The concert band world lost an icon over this past weekend. William Francis McBeth (March 9, 1933 – January 6, 2012) was a prolific American composer, whose wind band works are highly respected. Among the most popular of his nearly 60 band works were Chant and Jubilo, Of Sailors and Whales, Through Countless Halls of Air, Masque, Kaddish, Canto and Caccia. The popularity of his works in the United States during the last half of the twentieth century led to many invitations and appearances as a guest conductor, where he often conducted the premiere performances of some of his compositions, the majority of which were commissioned. His conducting activities have taken him to forty-eight states, three Canadian provinces, Japan, and Australia.
From 1957 until his retirement in 1996, McBeth taught at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. He had an early start to his musical training, studying piano with his mother and taking up the trumpet in the second grade. He attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. While an undergraduate at H-SU, McBeth played in the university band. From December 1952 to January 1953, the band traveled with U.S. Camp Shows to Europe. He also played string bass in a jazz combo, which was unusual for the time period due to widespread segregation throughout the South. He was initiated into the University of Texas Alpha Iota Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia in 1957. In 1962, McBeth conducted the Arkansas All-State Band, with future president Bill Clinton playing in the tenor saxophone section. He served as the third conductor of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra from 1970 until 1973. He died aged 78 in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.
McBeth’s most outstanding awards have been the Presley Award at Hardin-Simmons University, the Howard Hanson Prize at the Eastman School of Music for his Third Symphony in 1963, recipient of an ASCAP Special Award each consecutive year from 1965 to present, the American School Band Directors Association’s Edwin Franko Goldman Award in 1983, elected Fellow of the American Wind and Percussion Artists by the National Band Association in 1984, National Citation from Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity in 1985, in 1988 Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia’s Charles E. Lutton Man of Music Award for his achievement and continued contribution to American music, Kappa Kappa Psi’s National Service to Music Award in 1989, Mid-West International Band and Orchestra Clinic’s Medal of Honor in 1993 and Past President of the American Bandmasters Association. In 1975 McBeth was appointed Composer Laureate of the State of Arkansas by the Governor, the first Composer Laureate named in the United States.