Alfred George James Wright was born in London, England on June 23rd, 1916, to Alfred Francis Wright and Elizabeth Tilley Chapman Wright. After he finished the first grade his family immigrated to America on the Mauretania and settled in Pontiac, Michigan. The family stayed with Al’s Uncle, George Wright, for six weeks before buying a small house. His father started working for the Pontiac Motor Company as a tool and machinist while his mother was a professional seamstress. The local band director, Dale Harris, who was also the founder of the American School Band Directors Association (ASBDA), visited Al’s parents and recruited him to play okay Horn in the high school band. After graduation from Pontiac High School, Dr. Wright earned a full music scholarship to the University of Miami in Florida where he earned both a bachelor’s degree (1937) and a master’s degree (1947). He taught band and orchestra at Miami Senior High School from 1938-1954, where Dr. Wright led the program to national prominence. The Miami Senior High Band performed at the prestigious Midwest Clinic in Chicago in 1951.
In 1954, Al Wright was named Director of Bands at Purdue University, a position he held until his retirement in 1981. Upon retirement, he was named Director of Bands Emeritus. While at Purdue, Dr. Wright was credited with introducing a “show band” style to Purdue University with intricate drill formations, picture shows, and a flashy high step style of marching. During his time at Purdue, Dr. Wright added positions to the marching band including the Golden Girl, the Girl in Black, the Silver Twins, the Flag Corps, and the Golduster Dance Team. It was Wright who also started the stirring patriotic tradition of I Am An American. He brought guest conductors to Purdue including Arthur Fiedler from the Boston Pops, Henry Fillmore, Edwin Franko Goldman, Karl King, Ferde Grofe, Sir Vivian Dunn, and Paul LaValle. Dr. Wright’s Purdue Bands traveled around the world including performances in Colombia, Venezuela, Japan, Canada, Holland, and other destinations in Europe. Under Wright’s leadership, members of Purdue’s marching band also appeared in four separate productions at Radio City Music Hall for a total of 664 performances. In 1971, Dr. Wright started the Purdue orchestra program. He is credited with literally putting the Purdue Band program on the map.
Al Wright was considered a pioneer in the band profession, having served as President of numerous professional organizations. In 1961, he founded the National Band Association (NBA), serving as its founding president, secretary-treasurer, and Honorary Life President. He was eventually inducted into the the NBA Hall of Fame of Distinguished Band Conductors at Troy University. He served as the President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of the John Philip Sousa Foundation and founded the United States Collegiate Wind Bands. He was inducted into the prestigious American Bandmasters Association in 1949, served as ABA President in 1981, and Honorary Life President until his death. He held memberships in the Big Ten Band Directors Association, the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA), the Music Educator’s National Association (MENC), and was a 4-year member of the Jury for World Music Festivals in Kerkrade, Holland. Dr. Wright also served as President of the Florida Bandmasters Association, the Florida Orchestra Association, and the Florida Music Educators Association. He was also inducted into the Florida Bandmasters Hall of Fame and the University of Miami Band Hall of Fame.
Numerous organizations honored Al Wright with honorary memberships including Kappa Kappa Psi, Phi Beta Mu, and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. He was elected to the Academy of Winds and Percussive Arts and received the Star of the Order of Merit from the Sousa Foundation. Kappa Kappa Psi presented him with their Distinguished Service Medal and in 1982, Purdue University awarded him the Distinguished Alumnus Award. In addition, he was the recipient of an honorary LLD degree from Troy University. In 2016, both Al and Gladys Stone Wright were awarded the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award by the Midwest Clinic. Both Al and Gladys were also awarded Lifetime Achievement Award by the international band fraternity, Phi Beta Mu and ASBDA.
Wright served as guest conductor, lecturer, and adjudicator in most of the 50 states, in five Canadian provinces, Japan, Europe, and England. He is listed in Marquis’ Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World. In 2003, Dr. Wright was honored by Purdue Band Alumni when a bust of his likeness was placed outside the Purdue Bands entrance at the Elliott Hall of Music. The Purdue Bands & Orchestras department chair position bears his name. The largest rehearsal hall in the new Purdue Bands & Orchestras facility will be named for Al G. Wright.
In 1938, Al Wright married Marie Farmer. Their daughters and families include: daughter Adele Marie Wright, married to George Ronald Needham; grandson Scott Needham, wife, Anne-Marie Szabo and great granddaughter, Melanie Needham; grandson, David Needham, wife, Kimberly Routh, and great granddaughters Delaney and Kaitlyn Needham; granddaughter, Jennifer Needham Graf, husband Shawn, and great grandsons Jordan and Peyton Graf. Daughter, Cynthia Elaine Wright, married to the late Lawrence Edward Williams; grandson, Charles Williams, wife, Melody Shanks, and great grandchildren, Kiley Shanks and Calvin Williams; granddaughter, Laura Williams, husband, Chris Saucedo and great grandchildren, Nick and Mia Saucedo.
Al married Gladys Stone Wright in 1953. They were married for 67 years. Al and Gladys traveled the world together and she was the love of his life. She survives. Gladys Wright’s family includes a brother Murvel Stone Jr. and a sister Carole Stone Willavage, 13 nephews and nieces and over 25 great nephews and nieces.
A service will be held at Slayter Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Purdue University on Friday, September 11, at 2:30pm for family and invited guests. Due to issues related to COVID-19, masks will be required. The service will also be virtually broadcast. Details concerning the virtual service will be available at www.purdue.edu/bands. Burial will follow at the Spring Vale Cemetery in Lafayette. Gladys Wright asks that friends consider donations to Purdue Bands & Orchestras (giving.purdue.edu/bands) in memory of Dr. Wright to support the Hagle Hall building project. A “Celebration of Life” will be held in the coming months to honor Dr. Wright. You may sign the guest book and leave memories at www.soller-baker.com