They don’t make a lot of money.
Members of the George Washington Marching Band, before the island even gained Independence, have been bound together by their love for music and an unwavering interest in keeping young people out of trouble.
“We don’t get a salary; it is a voluntary organization,” said Linval Tennant, the third leader of the band, which is based in the Linstead area of St Catherine.
He explained that, when the band travels with 40 members on most occasions, it is difficult to pay all members and cover other costs – including transportation.
The fee charged for each performance is usually relatively low – sometimes $30,000.
Tennant said the leftover is usually put aside, and a 10-member committee determines how it is spent.
Much of the spend, he added, goes towards assisting young band members with schooling.
“We are strict on that; you have to go to school,” Tennant declared, adding: “We have persons who visit the schools, talk with the teachers, and talk with the principals… If you are not going to class, you cannot be a part of this band.”
Tennant said the band, which is made up of some 80 dedicated people, is also keen on ensuring that no member is ever hungry.
HOW IT STARTED
The band was founded on 29 July 1953, by the late George Barnes Washington, who was a member of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF).
He was a strict disciplinarian, Tennant told The Beacon, adding: “Mr Washington taught us the rough part of life and told us nothing comes easily; he always told us he fought in World War II.”
Washington also operated a farm at Rose Hall district in Linstead where a street – Washington Drive – has been named in his honour.
Upon retiring from the JDF, Washington thought of a meaningful way to occupy his time.
He founded a band at St Helen’s Roman Catholic Church in Linstead; the band initially became known as the St Helen’s Boy Scout Troop.
The group, in 1985, closed a mighty chapter, when Washington died.
Peter Daley subsequently assumed leadership.
He remained at the helm of the group until 1991 when he migrated to the United States.
Tennant, a long-time visionary and member of the band, became the new leader. He was determined to shake up the status quo as far as the band was concerned.
Tennant, in 1992, tried to convince the leadership of St Helen’s Roman Catholic Church to rename the group in honour of its founder, Washington.
“The church never agreed with me,” Tennant told The Beacon, adding that he did not back down.
The church, he added, eventually ordered the group to leave its property.
Since then, the group, which was renamed George Washington Marching Band, has resided in different locations around Linstead.
At one point, the band was based at a Linstead premises, which was donated by Dr Arthur Wint, who was a medical doctor and the first Jamaican Olympic gold medalist.
When Dr Wint died on Heroes Day in 1992, the band commenced its quest for a new home.
Since 2002, the group has been based at Linstead Primary and Junior High School.
From that location, it has been working wonders.
The band started to perform overseas, albeit infrequently. “I told them that I would go on a wider scale when I took over the leadership, and there I started to search overseas,” Tennant told The Beacon.
He explained that the group, so far, has performed with Pacesetters Marching Band at the Martin Luther King Parade in Florida, and with Magnificent Troopers Drum Corp at the Carnival Labour Day Parade in New York.
Tennant, who wants Government to start assisting bands that volunteer their services towards youth development, is confident that brighter days are in the offing for the invincible George Washington Marching Band.
By Horace Mills, Journalist (B.A, Media and Communications, UWI)
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