be in a parade that went all over campus and downtown. He came running to us and said, “We have to practice; we are not a parade band.” And, so we did over and over until parade time. The Music Man - NO doubt, this describes Mr. Davis. He came to Birmingham to play in the Birmingham Symphony, and continued playing until only a few months before his passing.

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Mr. Davis kept band business in the band hall. Word came down that the majorettes, flag batons, and flag corps were going to have to have a “teacher sponsor.” I was head majorette my junior and senior year; so, since my Mother was a teacher and even though, she taught at another her school; he made her the sponsor, keeping band business in the band hall. The Band Booster Club ran the concession stand for all our home football games and all the money went to band support. Mr. Holland’s Opus - Just like the fictional Mr. Holland in the movie, Mr. Davis was able to motivate his band members to achieve jaw-dropping, eye-popping results. For example, the Birmingham area District of the Alabama All-State Band tryouts determined around the top 60 musicians in the District, and these went to the All State competition. The Birmingham District was, by far, the largest and most competitive district in the state, with some 40 schools participating. If ANY school had more than one or two students make the All State Bands, it was special. In 1957…the most in any year I can document, Mr. Davis’ Jones Valley band had NINETEEN kids make all state! Astounding!! His bands also produced countless doctors, attorneys (like Joan, here), corporate executives, a congressman, and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Many of his students (like me) are STILL playing their instruments in bands and orchestras throughout the country.

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 If you were in the band, you never went to an actual study hall, we were always in the band hall practicing and doing other stuff. There was a game we played that I loved; it was throw money against a wall and whoever was closest to the wall won all the money. This was always a favorite “other stuff” activity. It has occurred to us in later life that the band hall was our first taste of fraternity/sorority life. Yes, we were spoiled. And, of course, our cars were parked close to the band hall; so, escape happened daily at lunch. And, we did actually practice in that band hall; he would do some walk through checking on this, after he worked out in the gym. I heard that he used to check and see who took their instruments home over the weekend. I had to take my bassoon home every weekend, because I took bassoon lessons every Saturday morning at 9:00, every month of the year for 6 years. The bassoon was the only instrument that he could not play. Animal House - As you can imagine, a band hall (our practice room was an old wooden building heated by a coal stove)…full of yard apes like Joan & me, could be utterly chaotic. A hundred kids from grades 8 – 12 can cause quite a stir. Undaunted by this onslaught of kids with noisemakers, Mr. Davis had the perfect solution. Godzilla - If Mr. Davis were teaching, today, he would actually be in prison. When things got rowdy, he routinely called on his solution to restore order and move forward with rehearsal. Now, most directors use either their bare hands, or some sort of thin, plastic baton. Not Mr. Davis! He used a DRUMSTICK! There is no major league pitcher in the history of baseball that could do what Mr. Davis could. After slamming down his Director’s stool (first warning), if the rowdiness continued, he would rare back and ZING the drumstick right at the key offender’s head! BUT….he never hit ANYBODY. Whitey Ford, eat your heart out. Eraser - No, he was never Arnold Schwarzenegger, but, he could also fling an eraser at an offender if the drumstick had already been launched.

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The first circle of the concert band started to his right with bassoons, oboes, piccolos, and then flutes. Behind me, the bassoon/oboe area, was the trombones (Paul) and behind him the drums. These two groups were always in trouble; so, the erasers would go that way and the first circle got most of the erasure dust. I would always lean way over. Now, it is true we got away with a lot. We were pampered; we just didn’t really know it at the time. Mr. Davis could down hard on you. He was going to paddle the drum major. He told him to come to the podium and lean over and the drum major stormed out, such a scene; he did settle down with an apology from the drum major. Mr. Davis and I got into it one time. He said something in front of the whole band; we don’t need or want to say what. The majorettes and all were outside practicing and several people came and told me what he said. I was right in his face with “what” I thought. He looked at me and said, “You are suspended from marching at the game this week.” What a scene; people taking sides and finally he sent word to me that if I apologized, I could march. I apologized and then I said to him, “You know I’m right.” My Mother, thank God, never knew about this. Field of Dreams - Our Marching Band was second to none with innovations such as military style drills, intricate formations, fire batons and the like. We were the first band in the area (maybe the state) to perform a lights-out halftime show. Mr. Davis had several of the kids and parents wire up white Christmas lights on our shoes, to a battery and switch pack in the pockets of all the band members. It was an amazing sight, and people were talking about it for months, and others soon copied it.

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At home games, the band would line up at the band hall, which was about 2 blocks from our football field, and we would start that cadence with the American Flag and other flags flying, guarded by rifles and began our march to the game. We were 120 people strong, the streets were blocked until we all got into the stadium and seated, the majorettes and all of us would be in front in the stands marching in place and the Jones Valley people yelling. Football players, cheerleaders, students, and everybody said this was the best part of the game and got the players ready to play. As soon as the band was seated, the drum major and the head majorette went across the field and introduced ourselves to the visiting band and told them to have a soft drink or hot chocolate on us after half time. Mr. Davis taught us class. The Sound of Music - When we started rehearsals, before the school year started, Mr. Davis would lead us all through the neighborhood around the school in marching practice. Of course, we would play music, as well, and people would come out of their houses, clapping to the beat and waving. So, not just the students, but the neighborhood as well all loved Mr. Davis.

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I guess that most of you know, that Alabama is a football state. Just ask Paul and his people. Anyway, at Jones Valley High School, the Band was king. The head football coach came to our principal and told him that he needed the practice field by the band hall; as, it was late August and time for the team to have “two-a-days.” Our principal said the he would have to talk to John Davis about that. He said, “The band has been doing “two-a-days” all summer. They practice in the morning and come back late afternoon. Now, the field might be free during lunch time; talk to Mr. Davis.” Really, lunch time in August in Birmingham, Alabama. Another story from that head coach, is about chartered buses. The band and football team would have to travel on chartered buses to certain “big” city football games. There was a big game and the buses arrived and the band was getting on and here comes the coach, “Those are our buses.” Our principal said that they were for the band and the other buses would be coming. Well, the game that night was delayed because our football team was late arriving to the game. It is not usual these days in the State of Alabama for the high school football coaches to receive stipends from booster to keep them from leaving. At Jones Valley, if your family could pay it, Mr. Davis’ stipend was $100.00 per semester, and the band booster club paid for those students who couldn’t. The Right Stuff - For what he was and what his mission was, Mr. Davis certainly had it. Band of Brothers - It would amaze all of you to know just how many of the band kids STILL maintain contact with one another. The bonds Mr. Davis was instrumental (no pun intended) in forming, still exist to this day.

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There was an oboe player, who intentionally did not graduate; so, she could stay in high school and play the oboe. Her Mother finally told her that she had to graduate after 3 years of failing. It’s a Wonderful Life - Looking back on those special times as a member of Mr. Davis’ “Golden 100” bands, it was, indeed a wonderful life. The Best Years of our Lives - They really were…and, at the time, we were too dumb to know it!

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I think to myself that being in the “Golden 100 Band” at Jones Valley High School was one of my best achievements. I wish I had realized that at the time; I knew we were great; I just did not realize the impact we were having on our fellow classmates, families, and even ourselves. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Now I want Joan to address this “movie”…….

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Peggie Sue Got Married - Band “couples” were pretty common, but some are really special. Mr. Davis innocently seated Fran Johnston- (Hampton) next to Jerry Hampton in 1961. It was the first time they had real contact with each other…and they are still together. Of course, so are Tommy and Beth Morse Saunders, Bill and Carolyn Hodges Millican, Fred and Annette Stone McDuff and Alan and Jenny Little Keith….just to name a few. I’ll close with a more somber, but absolutely true summation of just how the people at Jones Valley High School felt about this VERY special man. Love Story - In short, we all loved Mr. Davis (after we grew up, of course), and…no doubt...he loved US! A tangible example of this was when he attended our Band Reunion in 2011. It had been 50+ years since many of the students had toiled under his drumstick, and more than 40 years since 99% of us had seen him. Still, more than TWO HUNDRED former band members, JV students, and students from several other high schools (who attended his Summer Band program) showed up to show that they still cared deeply for this man who had so impacted their lives, so many years ago. He was deeply moved, and returned in 2012 and 2014 to even larger gatherings. Rest in Peace, Mr. Davis. It is well-deserved…for a job well done.


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