Do You Remember…George Brite?

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George Brite devoted his life to instrumental music and mentored a myriad of young minds, teaching the skills they needed to become successful musicians. Brite received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tulsa in 1947 and earned a master’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1952, under the tutelage of the incomparable music educator and band director, William D. Revelli. Brite met his wife, Maxine, at Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, where they played in a twelve-piece band. They were married in 1947.

George Brite started his career at Sapulpa Public Schools in 1953 and during his thirty-four-year tenure as the band director, many of his students went on to become accomplished and widely-acclaimed musicians, conductors, and high school band directors.

One such former student is Gary Green, brother of the late ‘Reg” Green, former Mayor of Sapulpa. Gary Green is a world-renowned conductor of wind ensembles, having performed at Carnegie Hall. Green retired from the University of Miami-Frost School of Music, where he was Professor and Chair of the Department of Instrumental Performance and Director of Bands.

Sapulpa High School Band Director George C. Brite directing his students. photo provided

Another protege of George Brite is SHS alumnus, Mike Mefford. Mefford became the director of the U.S. Army Jazz Band. He subsequently spent several years as the band director of a number of northeastern Oklahoma high schools. 

Another SHS alumnus was Martha Snider who became a band director. Local jazz musician Steve Ham is yet another example among the countless number of students that were not merely taught by George Brite but mentored and inspired to realize his or her full potential.

George Brite was the consummate clinician. In the context of teaching music, a clinician is a music specialist who listens to performers and helps them correct faults in their technique. Mike Mefford said that Brite had an uncanny “ear for music.” Mefford said Brite held band clinics throughout the region. “He was a gifted clinician.”

Past and present is shown as the organizer of the Sapulpa High School bands, Stuart R. (Cap) Lamb, pictured at left, was honored at the homecoming with the theme “Rhapsody in Blue and White.” Now under the direction of George C. Brite, the band was begun by Cap Lamb in 1921 with only 22 members. It has now grown to be 74 in number and has become a vital part of school activities.

Pastor Todd White, who holds a bachelor of science in music education, became friends with Brite when White joined the Sapulpa Community Band, which Brite directed. Pastor White said that George Brite was from a generation of music educators who not only taught students the skills to become successful musicians but instilled in them “a set of concomitant values that would enable them to be successful in whatever field of endeavor that they choose to follow for the rest of their lives.” White went on to say that Brite treated all band members the same regardless of their individual talents. He also said that Brite had a sense of humor when critiquing performances and was “the king of one-liners.”

Barbara Armstrong, an SHS teacher who worked with Brite, recalled a funny story. “He had the band assemble on my front lawn early one morning to wake me up because I gave him grief about how loud they played.”

Mike Mefford said, “Once in 1968, George overslept and was not at rehearsal. He was always early. Dick Steeples and I got all the trumpet players in our cars and went to his house, stood on his front yard, and played ‘Reveille.’”

Also in 1968, George Brite took the Sapulpa Junior High and High School Bands to the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago.  The Sapulpa school bands received a standing ovation for their performance at this prestigious event and even played with Doc Severinsen (the bandleader from “The Tonight Show.”) Mike Mefford stated that Goerge Brite told him that participation in the clinic would not have been possible without the help of Junior High Band Director Marjorie Skinner.

The Sapulpa High School Band performed in the 1972 Cotton Bowl and in the 1987 Orange Bowl. The band also received the honor of performing at Ronald Reagan’s 1985 Inauguration. 

George Brite started the Sapulpa Community Band and was instrumental in the fundraising and the design of the Courthouse Gazebo.

Brite conducted the Summer Starlight Band Concert Series during the 1980s and early 1990s at the River West Festival Park Amphitheater in Tulsa. Brite also played in the Tulsa Philharmonic.

Sapulpa celebrated George Brite Day to honor his retirement in 1987 and dedicated the Sapulpa High School George C. Brite Band Hall in 1996. 

Brite continued to be involved in the Sapulpa Community Band, the Tulsa Community Band, and various orchestral events. SHS alumnus Charlie Snider recalls Brite being rolled out in a wheelchair at the University Village Retirement Center to play the trombone. Snider said the performance nearly brought him to tears since it brought back memories of his high school days with Brite. George Bright passed away on May 16, 2007.

Under George Brite’s direction, the Sapulpa High School Band became one of the most recognized high school bands in America in the second half of the twentieth century. It is rare that an individual is endowed with such immense innate talent, the passion for one’s craft, and the drive and desire to teach, inspire, and encourage others.

Charles Betzler

Charles Betzler

Long-time Sapulpa resident, Charles Betzler, followed his father, Charlie, into the radio and TV repair business. At age 9, he fixed his first broken radio and his first love is vintage audio equipment. In his 50 + years of technical work, graduation from OSUIT, and years of Continuing Education, Charles, in his capacity as Emergency Management Director of nearby city, designed the Emergency Operations Center, and the radio-activation system for the sirens. In his long career, he has repaired every type of consumer electronics from black-and-white TVs to the latest lap-top.

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