Newman fondly remembered

Published 10:57 pm Saturday, June 7, 2008

“Picayune was the highlight of his life,” said Billy Newman of his father, renowned Picayune School District band director of 17 years, Charles Stanton Newman. “He loved his students and they new he loved them.”

Charles Newman, 80, passed away on May 29, in his home in Hattiesburg. He will be missed but certainly his legacy in Picayune and throughout Mississippi will not be forgotten. According to Billy, former students flew in from all over the country for his memorial service on Saturday, just to honor the man who most continue to say touched their lives in a significant way.

Born in Laurel, Charles moved to Picayune in 1954 when he accepted the band director position.

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“The band program had gone down to nothing,” said Billy. His first accomplishment was to change the name. “Nowadays everything is the ‘pride of’ something,” said Billy, but his dad used it when the term was almost unheard of as a way to instill a sense of pride in the band. From that point forward the band became known as “Pride of the Tung Belt.”

It wasn’t long before people were going to the football games just to hear the band play. Cheerleaders and football players were quitting their gigs just to join the band.

Billy said what endeared his father to both the students and his own family was that he was always a kid at heart. “He was so much doggone fun to be around,” said Billy.

“Folks in Picayune remember how every half-time show by the ‘Pride of the Tung Belt’ band was an all-out extravaganza. My dad never performed the same show twice. He constantly brought in new innovations, like twirling bass drums. His annual ‘light show’ was always a crowd pleaser. They would turn out all the lights in the Picayune stadium, and the band would march in complete darkness with tiny, different colored penlights on each member’s hat and left shoe — so all you saw in the field were a ‘thousand points of light’ moving about the field in beautiful geometric formations.”

Billy also talked about some of the other “crazy ideas” his dad came up with to create spectacles that were unheard of at the time, ideas that swiftly caught on, such as having a flag corp. “He was always ahead of his time,” said Billy.

Charles introduced a whole new world to the students of Picayune. It was said he “gave them the gift of possibility.” He traveled with the band to college bowls: the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl — every major Bowl. He also took the “first southern high school band” to perform in the Tournament of Roses parade. A small minority of residents were afraid for the students to make this trip, but Charles was so determined to make this happen for his students, that in the days leading up to it, he hired police protection to keep the nay sayers at bay.

Not only did he take those students to that parade and but he went on to take them to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

He continued to push until the band played on the world stage on three national television networks. The band ultimately played on national T.V. seven times and they would also perform 30 minute concerts for a New Orleans T.V. station.

Sometime in the 60’s he took on the girls’ chorus and made them so good, they earned T.V. time as well.

Charles directed his band for the Picayune School District from 1954-1971; former students say they went on to achieve what they never could have achieved had it not been for him.

After leaving the Picayune School system he went on to become a school principal. Charles worked in the Pearl River Central, Oak Grove and the Hattiesburg school systems.

As a US Navy Veteran of WWII was said to be extremely patriotic. He was a man completely devoted to his family and they loved him for all the same reasons his students did — his child-like wit, commitment and dedication.

His 1992 memoirs, “I Had It All with the Pride: A History of the Picayune Memorial High School “Pride of the Tung Belt Band, 1954-1971,” published by The One House Publishing Company, is in the planning stages for a second printing.

During Saturday’s memorial service at Moore Funeral Home in Hattiesburg, the family screened the recently produced documentary entitled “…And the Band Played On: The Life and Imprint of Picayune’s Charlie Newman.”

In his obituary it states that Charles was preceded in death by his wife Jo Ann Newman of 50 years. The couple were members of the 38th Avenue Baptist Church in Hattiesburg.

His surviving family members are his two sons, Stan Newman of Bay St. Louis and Billy Newman of Hattiesburg; his two daughters, Jan Thornell of Houston, Texas and Debbie Doan of Shreveport, La.; a sister, Patricia Dantin of Bristol, Tenn.; eight grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Billy said, “Picayune was the highlight of his life,” but it would appear that during his reign as the Picayune schools’ band director he was no doubt one the highlights of Picayune.

[Sources for this article include the Item, Hattiesburg American and a press release from The One House Publishing Company.]