By JB Clark
SALTILLO – To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Saltillo High School Band, the school and band members will honor the man who started it all, Jimmy Gault.
Gault was hired to start the Saltillo High School Band in 1963 and served as the band director for 25 years.
He began playing music when his father, a harmonica and saxophone player, taught him harmonica as a boy.
By the time he graduated from Tupelo High School, Gault said he could play most brass and reed instruments.
He went on to study music at Itawamba Junior College on a band scholarship. There he met his wife Nellie.
“I applied for a band job in Booneville after graduating from IJC and they told me to go spend a few years working in a factory and then come back when I didn’t look like a student,” he remembered. “I had a tie on and everything but I still looked like a student.”
Okolona and Water Valley’s high schools told him the same thing.
“So I went to Daybright and they hired me right off the bat,” he said.
Gault began his career as a band director in Nettleton, where he spent five years, before he and his wife moved to Saltillo in 1963. They still live in the same home near downtown Saltillo.
He still has photos of his first band in the old Corinth High School marching band uniforms that were donated to the Saltillo band.
In the early days of the band, he said he started students on an instrument in fourth grade so they would have three years’ experience before they changed their focus from music to members of the opposite sex.
Saltillo Band Director Bruce White said the band provides an outlet for students with musical gifts that wouldn’t otherwise be available or as strong without Gault’s help.
“We have about 120 students in band and that’s 120 students that wouldn’t have a chance to use their musical abilities otherwise,” White said. “And every year our seniors have scholarship opportunities waiting for them.”
Gault will be honored before tonight’s Saltillo High School football game during the annual Band Night.
The middle and high school bands will perform together at 6:30, followed by an award presentation and a saxophone solo from Gault.
At least 25 of Gault’s students have gone on to be music teachers and directors in some capacity.