By Reginald Stuart
NASHVILLE, TN — When high school graduate Warrick Carter of Charlottesville, Virginia, arrived on the campus of Nashville’s Tennessee A & I State University in the fall of 1960, little did he, his family, friends, classmates or teachers know his landing would actually launch him into an exciting, seemingly endless orbit of opportunities to pursue his childhood aspirations of being a musician.
Carter, a drummer and aspiring percussionist since childhood, was on the scene long before electronic drum sets and music machines.
“He came down to Tennessee State and never looked back,” said Eddie Spencer Meadows, a fellow A & I classmate. “He was a person who rose to the top of everything he accomplished,” said Meadows. “He was a consummate musician.”
Said A & I classmate Edward Graves: “He was not just a drummer. He was a musician. “He knew scales, harmonies, key signatures the basics,” said Graves. “He came with the knowledge.”
Carter came to TSU from the small Jackson P. Burley High School in Charlottesville ready to study, achieve and help band director Frank Greer continue to propel the ‘Aristocrat of Bands’ to greater and greater prominence nationally and internationally in recognition of its musical achievements and athletic field marching performances..
Meadows and Graves were echoing the sentiments of many who came to know Warrick, a 1964 graduate of Tennessee A & I, as a fellow TSU marching band member and classmate.
They too, earned graduate degrees in music and went on to teach. Graves was TSU band director for 36 years, having been recruited to sustain Greer’s standards and expectations. Meadows, who earned a Ph. D. in music and taught music at several universities.
The TSU Marching Band alums kept in touch with one another over the years as they rose in their profession, built families, moved from place to place, helping other aspiring musicians along the way. They fondly recalled their TSU roots whenever they talked, from their days of helping draw crowds to Jefferson Street for the university’s annual homecoming parade, to hearing the inspiring jazz music blasted from the sound horns in front of the Wigwam café near campus to grabbing fresh homemade meals at Swett’s Restaurant.
Like a musical selection that had been nailed after weeks of practice in the music rooms on campus and marching in performance drills on one of the campus fields, Carter’s pals learned in recent days that a key bandmate would be missing. Warrick Carter III, age 71, passed late last month at his home in Florida after a short, unexpected battle with cancer.
Before reaching the coda in his illustrious career, Carter had compiled a record of impressive accomplishments. An outstanding high school student and band member in high school in Virginia, he earned his B.S. in music at TSU, did advance study in percussion at Nashville’s Blair School of Music, a music school organized with the help of the late W. O. Smith. He earned a Master’s and a Ph.D. in music at Michigan State University.
Carter taught music in grade schools and colleges. After earning his Ph.D., he was appointed professor of music and chairman of the division of fine and performing arts at Governors State University in Chicago. There, he established the Governors State Jazz Band. With his TSU Band record academic credentials in place, he continued rising in recognition and stature, progressively to the pinnacle of the nation’s top music education institutions.
In 1984, Carter became Dean of the Faculty and Provost/Vice President Academic Affairs at Boston’s world famous Berklee College of Music. Later, for four years, he worked as director of entertainment arts at The Walt Disney Company, helping identify, audition and select musicians and groups for various Disney projects.
In 2000, Dr. Carter was named president of Chicago’s Columbia College, the well known and respected communications and visual arts institution. During his 13 years at chief of Columbia College, Carter helped boost enrollment and revenue at the private, downtown Chicago college, known for its outreach to non-traditional students. He is credited with helping Columbia raise $100 million in its first capital construction campaign and overseeing an annual operating budget of more than $220 million and helping boost institution assets to $430 million from $340 million.
Carter earned a roster of assignments, appointments and awards during his career, ranging from working with the National Endowment for the Humanities to consulting for the Minister of Culture of France. He performed with more than a dozen music icons during their careers, including blues legend Clark Terry, jazz music icons Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Taylor, Quincy Jones, Wynton Marsalis and Dee Dee Bridgewater. He was commissioned to create work for the National Endowment for the Arts and others in the field of music education.
Carter was inducted into the International Jazz Educators Hall of Fame among countless other honors.
Being a percussionist was a life long dream of Carter’s, even before he knew for sure how to define and spell the word. He had been a drummer since childhood, recalled his older brother Charles, in an telephone interview last week.
“He (Warrick) had two passions for Christmas,” said brother Charles. “He wanted drums and trains.” Almost every year from ages six to 10, Warrick got a drum and a model train.
The roots of his interest in both may have stemmed from his whole family’s interests and occupations. Evelyn Carter, his mother, was a pianist who taught music in the county schools system. Charles Sr., father of Warrick and his three brothers, was a railway waiter and porter. He worked for the Chesapeake and Ohio (the C &O) Railroad, the old Chessie System. The family attended Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Charlottesville. All four brothers sang in the church choir, said Charles Jr. “just not at the same time,” he added with a light laugh.
Warrick was such an enthusiast about drums, brother Charles recalled, that each new drum would be “torn up” before Christmas season ended.
As Warrick and his three brothers progressed, all four played instruments. With their mother’s enthusiasm for music and the training of Elmer Sampson, their high school band director and a neighbor, three of the four Carter brothers majored in music when they went to college. How A & I figured in reflects a combination of different objectives, said older brother Charles.
Charles, already enrolled in North Carolina A & T College and majoring in music, did not want his little brother to come to his school. Warrick wanted to go to Florida A & M College, anyway, Charles said, having been impressed with what he had heard about the FAMU marching band. Charles suggested Tennessee A & I.
“A & M had won half-time shows for around six straight years,” Charles told Warrick, based on a orchestration and field marching routine that the college had mastered and repeated successfully each year, he said. “I told him you’re not learning anything, if you play the same thing year after year, that A & I was just as good, if not better.”
Warrick’s father also weight in on choosing a college, He wanted the children to go to a college that was in a city with a railroad station, as relatives of railroad employees could ride the trains free. That would help get the children to and from college for school years and holiday visits. Union Station, the major rail station on Broadway in downtown Nashville, fit that bill, a the A & I campus was only a mile or two away.
Warrick’s choice was a win-win for his family, especially brother Charles at A & T, Mr. Sampson, Warrick’s high school teacher, Frank Greer and the Aristocrat of Bands.
At TSU, Carter shared what he had learned reading and translating music compositions with other aspiring percussionists long before the movie “Drum Line” gave movie goers a peak at fellow-student mentoring and how marching band music involved more than simply step routines. He did his best to bring a resounding presence to arrangements by Louis Smith, Greer’s band music arranger.
Before he reached his coda, Warrick Carter, the small town Virginian focused on achieving, was heard around the world through his work and that of his peers, students and colleagues.
Carter, preceded in death by his father, mother and one of his brothers, is survived by three brothers, his widow, Laurel Carter, a daughter Keisha Noel, son-in-law Daniel, grandchildren and a host of relatives and friends.
Mount Zion Baptist Church, his home church in Charlottesville, plans to have a memorial service in his honor on August 19. A memorial service is set for October 14 in Chicago.