MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Precision, musicianship, and humanity are just three of the teachings legendary band director Herman Rankins taught his students from the ’50s through the late ’70s at George Washington Carver High School.
He brought class, soul, and precision to the fairly new high school in South Memphis in the 1950s.
Rankins was a musician who took his talents to the classroom to teach lessons his students still remember more than 60 years later.
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As the legendary band director who spent more than 20 years at Carver High School, Rankins mastered their sound and created a culture of music excellence.
Former student Lee Miller played trumpet in Carver’s band. Miller went on to become a member of the famed Morris Brown College marching band. He remembers his mentor as someone who didn’t take or make excuses.
Miller says from the ’50s through the ’70s, there were only five high schools for blacks, and they all stood out for their music.
“We all strived to follow in his footsteps. He taught us not only to be musicians but whatever your endeavor was in life, be the very best at it you could be,” Miller said.
Miller says under Rankins’s guidance, the halftime was the show no one wanted to miss.
Carver’s band became one of the first Black bands to integrate the Cotton Carnival Parade and was the only Black band to play for President Lyndon Johnson when he visited Memphis in 1964.
Miller says many of Rankins’s students went on to further their education in music.
“We learned a lot of the routines we did from graduates of carver high school. Graduates went on to Florida A&M, Arkansas A&M, Morris Brown College, UCLA, USC, Langston, Kentucky State, Tennessee State,” Miller said.
After leaving Carver in 1978, Rankins moved to Los Angeles, where he continued to be involved in the education of children.
Many of his students went on to have careers in music, working with the likes of Isaac Hayes, while others went on to become successful in other careers.