William P. Foster, the former Florida A&M University (FAMU) band leader dubbed the “Dean of America’s Band Directors,” died Aug. 28 at 91. Foster was noted for creating the FAMU Marching “100” and developing the “high step” performance style now used at high schools and colleges across the nation.
James H. Ammons, the school’s president, called Foster a “visionary leader” and lauded his unconventional performance techniques. “We are deeply saddened by the loss of Dr. Foster,” said Ammons in a press statement. “…He built America’s greatest band by departing from the standard routines and maneuvers to showcase band pageantry. I can attest to the fact that what he created was magical. It was the marching band, at an Orange Blossom Classic in Miami, that sparked my interest in attending FAMU. The band was dynamic, larger than life and something that I wanted to have access to even though I was not a musician.”
Foster, who was also called “The Law” and “The Maestro,” served as the band’s director from 1946 to 1998. The celebrated leader received bachelor’s in music education from the University of Kansas in 1941, a master’s in music from Wayne State University in 1950 and a doctorate with in music from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1955.
His funeral is scheduled for Sept. 4 at 11 a.m. on FAMU’s campus. In lieu of flowers, his family requests that donations are made to the “William P. and Mary Ann Foster Endowed Scholarship Fund” at FAMU in support of FAMU band scholarships.