Monday, October 2, 2023 Oct 2, 2023
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Lincoln High School The Jazz Greats’ Alma Mater

By Phillip Pyle |

During the late Sixties, Lincoln High School gained a reputation for two things: woefully bad marching bands and sensational jazz musicians. Marilyn Walton, a former Lincoln band member (class of ’68) and now a successful jazz singer, can testify to that.

“We were the Animal House of marching bands,” she recalls. “We could, without question, be counted on to be laughed at.”

But nobody laughed when Lincoln’s musicians stopped marching and started playing. Arguably, Lincoln has graduated more great jazz musicians than any other high school in the United States. Check your favorite jazz albums: chances are good you’ll hear the sounds of same Lincoln alumni.

The forty-eight-year-old South Dallas institution has educated the likes of flutist Bobbi Humphrey; saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman; jazz vocalist Shirley McFatter; Leroy Cooper, musical director for Ray Charles; pianist Cedar Walton, who plays on the soundtrack of ’Round Midnight; Fran Gaddison. saxophonist in the first female jazz band. International Sweethearts of Rhythm: and so many others. Today, Lincoln’s jazz band, led by Norman Fisher, continues its musical dominance. The band has won consecutive Combo Division Championships.

Allison C Tucker, band director and main musical force at Lincoln from the late Fifties to 1981, says that he and his predecessor, J.K. Miller, were determined to give students at the predominantly black school an opportunity to make it despite often severe economic disadvantages. Tucker says he always taught his students that “it’s not the depth from whence you came, but the heights you can attain. Wherever the group wanted to go, we took them as far or as high,” says Tucker. He is currently writing a book on black music that will include many of the students he inspired.

Why have so many jazz greats learned their chops at Lincoln? Even Walton stumbles, saying, “probably something in the universe, something that puts people at a certain place at a certain time.” Walton likens Lincoln’s great assemblage of jazz musicians to the Harlem Renaissance of the Twenties. Whatever the reasons, Lincoln’s jazz greats have built a record of achievement that should make anyone forget those “creative” marching bands.