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Dr. Al G. Wright
DR. AL G. WRIGHT, A native of London, England, was selected to follow Purdue Band’s legendary first director Paul Spotts Emrick upon Emrick’s retirement in 1954. Wright continued Emrick’s spirit of innovation and, like his famed predecessor, worked tirelessly to put Purdue’s band in the spotlight. He served as director until his retirement in 1981 and was subsequently named Director of Bands Emeritus.
Dr. Wright, and his wife Gladys, continue to make their home in West Lafayette.
He is particularly remembered for creating the Golden Girl featured twirler position in 1954, starting Band Day in the 1950s, and for creating the short patriotic piece “I Am An American” which became a traditional element of the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band’s pre-game show in Ross-Ade Stadium.
Before coming to Purdue, Dr. Wright taught band at Miami High School in Florida from 1938-1954. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from University of Miami which he attended on a full band scholarship as a French horn player.
During his years at Purdue, Dr. Wright established a national/international reputation for excellence with a band program at a university that offered neither a major nor a minor in music. A master showman, he designed elaborate halftime shows that filled the whole field and drew pictures for the crowd. This represented a major shift away from strict military style that dominated the band’s early years.
To add more flash, he added more majorettes, and increased the number of drum majors from one to two. He encouraged women to become instrumentalists when the ROTC requirement for membership was dropped in 1965.
Under Dr. Wright’s leadership, the band enhanced Purdue’s reputation for excellence in music by traveling (for the first time) nationally and internationally. There were three performing trips to Europe, 11 to South America, one to Japan and a USO Tour to Greenland. Wright was particularly proud of the fact that a band filled with non-music majors was invited several times to perform at Radio City Music Hall with the Rockettes.
Dr. Wright also attracted national attention to music at the university when the Purdue Band was featured as Band of the Week on NBC Radio’s highly popular “Band of America” program with Paul Lavalle in 1955.
His contributions to music outside Purdue include establishing the Sousa Foundation, headquartered in Lafayette, with Louis Sudler. The foundational administers a Young Composers Competition annually. Each year the foundation also recognizes one outstanding college marching band, and several high school marching and concert bands - picked from across the nation - for excellence.
Dr. Wright also established the United States Collegiate Wind Band and Choir program in the 1970s, which takes outstanding high school musicians on a European performing trip each summer.
He has authored three books and numerous articles on bands and music education that have appeared in major American, British and Japanese professional music magazines.
Among his honors are the National Band Association Hall of Fame Distinguished Band Conductors “Star of the Order,” 1986, and listings in “Who’s Who” in the Midwest and in the dictionary of International Biographies. He is a member of Kappa Kappa Psi, Tau Beta Sigma, Phi Mu Alpha and Phi Beta Mu.
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