In 1967, McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc started the McDonald’s All-American High School Band to recognize some of the nation’s most accomplished young instrumentalists. Every year through 1992, 105 high school seniors — including two from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, along with one each from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands — performed in this celebrated ensemble.
They marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York for 25 years and in Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses Parade, and they performed at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. They made television appearances and recordings and performed with some famous artists.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that left a lifelong impression on its participants.
McDonald’s discontinued the band in 1992 and sponsored a basketball team. But it’s not forgotten: On Monday, the All-American Alumni Band will make its national debut in St. Louis.
“What could be more American than getting the All-American Band together on a national holiday?” says Allison Felter, who as one of the two musicians from Kansas played French horn in the 1978-79 iteration of the ensemble. Now she’s the director of education and community engagement at Opera Theatre of St. Louis. “We’re so excited to have the national debut here in St. Louis, sharing great American band favorites with local audiences.”
Former band members from 28 states meet this weekend in St. Louis for both marching and concert rehearsals. On Monday afternoon, they’ll share the stage with the Compton Heights Concert Band on the Shaw Bandstand in Tower Grove Park.
Three alumni will conduct: Pete Goodman (percussion, Michigan, 1974), a percussionist and teacher in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Donna O’Bryant (clarinet, New Mexico, 1980), a band director and teacher in Bryan-College Station, Texas; and Connecticut-based freelance arranger and composer Kim Scharnberg, (trombone, Iowa, 1977), who has guest conducted the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra and assorted Broadway orchestras.
The Community Music School of Webster University is providing rehearsal space and the use of large instruments.
Most of the repertoire is American music, including Sousa marches; they’ll also perform Tchaikovsky’s “1812” Overture, transcribed for band. The featured work is the world premiere of “Healey’s Heroes,” composed by Scharnberg in honor of longtime Golin Communications executive and project manager of the All-American Band programs Pat Healey.
This may be the group’s debut, but it won’t be the last time they’re heard from: Plans are already afoot for future performances.
And the marching practice? That, Felter says, is with the goal of taking part in a future Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.