When Mr. Reginald Wright started as the band director at Proviso East High School in the fall of 1992, the marching band had just 15 students.
Since that first year, the band has grown in numbers and stature, with 90-plus members who continue to make it one of the premier groups in the region, if not the nation.
"I have a lot of high expectations for the kids and I took them to places where they could be inspired," Mr. Wright said.
Mr. Wright is retiring at the end of the current school year, bringing to an end a 45-year career that began in his native South Carolina and has seen him work with great programs there and in the Chicago area.
Born in Darlington, South Carolina, Mr. Wright grew up in Charleston, South Carolina. His mother taught art and was a renowned artist in the area, while his father was a math and science teacher. His father
had friends who played music, including two who were friends with Dizzy Gillespie, the legendary jazz trumpeter and bandleader. Those connections encouraged a love of music that has stayed with him.
"At a young age, I was able to meet those guys, and even see them perform," Mr. Wright said.
An elementary music program that taught students how to play musical instruments, and he learned how to play the trumpet, playing in high school and later at South Carolina State University, from where he graduated in 1972. He then began teaching music and leading high school bands in South Carolina, making his way up to Columbia.
In 1986, Mr. Wright moved to the Chicago area, becoming the music teacher in Bellwood School District 88. Using his connections and previous practices, the bands there soon were traveling as well.
"We had the kids traveling and performing in the statewide programs," he said.
In 1992, he returned to high school with his move to Proviso East. He found a program that was down to 15 students, and he began recruiting, building the program up to more than 35 students at the end of the year. The program had around 100 students by the end of the 1995-96 school year.
"It was hardly any program," he said. "The kids got to see bands from colleges. They also realized they had scholarship money that could be used.
Mr. Wright has used his connections with college professors from around the country, including several with whom he attended college personally, and found scholarships for students to continue their education after high school.
"They have a direct path from high school to college if they wanted," he said, adding that about 1,200 Proviso East students have won college scholarships since he started there.
One such student was Mr. Jarrett Artis, a 2009 Proviso East graduate and the drum major for the Proviso East marching band during the 2008-09 school year. Speaking as a co-host on May 16 for the Proviso East Battle of the Bands – another of Mr. Wright’s legacies - Mr. Artis said that Mr. Wright played a major role in the man that he became.
"He built a lot of leaders," Mr. Artis said. "Mr. Wright got me a full ride to South Carolina State. He really inspired me to do it all."
Mr. Tony Valente, principal at Proviso East who was a social studies teacher at Proviso East during the 1990s, said that Mr. Wright serves as a role model for other teachers as well as the students.
"As a teacher, the band program was very important to this building because the kids found something to be a part of that was successful," Mr. Valente said. "That was a pole into the school that kids had. They became academically successful because of the band. He became a pillar in this community that everyone respects and everyone loves."
Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, superintendent of District 209, said that Mr. Wright’s work with the band program at Proviso East has helped the school overall.
"Mr. Wright is one of the stars that we have in our school district," she said. "The legacy that he will leave behind not only in building the band program at Proviso East in one of the premier bands in the nation, but in positive impact on the lives of his students, is something for which every teacher strives in their careers. We thank Mr. Wright for his years of tireless service to Proviso East and the community at large. We will miss him."
Thank you, Mr. Wright, for all you have done to Keep Proviso Rising!