Back to Hall of Fame List


Sponsored by Alpha Chapter - Phi Beta Mu

Joe Grzybowski, Jr. - Class of 2022

Joseph Grzybowski, Jr. was born in Detroit, Michigan, on January 10, 1947, to Joseph and Helen Grzybowski. Joseph grew up in nearby Dearborn, Michigan, alongside his twin sisters Judy (Antinossi) & Linda (Adamus). Joseph, Sr. was a carpenter by trade who once worked to repair Henry Ford’s mansion after a helicopter crash. Always a jokester, Joseph, Sr. loved his wife Helen dearly. Helen, affectionately known as Bushia (polish for grandma), was renowned for her authentic Polish cooking. Growing up in a blue-collar family in a blue-collar town, Joseph attended Dearborn schools and was active in both sports (basketball and wrestling) and band. He graduated from Fordson High School in 1965.

Joseph went on to attend Wayne State University in Detroit receiving both his Bachelor’s and Master's degree there. While at WSU, he participated in the Symphony Band under the direction of Dr. Harry Begian and studied trumpet with Gordon Smith and Al Belknap of the Detroit Symphony. Dr. Begian would continue to serve as a mentor throughout his career and was always one of Joe’s biggest champions. While working on his Master’s degree, Joe attended numerous conducting workshops at the University of Michigan.

Prior to his teaching career, Joe played trumpet for numerous musical productions including Jesus Christ Superstar; Company, West Side Story, Mame, Oklahoma, and Carousel. Mr. G toured Europe performing West Side Story and toured the U.S. with John Raitt in Carousel. A hippy and rebel at heart, Joe was also active and toured in a local Detroit rock band, All the Lonely People. Recordings are available on YouTube! He toured and was life-long friends with Larry Baird. Larry was a renowned orchestral conductor and arranger of both classical and rock touring with the Moody Blues and Three Dog Night as their arranger/conductor. Larry’s father was a recording engineer in Detroit and recorded and produced LPs from some of Joe’s first concerts as an educator.

In 1972, Joe began his teaching career in his hometown of Dearborn, Michigan, at Maples Junior High and then Bryant Junior High. John Whitwell, then at Northwest Schools of Jackson County heard Joe’s band at a festival and had never heard a Junior High Band play with such musicality yet also sound so clean. He had to hire him as at his feeder school immediately. They worked together in Jackson Country to create some of the best public school bands Michigan had ever heard.

Joe excelled at connecting with and motivating students. He could always get young brass players to fill up their horns and play to the back of the auditorium. His wife Cathy, however, was always the practical one and also a great woodwind pedagogue. As a graduate of Cass Tech High School, she too studied under Harry Begian and knew how to clean a WW section. A master flute teacher in her own right, Cathy taught upwards of 70+ students a week. She would always be in his rehearsals walking around, fixing things or putting Joe in his place when he got a bit too passionate with the kids.

Their duet style of team-teaching mix sometimes rubbed people the wrong way. At that time, the conductor was supposed to be the consummate expert on all things and not need someone’s help in rehearsal. The atmosphere back then was much less collaborative than it is today, and Joe and Cathy broke that mold. John Whitwell knew and saw the magic of such a power couple but district administration didn’t always see it that way. Joe’s last job in Michigan was at Ann Arbor Public Schools. He became frustrated with the limitations the Michigan school system and teacher unions placed on his ability to have before and after school sectionals and push the kids to be the best they could be. Plus, Cathy was ALWAYS by his side teaching and his principal at Ann Arbor would not allow her to teach in the class because she was not certified. Joe couldn’t stand the thought of his family not being around, so he left and took a job at the local Royal Oak Post Office. Cathy continued to teach flute at the local Royal Oak Music store.

Joe was miserable at the most miserable post office there was. John Whitwell had moved on to Abilene Christian and when he heard of an opening for an assistant position at Abilene Cooper High School with Jack Nall, he called Joe immediately. It took some convincing but Joe and Cathy spent three days touring Texas with their young daughter Nicki and interviewing. Jack Nall’s passion for teaching and excellence struck a chord with Joe. So he packed up his entire family to move from Detroit to Abilene (quite the culture shock for the family) for a chance to teach Band again.

When he returned to teaching, he took a rock-star-like rebellious and colorful attitude to helping kids. His strength was identifying with his students who struggled in other classes because of ADHD or disinterest, and he molded them into great musicians who were passionate in their pursuit of musical excellence. Just a few short years around Texas bands and Joe (and Cathy) were hooked.

In 1988 Joe interviewed for L.D. Bell High School and won the job. Again, HEB ISD wasn’t quite ready for the power duo of Joe and Cathy. He would appear at other’s rehearsals unannounced to learn from them. With a history of the outstanding bands of Jerry Longwell, Roger Winslow, Joe Gunn, and Tom Neugent, the atmosphere in HEB at the time there was more competitive than collaborative. One time when he showed up at a Trinity HS Marching Band rehearsal, fellow PBM Hall of Famer Tom Neugent stopped rehearsal and wouldn’t resume until Joe got off the tower. Joe and Cathy’s love of kids and passion for helping everyone eventually won their colleagues over. It probably helped that Joe’s daughter Nicki and Tom’s son Nathaniel started dating as drum majors at LD Bell and Trinity in 1991 (later Joe & Tom became fast friends and their kids married in 1998).

Once Joe got a collaborative-minded staff in place that included Brian Youngblood, Sarah McKoin (and later Mike Boone), and with Mark Chandler and Steve Madsen as his primary feeders, the program grew and took off. Joe’s Symphony Bands earned consistent sweepstakes ratings at UIL contests. They advanced to the State Honor Band contest Finals in 1994 and 1996. While traveling, they earned “Best in Class” awards at the Smoky Mountain Music Festival, Colorado Cavalcade of Music, Winter Park Music Festival, American Classic Breckenridge Music Festival, and the National Adjudicators Invitational in San Antonio, Texas.

The Blue Raider Marching Band earned numerous honors, advancing to the Texas State Marching Contest in 1988, 1996, and 1998. From 1995 to 1999 the band was the Grand Champion of the UTA Marching Contest and was Grand Champion of the Duncanville Marching Invitational in 1995. The addition of Jeremy Earnart and John Pollard to his staff in 1997 and 1998 (with Brian Youngblood still writing their drill) helped solidify a more modern approach to the visual component of the LD Bell marching program.

During that same time period that the LD Bell Blue Raider Marching Band was becoming a force to be reckoned with, Joe continued to push the musical excellence of his Symphony Band. In 1999, they were invited to perform at the Midwest International Band Clinic in Chicago. Their concert featured a touching moment of Harry Begian conducting his daughter performing the Vivaldi Piccolo Concerto. The concert was well attended and ended with a standing ovation. Joe and Cathy were on cloud nine for making it to Midwest doing it their way.

In truth, Joe didn’t like marching band…in fact he hated it, but you couldn’t tell in his rehearsals. A student of art and artists, he once said, “You’re never going to walk into the Louvre or the Smithsonian and see a recording of a DCI-style marching show playing.” But he understood the importance of the visibility of marching band in the community to create real art and motivate kids to appreciate music. He also once said, “If we’re going to do marching band, we’re going to kick butt (ok he didn’t say butt) at it all the time!”

In 2000, completing their trilogy of the music of Miklos Rozsa (Ben Hur, El Cid, and Kings of Kings) the LD Bell Band won 5A State Marching Contest for the first time. Joe’s grandson Connor, only 6 months old at the time, was in attendance that night at finals in Waco. At the time, LD Bell was only the 4th school to win State Marching in the largest category (there was no 6A yet) since 1986. From 1986-2000 it was only Duncanville, Spring, or Westfield coming out on top. Joe and Cathy et al again broke the mold and opened up the state finals to many other DFW area programs that would follow. They went on to place 2nd at State in 2002 and 3rd in 2004. Since 1995, the L.D. Bell Blue Raider Band has been a consistent finalist at Bands of America Regional and Super Regional events, winning twice in 2000 and 2001 and once in 2002. They placed 4th overall in their first time at BOA Grand Nationals in 2001.

Perhaps Joe’s greatest legacy at L.D. Bell has been their continued state and nationally recognized success under the direction of Jeremy Earnhart, Van Mathews and now Suzanne Dell in the years since he retired in 2002.

In retirement, Joe and Cathy enjoyed supporting their son-in-law, Nathaniel Neugent’s efforts as a young head director at then Creekview High School. He accompanied them to 5A state in 2004 as a clinician.

Sadly, Cathy passed away in December of 2010 after a tough fight with cancer. It crushed Joe as Cathy was his everything. Joe struggled later in life to find balance without Cathy. He enjoyed listening to his 8,000+ LP collection and drawing with charcoal. He still loved teaching trumpet lessons and randomly showing up to Nathaniel or Nicki’s rehearsals in Mansfield and now Prosper ISD. He attended every concert they conducted that he could. He also loved hanging out with life-long neighbors Brent and Jan Hildebrand and played surrogate grandpa to their kids and grandkids.

Joe passed away in his home in March of 2021 at the age of 74. Over 500 former students and colleagues attended his funeral, held outside at LD Bell during the waning COVID pandemic. He is survived by his only daughter, Nicole Neugent; son-in-law Nathaniel; and Grandson Connor. His sisters Linda Adamus and Judy Antinossi live with their families in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. His legacy continues on with his grandson Connor, a recent graduate from Oklahoma State and alumni of Carolina Crown. Connor just accepted his first position as Assistant Director of Bands at Rogers Middle School in Prosper ISD and will become a third generation band director this fall.

Joe Grzybowski, Jr. was an “artistic whirlwind” while on the podium. His passion and emotion, infused with his intensity, were actually part of what many people perceived as his most defining trait. His ability to emotionally charge the music with his conducting and comments in rehearsal was appreciated by his students and parents. He understood there were many different ways to teach band and welcomed all different ideas as long as you were passionate about it. He was never judgmental of personal or professional differences and in fact welcomed students, parents, and colleagues who looked at things differently. Both he and his wife were well known for going the “extra mile” or going out of their way to help anyone who might need it. They both stayed well after hours and arrived early to help any student that might need extra help. Anyone who happened to stop by was always welcomed into their house for a meal and hours of conversation…usually about band. Band was family to Joe.

Thanks for stopping by! - Comments to Webmasters
Copyright 2024 Phi Beta Mu - Alpha ChapterĀ