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Remembering W. Francis McBeth (1933-2012)

William Francis McBeth (March 9, 1933 – January 6, 2012) was a world-renowned composer and conductor. He was the Trustees’ Distinguished University Professor and resident composer at Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) in Arkadelphia (Clark County), where he served as chair of the department of Music Theory and Composition. The governor appointed him composer laureate of Arkansas in 1975. McBeth’s compositions include works for all media, but were influential in the development of the literature for wind symphony.

Francis McBeth was born on March 9, 1933, in Ropesville, Texas, to Joseph Phinis McBeth, a Baptist minister, and Lillie May Carpenter McBeth. He spent his youth in west Texas, where he began his musical training at an early age, studying piano with his mother and taking up the trumpet in second grade. McBeth had one brother and one sister.

He attended Hardin-Simmons University (HSU) in Abilene, Texas, where he received his bachelors of music in 1954. He received his masters of music in 1957 from the University of Texas (UT) in Austin and was awarded an honorary doctorate of music from HSU in 1971. He also studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

While an undergraduate at HSU, McBeth played in the university band. From December 1952 to January 1953, the band traveled with U.S. Camp Shows to Europe. He served in the military from 1954 to 1956 with the 101st Airborne Band at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and the 98th Army Band at Fort Rucker, Alabama. He married Mary Sue White in 1953 and they had two children.

Dr. McBeth was appointed band director at Ouachita Baptist College (now Ouachita Baptist University) in 1957. He remained at OBU, retiring in 1996 as the Lena Shepperson Professor of Music. In 1975, he was named composer laureate of Arkansas, the first composer laureate in the United States.

He conducted the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in Little Rock (Pulaski County) for many years before his retirement from the orchestra in 1973, at which time he was named Conductor Emeritus. During his tenure as conductor, McBeth transformed the ensemble into a professional orchestra with a permanent home, financial stability, and full-time professional players. In addition, McBeth conducted in forty-eight of the fifty states as well as Japan, Europe, and Australia.

The most outstanding of his awards have been the Presley Award at Hardin-Simmons University, the Howard Hanson Prize at the Eastman School of Music for his Third Symphony in 1963, recipient of an ASCAP Special Award each consecutive year from 1965 to present, the American School Band Directors Association's Edwin Franko Goldman Award in 1983, elected Fellow of the American Wind and Percussion Artists by the National Band Association in 1984, National Citation from Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity in 1985, in 1988 Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia's Charles E. Lutton Man of Music Award for his achievement and continued contribution to American music, Kappa Kappa Psi's National Service to Music Award in 1989, Mid-West International Band and Orchestra Clinic's Medal of Honor in 1993, the John Philip Sousa Foundations Sudler Medal of Honor in 1999, and past president of the American Bandmasters Association. In 1975 McBeth was appointed Composer Laureate of the State of Arkansas by the Governor, the first Composer Laureate named in the United States.

Most of McBeth’s music and books were published by Southern Music Company of San Antonio, Texas. His publications include works for all media: piano, choral, chamber, orchestra, and band. Among his most frequently performed compositions are Symphony No. 3 (which was awarded the Howard Hanson Prize in 1963); Kaddish, Op. 57; Beowulf, Op. 71; Of Sailors and Whales, Op. 78; Through Countless Halls of Air, Op. 84; and Missa Brevis, Op. 82. His passion for wind symphony music influenced its literature, and compositions of younger composers show his influence. McBeth was widely recognized as a clinician and lecturer and wrote a great deal about his own music and that of his contemporaries. Many of his articles were published in leading music journals, and he published three books on music theory and orchestration: Effective Performance of Band Music (1972), New Theories of Theory (1979), and Twentieth Century Techniques of Composition for the Beginning Student (1994). All of his major compositions have been recorded and are commercially available.

Dr. McBeth was a long-time attendee of the Midwest Clinic, an exemplary musician, educator, and friend to all who knew him. He died on January 6, 2012, from complications of a stroke.

For additional information:

The ASCAP Biographical Dictionary of Composers, Authors and Publishers. 4th ed. New York:  American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, 1980.

Hitchcock, H. Wiley, and Stanley Sadie, eds. The New Grove Dictionary of American Music.  New York: Grove’s Dictionaries of Music, 1986.

Preston, Keith Y. “William Francis McBeth (b. 1933): Composer, Conductor, and Music Educator.” PhD diss., Arizona State University, 2006.

Rehrig, William H. The Heritage Encyclopedia of Band Music: Composers and Their Music.  Edited by Paul E. Bierley. Westerville, OH: Integrity Press, 1991.

“W. Francis McBeth.” Sigma Alpha Iota Philanthropies, Inc.