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James T. Matthews - Class of 1994

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James Taylor Matthews was born on August 19, 1923 in Durant, Oklahoma. His father, Taylor Matthews, was the leader and conductor of the 180th Infantry band of the Oklahoma National Guard. This band was far more proficient than most because its membership was made up of college students from Southeastern Oklahoma University located in Durant. The public schools in Durant did not have a band program until 1938. James received his early training on cornet and violin from his father. He graduated from Durant High School in 1940 and enrolled at Southeastern Oklahoma University majoring in vocal and instrumental music.

In 1942, James was inducted into the U.S. Air Force and was assigned to the band at Perrin Field in Sherman, Texas. He was later assigned to Bryan Field at Bryan, Texas, and also served overseas in the China-Burma-India area until the end of the war. In 1945, James returned to Southeastern and graduated with honors in 1946. He continued his education at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, majoring in trumpet and theory, and received a master of music degree in 1948. He returned to his native Oklahoma and taught band at Tishomingo for one year before moving to Eastern Oklahoma Junior College where he taught band there as well as at Wilburton and Red Oak public schools all at the same time. He organized and began the Wilburton High School Band, and in only two years the band was a straight First Division band. In 1951, he moved to Lawton, Oklahoma where he was the only band director in a city of 50,000. By 1955, the band had advanced from an almost non-existent status to one of national recognition.

In 1955, James moved to the University of Houston where he took over a band of less than 50 players. Within four years the band and instrumental department, with James as band director and instrumental chairman, grew to over 400 members, and the band received recognition nationally. James also advanced in academic rank from assistant professor to professor. This was unusual as James did not hold a doctorate, but it did show the esteem and high regard he was held in the eyes of the university faculty and administration.

In 1959, James was one of thirteen American bandmasters to tour Russia, Europe, and the Scandinavian countries representing President Eisenhower’s State Department goodwill exchange.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the University of Houston Concert Band set standards that all Texas bands strived to achieve. James was in great demand as an adjudicator, clinician, and guest conductor for All-Region and All-State bands throughout the nation. He held membership in professional organizations such as American School Band Directors Association, Phi Beta Mu (Alpha Chapter), College Band Directors National Association, TMEA, TBA, Kappa Kappa Psi, Tau Beta Sigma, Phi Mu Alpha and American Bandmasters Association. He was also associated with numerous band camps during the summer months. He was well known as being an advocate of contemporary band literature.

James retired from the University of Houston in 1982 after a successful career of 34 years on the podium. James passed away on October 22, 1992 in Houston. He was buried in Calera, Oklahoma. James is survived by his wife, Janet Kerr Matthews and daughters Caprice and Kim.

James came through Durant with a unique group of people, such as Roy and Floyd Weger, Earl Willhoite of the Fred Waring organization, George Walters, and Capt. Robert Landers, the organizer of the Singing Sergeants with the U.S. Air Force band, just to name a few.

We will long remember the contributions James Matthews made to the performance of band music in Texas.

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