By Micael Bird
If you saw the name David DeLisle Black Jr., you might not know who it was.
Most everyone knew him as “D.D.”
D.D. Black passed away right before Christmas at the age of 87 but he his passion for music education in Alabama will be remembered always.
A native of Montgomery, Black graduated from Sidney Lanier High School in 1949. His band director was the legendary Yale Ellis. Black served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Korea, and throughout the 1950s attended the University of Alabama as he worked on his bachelor’s degree in education. It has been said D.D. took a little extra time at the Capstone because he enjoyed playing drums in area bands so much. All along, he was under the baton of Col. Carleton K. Butler and served as drum captain for the Million Dollar Band.
After earning his bachelor’s, Black began his teaching career in 1957 at Bellingrath Junior High School. Back in his hometown of Montgomery, he also served as assistant band director at Lanier under Tommy Binion. Black earned his master’s degree in music education in 1963.
In those days, middle school band directors were not paid by the school system. D.D. was compensated as the assistant band director at Sidney Lanier but otherwise he didn’t earn that much teaching beginners and middle school bands. Each band student was charged $3 to participate in band, which helped some, but otherwise Black’s daily life was a labor of love for music in the Capital City.
Montgomery Public Schools had a system by which the junior high directors basically worked out of the trunks of their cars each day. Black traveled between Bellingrath Junior High School and Baldwin Junior High School every day from 1957-1966. During those years, the Bellingrath band earned superior ratings at the state contest. The success at Bellingrath fed into the Lanier program, where Binion’s bands experienced tremendous success at the state and regional levels.
Black became interested in becoming a music administrator and completed his “AA” certificate in administration and supervision. In 1966, he was appointed the instrumental music consultant with the Alabama State Department of Education, where he worked for 26 years before retiring in 1992.
His focus at the state education department was to facilitate a better understanding between music teachers and principals. What many of us may recall, however, is he wrote and edited a guidebook still used to this day by band directors across the state.
In 1980, D.D. began what I think he considered to be his life’s work. Phi Beta Mu started an all-state tape project that year, a campaign that lasted into the 21st century. He traveled around Alabama recording the professors from the state’s music colleges performing the Alabama All-State Band exercises and giving suggestions to students. These tapes, and later compact discs, were sold as a fundraiser for the Phi Beta Mu bandmasters fraternity but also are fondly recalled by those of us who bought them in hopes of making the all-state band.
Black never stopped promoting rudimental drumming. He loved it and loved talking about it about as much as he enjoyed talking about aerospace education. And he loved talking about that as much as he loved to teach people about how to properly record school music.
When I organized the Robert E. Lee High School band reunion in 2004, I asked D.D. to speak since he was teaching across town when Lee High was founded. He’d always looked the same, this little bald man, so when he told a story of losing his hair, everyone in attendance became interested.
D.D. described how he tried to fight hair loss by purchasing a hairpiece. There was no air conditioning in the Bellingrath band room in the 1950s and he recalled one day he exploded in anger because the students kept laughing at him and wouldn’t get serious for a rehearsal. After class, he looked in a mirror and knew why they were laughing — his sideburns had rolled up like window shades!
D.D. Black was a true original. Around the time of that Lee band reunion, I asked him to take the old reel-to-reel tapes of the Lee band and remaster them for CD. In those visits with Mr. Black, I’d spend hours listening not only to his stories but learning the difference between wet and dry reverb, microphone placement and so much more.
I will always treasure the opportunities I had to sit in that man’s garage, surrounded by the aural history of band in my hometown.
Black was an avid ham radio operator with the handle W4PRF. In amateur radio, there is a numeric code for the word “goodbye.” In closing, with the gratitude of those of us who knew him, here it is: 73.
Michael Bird is a choral director and general music teacher for T