by Lee D. Miller III —
Whether the call was for hot jazz licks, woodwind or brass expanses on the music scales or staccato taps on the drums, the George Washington Carver High School bands responded to the majestic directions of “The Maestro” – Herman R. Rankins.
Mr. Rankins led teenagers in marching bands, concert bands and jazz bands as Carver’s band director from 1958 to 1979. He died Nov. 9 at his home in Los Angeles.
Among a string of great band directors that graced the Memphis area during a period spanning the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Mr. Rankins graduated from Manassas High School and earned a bachelor’s degree at Arkansas AM&N University (now University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff).
He taught briefly in Louisiana before returning to the newly opened Carver High School in South Memphis.
Carver bands became known locally and regionally for excellence in many genres of music.
The marching bands performed high-stepping and fast-paced routines in the traditional Memphis Christmas, Cotton Carnival and Cotton Makers Jubilee parades.
Carver’s high school football games were not complete without halftime shows that included intricate precision patterns in motion and dancing to the latest R& B grooves. The band also performed at Tennessee State, Arkansas AM&N and Morris Brown College halftime shows and parades.
In concert settings, Mr. Rankins introduced band members to some of the greatest and most challenging classical music. He fostered the talent of many great musicians. He allowed his students to explore jazz – the music he loved most – and display their improvising skills and talents by arranging and performing the music.
In 1977, The Carver Jazz Band accompanied the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the People United to Save Humanity (PUSH) organization, performing at the Coconut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. There, students met Quincy Jones, Alex Haley and performed as the opening act for Ray Charles.
The Jazz band continued its gigs in Memphis, performing at weddings, proms, Miss Black Memphis and Miss Black Tennessee pageants, civil rights events at Monumental Baptist Church and Memphis State University (now University of Memphis) basketball games.
He taught band members discipline, to be competitive but humble, to be focused and how to persevere until their goals were achieved.
He taught them that music is the universal language and how to use it to overcome everyday barriers.
Under his direction and leadership, students earned their way onto All-City bands, the McDonald’s All-American band, with some achieving international acclaim through Stax Records.
A member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Mr. Rankings was like a father-figure me to early on. We grew to be brothers, sharing experiences at some of his favorite jazz venues – Club Paradise, Malunda’s, the Music Box, the annual Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival, the Lighthouse on Hermosa Beach and Catalina Bar & Grill.
We spent hours on the phone talking about the treasures in life (family and faith) and the love for most types of music.
Mr. Rankins is survived by his children Keith and Keisha and granddaughters Kaia and Keila.
Funeral services begin Wednesday (Nov. 25), with visitation from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. at Mt. Olive Cathedral CME, 538 Dr. M.L King Jr. Ave., and again Friday from 9 a.m.-10:55 a.m. The funeral service is set for 11 a.m. The host pastor is the Rev. Dr. Peris Lester, with the Rev. Dr. Ozzie Smith delivering the eulogy.
Burial will be at 2 p.m. at New Park Cemetery, 4536 Horn Lake Rd. E. H. Ford Mortuary has charge.
Services will be live streamed on Facebook & YouTube: www.mtolivecathedral.com; facebook.com/mtolivecme; YouTube.com/MOCCME.
(Lee D. Miller III played trumpet in the Carver band.)