Death of legendary band director Jack O. White: A ‘true Elon legend’

White, who taught at Elon from 1962 to 1986 and forever changed the music program, passed away Dec. 15.

Jack O. White, the beloved band director who helped gain international acclaim for Elon’s music program, died Dec. 15 in Jacksonville, Florida. He was 92. A service of remembrance will be held March 21 at Wytheville Community College in Wytheville, Virginia.

Jack White conducting the marching band during the 1975 Homecoming festivities

White’s legacy at Elon traces back to 1962, when then Elon President J. Earl Danieley ’49 hired him to join the music department after observing White in action during an event in Raleigh, North Carolina. At the time, White, a West Virginia native, was the band and choral director at Cary High School. It didn’t take long for White’s presence to be felt at Elon.

“He made such an impact on all of us,” said Raymond Beck ’75, who played in Elon’s marching band under White’s leadership and served as its drum major in 1973 and 1974. He described White as a “true Elon legend” who touched the lives of countless students. “He highly influenced his students, many of whom later became high school, college and university band directors for several generations and from sea to sea.”

White devoted significant resources into developing Elon’s marching band, “The Showband of the Carolinas,” which under his baton achieved a wide reputation for creative and entertaining football half time shows featuring such creations as the “Flying E Formation” and the snappy “Thank You Maneuver.”

“He was one of the most creative people I think we ever knew when it came to music,” Beck said, adding White was also an ingenious teacher. “He taught one of the most fun and enlightening courses as one of the triumvirate teaching ‘fine arts.’ As Jack used to say, ‘It was a gas.’”

Jack White organized the Emanons, Elon’s internationally renowned jazz ensemble

Besides the band, White also organized the Emanons, Elon’s jazz ensemble, just one year after he arrived on campus. The group quickly gained international recognition as they played the 1964 New York World Fair, and later, the 1972 Grand Ball for the Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg. In all, the group completed 23 tours under White’s direction. North Carolina Governor Robert Scott named the members of The Emanons as Goodwill Ambassadors in 1972.

Not surprisingly, after a few short years of being at Elon, the institution became a White family tradition. His two sons, Jon ’72 and Reggie ’77, attended Elon as did seven of their first cousins. Reggie, an Elon football player, emphasized his father’s desire for athletes to put equal effort into academic and athletic pursuits. “Dad paid close attention to all of the athletes at Elon,” Reggie said. “He wanted to make sure they understood it was important for them to succeed in class. He pressed the issue of accountability and attention to detail.”

As a musician, Jon got to see a different side of his father, and credits him for instilling in him a lifelong passion for music. “My father threw a horn in my hand in the seventh grade,” Jon recalled. “He just told me, ‘I need help, you’re in the band!’” Jon never stopped performing, and he went on to play the lead trumpet in Elon’s band for four years under his father’s guidance.

White was born in Keystone, West Virginia, on Jan. 19, 1927. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Concord (West Virginia) College, a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a doctorate from New York University. He was a veteran of World War II and served in the U.S. Air Force Band and directed the Air Force Jazz Ensemble. Prior to teaching at Elon, White, a West Virginia native, spent 12 years directing high school bands in Lebanon, Virginia; Wytheville, Virginia; and Cary, North Carolina.

Throughout his career, White arranged music for numerous musical groups and was in demand as an adjudicator and clinician, judging marching bands and music festivals throughout the Southeast. He was a member of the College Band Directors Association, the National Band Association, and the American Federation of Musicians, New York City, Local 802. Well known in the music world, White was well-acquainted with industry giants including Vincent Bach, Maynard Ferguson, Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis and Doc Severinsen.

White was recognized as Elon’s Outstanding Professor in 1968 and upon his retirement in 1986, was named Professor Emeritus of Music. In 1995 he received the prestigious Elon Medallion, and in 2012 he was named Band Director Emeritus. The bands’ current facility in the Center for the Arts was named in his honor in 2012.

White was predeceased by his wife of 62 years, JoAnne O’Dell White. He is survived by his sons, Jon Frederick White II (Cheryl) of Mars Hill, North Carolina, and Reginald Fox White (Arleene) of St. Augustine, Florida, along with six grandchildren and six great grandchildren.