In its roughly ten years of experience, the Kashmere High School Stage Band traveled and competed across the nation and the globe. Under the tutelage of director Conrad O. "Prof" Johnson, the band won 42 of the 46 local, regional and national competitions in which it participated.
Last year, Mark Landsman filmed the story of 30 former KSB members who reunited to perform in Prof's honor in 2008. The end result is Thunder Soul. The documentary is more than just the inspirational story of one teacher's influence on his students, it's also a commentary on the importance of art in the schools.The Kashmere Stage Band's success in the 1970s was mirrored in Kashmere High's other extracurricular activities and academics. This wasn't a coincidence.
Tomorrow night, Unity of Houston will host "An Evening of Jazz, Rhythm & Soul Honoring Conrad 'Prof' Johnson." Art Attack also got in touch with Craig Baldwin, the KSB alum who put the reunion together, to ask him a few questions.
Art Attack: The movie touches on the reason the incoming principal, Otho Gibson, ended the Kashmere Stage Band in '78 (politics and jealousy of Prof were mentioned). Do you have any further information about that?
Craig Baldwin: No, I don't have any further insight to why that principal and others who controlled that principal's focus and intent was to seek out and destroy Prof's devotion to his students musically and their respective academic focus.
When this welterweight educator-band director named Conrad O. Johnson Sr. (Prof) was allowed to improvise his students into an unbeatable force, travel the world with these students, never depended on the school or the district to sponsor his ventures for the band, some felt he had too much sovereignty compared to other band directors alike.
AA: How bittersweet was it to have the movie debut just as the Texas Legislature announced $4 billion in education spending cuts last September?
CB: One of Prof's fundamental objectives: to sustain fine arts in schools. He believed participation in fine arts will provide students with opportunities to exercise and expand their imagination, which ultimately provides valuable experiences that are transferable into reading and writing.
When the Texas Legislature elected to renounce spending in September 2011, this was kindred to former Kashmere High School Principal Otho Gibson, who imprisoned Prof's artistic integrity. This will hinder the balance necessary for students to excel in school.
AA: How hard would it be to get something like the Kashmere Stage Band up and running again? Or did Prof really capture lightning in a bottle?
CB: It wouldn't be difficult at all to reconnect with former band members. Due to all the social networking, e.g., Myspace, Twitter, Facebook, etc., and pockets of friends scattered across the country, the band would come together again immediately for a worthy cause. However, we're still together spreading Prof's message about sustaining fine arts in schools. And, Prof was "lighting in a bottle."
AA: So have you and the other former members talked about going on a tour or doing some promotion to keep awareness of KSB alive?
CB: We are currently working on sponsorship to do tours across America. Our focus would be middle and high school kids. We would do colleges, too. We want them to see Thunder Soul followed by the band's live performance.
AA: Do you still listen to funk?
CB: The best funk bands sequentially are Earth, Wind & Fire, The Commodores, Sly & the Family Stone, Tower of Power, Graham Central Station, Mandrill, etc. When you merge terrific and funk together, you get Funkerrific! That is, too much funk to smell. Just the names listed clarify the pungent odor of funk.
We'll take that as a yes.
Thunder Soul screens Thursday night at Unity of Houston (2929 Unity Drive, Houston) at 7:30 p.m. A performance by the Kashmere Alumni Stage Band follows. Tickets are $15 per person ($10 per student) and can be purchased at www.unityhouston.org.