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William P. Foster, innovative college marching band director, dies at 91

August 28, 2010 |  4:02 pm

Foster William P. Foster, credited with innovating a much-imitated high-stepping style as founder and longtime director of the Florida A&M Marching 100 band, died Saturday. He was 91.

Foster died in Tallahassee, university officials said. No cause of death was given.

Foster was the marching band's director from 1946 until his retirement in 1998. He created more than 200 half-time pageants for the band at the historically black university. He is credited with innovating marching band techniques, including a high stepping style imitated by high school and college bands nationwide.

"There's a psychology to running a band," Foster told the New York Times in 1989. "People want to hear the songs they hear on the radio; it gives them an immediate relationship with you. And then there's the energy. Lots of energy in playing and marching. Dazzle them with it. Energy."

In 1989, the French chose the Marching 100 to represent the United States in the Bastille Day Parade in Paris, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. Instead of traditional marching band music, the band marched — and danced — to songs by James Brown.

"They illustrate American music to me, which is to say the best of black music," the parade's artistic director, Jean-Paul Goude, told the New York Times.

Members of the Marching 100 have played at Super Bowls, the Olympics, the Grammy Awards and the inaugurations of Presidents Clinton and Obama.

Foster, born Aug. 25, 1919, in Kansas City, Kan., graduated from the University of Kansas in 1941. He earned his master's degree from Wayne State University in 1950 and received his doctorate from Teachers College at Columbia University in 1955.

He wrote two books, "Band Pageantry: A Guide For the Marching Band" and "The Man Behind the Baton."

--Associated Press

Photo: William P. Foster, left, greets students in 2008. Photo: Associated Press