About The Group
In perusing the Opry roster provided by author Charles K. Wolfe, the reader finds an listing for the Johnson City High School Orchestra. It seemed to maybe raised an eyebrow. He wrote, "Just why this improbable act appeared on the Opry is a mystery." The date he cited was April 16, 1927. Let us see if history can unravel this mystery.
A news article in 1927 indicates the orchestra had to have their picture re-taken as the first attempt failed due to bad film or camera handling. But there is a picture of the 1926 band that achieved some fame when it performed in Nashville. Below is a list of the band members at that time; perhaps one (or more) might contact us and share their memories of performing on WSM.
The band got statewide attention and recognition when they performed for the Tennessee state legislature on April 9, 1925. The concert was well received. The representative from Union County, Coram Acuff (the grandfather of Roy Acuff) introduced House Resolution No. 63 and was adopted. It thanked the school for the conert given in the hall of representatives.
During that era, there was an annual concert of high school orchestras in Tennessee in Nashville in the month of April. For the Johnson City High School orchestra (which was actually named Science Hill High School) the 1926 trip to Nashville would include a live broadcast over WSM on Saturday night. The orchestra left Johnson City on Wednesday, April 13 and were accompanied by Johnson City's mayor, W. B. Ellison. An article indicated they had broadcasted from Nashville last year (1926) and the prediction was the orchestra would do even better in 1927.
The city took pride in their orchestra. In 1927, the local Johnson City Chronicle told its readers on page one that the orchestra would be heard over WSM at 9:00 Eastern Time with a half-hour program. This appearance was due to their attending the annual Tennessee State Teachers Association convention in Nashville. Part of that trip was to provide a concert with other high school orchestras in what was termed ...
Even the departure for Nashville received front page coverage on April 13, 1927. The group of 33 orchestra members along with their chaperones was to take Southern Train No. 25 from Johnson City. A special Pullman was charted for the group who would also share the trip with 20 members of the Morristown orchestra when the train stopped there. The city was proud of their musicians and also felt their trip and the WSM broadcast could be a "great advertising agent for Johnson City and East Tennessee."
The local newspaper stated that the chaperones making the trip were Margaret Wright (director of the orchestra), Lucy Louise Hatcher, Mary Kate Rankin, Superintendent C. E. Rogers, President C. C. Sherrod, Dean D. S. Burleson of the State Teachers College and Professor A. E. Sherrod of the junior high school.
It was noted that the picture of the 1927 group had to be retaken but efforts to find a picture of the group were not successful. But the newspaper did list those who made the 1927 trip.
Johnson City High School Orchestra — 1927
There was a musical competition of sorts at the Tennessee Music Teachers Association at the Watkins Institute on Friday, April 15, 1927. Several categories of prizes were reported in The Tenneseean. In the violin ensemble competition, first place was awarded to Chattanooga High School; second place to Johnson City High School; and, third place was given to Centreville High School. These contests had become an annual event put on by the music teachers as part of the Tennessee Educational Association's convention. It was noted that the music teachers group had provided the music for the convention for the previous four years. Margaret Haynes Wright was elected as corresponding secretary in the officer elections for the music teachers group.
One of the highlights of the convention was the combined state orchestra concert. In 1927, it was held at Nashville War Memorial auditorium on Friday night, April 15. Milton Cook, director of music for the Nashville public schools held the conductor's baton. The combined orchestra put on their program and then there were special numbers by a violin ensemble, a boy's quartet and a girl's glee club. That was the build up to a speech by Dr. George A. Works, director of rural education at Cornell University on the topic of "Building A Community."
A total of 175 high school students were in the combined orchestra. They were well received by their appreciative audience of state teachers. Of note, the combined orchestra held only one rehearsal as a full unit. The news reports indicated highs schools from Decherd, Morristown, Johnson City, Chattanooga, Memphjis, Springfield, Jasper, Sout Pittsburg, Centreville, Lebanon, Hartsville, Murfreesboro, Watertown, Linden, Portalnd, Columbia, Tullahoma and Hume-Fogg High School and the Peabody Demonstration school of Nashville. The Johnson City contingent of 35 made up the largest group in the orchesra.
A news article goes on to report that Thelma Fogleman of Johnson City did a solo number on the cornet, "The Rosary" accompanied by the orchestra. The Tennessean article stated, "...was rendered as a cornet solo by Miss Thelma Fogleman of Johnson City, with a clarity of tone and sweetness of expression that could not be obscured by the rather preponderant accompaniment of the whole orchestra."
Following the orchestral program, Margaret Haynes Wright of Johnson City led a contingent of violin ensemble contestants in a selection from "Carment". The boy's quartet sang two numbers, one of which was "Sweet Kentucky Babe" while the girl's glee club did one number.
Another news article in 1927 indicates the orchestra had to have their picture re-taken as the first attempt failed due to bad film or camera handling. But there is a picture of the 1926 band that achieved some fame when it performed in Nashville. Below is a list of the band members at that time; perhaps one (or more) might contact us and share their memories of performing on WSM.
The orchestra did so well in their 1926 appearance in Nashville that the Nashville Banner listed it as an item in their "Ten Years Ago" article on April 6, 1936: "The Johnson City High School Orchestra, under the direction of Miss Margaret Haynes Wright, had given a beautiful concert here."
Johnson City High School Orchestra — 1926
Further research indicates that Margaret Haynes Wright was born on February 20, 1883 in Johnson City, Tennessee. Her obituary she died at the local hospital after suffering a fall at her home. She was a native of Athens, Tennessee and moved to Johnson City when she became a charter member of the faculty of East Tennessee State College where she taught music. She graduated from Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens where her father, Professor William A. Wright was a dean. She also attended the Louisville Conservatory of Music and the Busch Conservatory of Music in Chicago.
Later, she taught music at Science Hill High School in Johnson City and conducted the school's symphony orchestra. One year, the orchestra took third place in a national competition.
She was the founder and conductor of the Johnson City Symphony Orchestra.
She gave private lessons on the piano and violin for many years, but retired from that activity about two years prior to her death due to poor health.
Her obituary goes on to state that a number of her former students achieved recognition in the musical field.
Margaret's sister, Mary Luter Wright, played the harp for the orchestra in 1926. She, too, made musical contributions to Johnson City. She was the orchestra director for a time at Science Hill High School. In the 1940's, one of her orchestras was judged first in the nation.
In 1951, Margaret and Mary were given a concert in her honor by some of those students who came from many parts of the country. That concert was held at East Tennesse State University.
Mary Luter Wright, like her sister, was born in Athens on September 1, 1883 to parents Professor William A. and Claire Luter Wright. She passed away on March 17, 1972.
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