PRC Community Band: Johnny R. Baker leads PRC’s first community band organization

Published 12:17 am Saturday, December 6, 2008

Music has the power to inspire, just ask Johnny R. Baker, the director for the area’s newest organization, the Pearl River County Community Band.

As a former director of the Picayune School District band program, Baker said he was approached several times about forming a community band and he finally gave in to the requests. That was three or four months ago. Today, the community can proudly boast of its own band, with more than 90 members strong.

“This is just a wonderful, wonderful experience. It’s a ball,” said Baker proudly of this, his latest accomplishment. He said the band is playing music, serious music, and giving its members a much needed respite from the stresses of their everyday lives.

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Baker, originally hailing from Greenwood, Miss., said his dad was a musician and naturally he followed in his footsteps. “I loved music. I had had my own rock group,” he said.

Baker attended Millsaps College in Jackson, but quit school to play on the road with his rock band. He eventually ended up back in school at Mississippi State when he determined he wanted to be a band director.

In 1971, after directing for several years in Hazelhusrt, Baker was offered the job with Picayune schools. With the first competition in Gulfport, his students achieved a superior rating in every category but one, and the successes just continued.

The community band, which is comprised of many of Baker’s former students, has eight former band directors not including Baker in its midst: Jimmy Hallberg, Patsy Hallberg, Jerry Cumberland, Johnny Johnston, Cornelius Young, Benji McClean, Jeanna Strange and Ronnie Wilson. Baker said between 60 and 75 members total usually show up for the weekly rehearsals.

The group will have it’s inaugural concert after just eight rehearsals. “We’ll surprise people,” said Baker. They will perform Monday, Dec. 8, in Jack Read Park in Picayune as part of the “Community Christmas in the Park” entertainment line-up.

Baker is excited about this endeavor and hopes that everyone else will be too. He stressed the importance of a community band in the economic and educational aspects of a growing county.

He hopes students will want to work hard and join the band as adults, that it will encourage them to join the band program in their schools. He said it has been proven that band programs improve students’ math skills, reading skills and behavior. It also helps reduce the drop out rate, he said. Baker believes that being able to list a community band with the local Chamber office will help promote economic development. It’s one more amenity that may help people decide to relocate to the area.

As an added enhancement to Pearl River County, the band really hopes the community will support them, both in spirit and with donations. As a fledgling organization, they will accept any and all donations, such as cash and instruments. They have already received a donation of used music stands, which Baker repainted complete with logo.

Baker would like to thank his wife, Georgia Baker, for all of her patience and support.

The band’s board members are: Hal Mark Schrock, president; Victor Hobson, vice president; Eileen Welsh Baker, secretary; Suzan Wilson, treasurer; Angela Burks Hill, publicity and Carlos Smith, chaplain.

They welcome new members from within the county and beyond and are available to play for special occasions in Picayune and Poplarville. The band practices at 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday at the First United Methodist Church.

For more information call Johnny Baker, 601-798-4999; Eileen Baker, 601-569-3254 or Angela Burks Hill, 601-916-3952.