Otto Paris was born June 7, 1904 in Munger, Texas, the third of six children. His school days began near the rural cotton-farming community of Hubbard, Texas in a small one-room building called School P74. He continued his schooling in Hillsboro in 1920-1921 where he worked in a boarding house to pay for his “keep” and education. His mother had given him a cornet and Hillsboro had a band director. He moved on to Hubbard for the 1921-1922 school year. He played in the Hubbard city band; however, the director departed leaving the band without leadership. So, the town merchants took up a collection for a salary and hired Otto to direct the band – his first band at age 17. In 1922-1924 he worked on the farm and eventually accepted a scholarship to play high school baseball in Mexia, Texas. There he supplemented his living by working in a grocery store.
He attended Westminster College in Tehuacana, Texas from 1924 to 1926 on a baseball scholarship, playing catcher. He also played end on the football team (weighing 135 lbs, dripping wet). He played cornet in the Moody Orchestra at the college and also played with the “Jackson Night Owls” dance band in 1926. On June 7, 1926, he married Ruth East.
Otto began his teaching career at McCanles School, then Burleson School near Kirvin, then at Munger where he taught from 1928 to 1933. During this period, he attended summer school at North Texas, receiving his B.A. degree in 1930. While at North Texas he directed and played in the college dance orchestra and worked as a lifeguard. In 1939 he received a B.M. Degree from the Houston Conservatory and a Master of Music from the VanderCook School of Music of Chicago in 1941.
Otto established band programs in several Texas schools, starting in Kilgore. In 1937 Alvin lured him there to start a band program and from 1937 to 1942, his bands made a lasting impression, creating sensational lighted night performances at athletic events, winning top ratings at contests, touring West Texas, New Mexico and Mexico and attending the New York World’s Fair in 1940. They played concerts at each stopover in exchange for a gym to throw their bedrolls. On one occasion, due to a late arrival, lodging had been cancelled so Paris contacted a large used car lot and made arrangements to open enough cars to sleep two students to a car.
Otto left Alvin in 1942 to enter the U.S. Navy where he served in the Pacific. After his discharge, he organized bands in Texas City, Friendswood and Pearland. In Friendswood he was band director, football coach and math teacher. In 1951-1959 he was with the Pace Piano Company and from 1959 to 1971 he taught math at Deady Junior High in Houston. He retired in 1971.
Otto resides in Huntsville with his wife of 43 years, Dr. Janelle Avenell Paris. They have two children, Betty Ruth Brightwell and Billy Otto Paris, nine grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren.
The Otto Paris Band Scholarship was established in 1988 by the Alvin High School class of 1938 and supported by his many devoted former students and friends. 1938 is the year that Otto collaborated with Coach Dave Engman to compose the “Alvin Fight Song”. The song is still played and sung to arouse the fighting spirit of the school today.
Otto Paris is the past, the present, and the future of the band profession in Texas. Phi Beta Mu salutes his creativity and his outstanding career by selecting him for membership in the Texas Bandmasters Hall Of Fame.