Before he was president of the National Association for Music Education (2002-2004), then known as MENC, before he was a music teacher, before he was a renowned saxophonist player for Liza Minnelli and Grover Washington Jr., before he was a music education professor and director of the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Willie L. Hill Jr. made history at the first Super Bowl.
He was the drum major who led the Grambling (Louisiana) College marching band, and the Arizona State marching band from Phoenix, in the first Super Bowl halftime show, 50 years ago. The Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs squared off at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.
Hill told UMass Aherst News and Media Relations, “We had collaborated with other black bands all the time … But here’s an all-white band from Arizona. It was a different twist to what we were accustomed to. We had to make sure we were hot stuff.”
Watch Hill discuss his Super Bowl role in the CBS special at 9 pm ET/PT on Friday, February 5. Two University of Arizona marching band members who participated in the halftime show are also featured. The behind-the-scenes feature also looks at previous halftime performances by Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Beyoncé, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Paul McCartney, U2 and others.
UMass notes that “the two bands marched together, eventually forming an outline of the United States, a blend of black and white that wasn’t so seamless elsewhere across the national landscape or on the sports field.”
UMass explains: “In a year that saw riots in cities from Detroit to Los Angeles, when the racially charged In the Heat of the Night won Best Picture at the Academy Awards and Thurgood Marshall became the first black Supreme Court Justice, the blending of both bands in front of 40 million Americans watching at home on television and 60,000 inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was monumental.”
Willie Hill’s Storied Career
Hill received his B.S. from Grambling and earned an M.M. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Colorado-Boulder. He was a professor of music education and assistant dean at the College of Music at the University of Colorado-Boulder for 11 years as well as director of education for the Thelonious Monk Institute in Los Angeles.
In 2000, Hill received the Lawrence Berk Leadership Award from the International Association for Jazz Education and the Jazz Education Achievement Award from Downbeat Magazine. In 1998, he was inducted into the Colorado Music Educators Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Grambling Hall of Fame in 2008.
He is also author of several books, including The Instrumental History of Jazz, Approaching the Standards, and Jazz Pedagogy: The Jazz Educator’s Handbook and Resource Guide.
“Star of Halftime Show,” University of Massachusetts Amherst, January 27, 2016.
“FAC Director Willie Hill Part of CBS Special on History of Super Bowl Entertainment,” University of Massachusetts Amherst, January 7, 2016.
ESPN offers other Super Bowl halftime memories from Hill.
The NFL offers this history of Super Bowl halftime shows.
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February 4, 2016. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org).