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A championship memory

CHS band won Mardi Gras award 50 years ago

Posted: March 14, 2014 2:12 p.m.
Updated: March 17, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Most of our lives contain some memorable moments that last a lifetime. A group of former Camden High School (CHS) students had such a moment 50 years ago when the CHS marching band was named “The Greatest Band in Dixie” at the annual Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans. Trumpeter Jerry Sheheen said being in the band in the early to mid-1960s was made special by band director and teacher Bill Basden.

“My knowledge and appreciation of music, he gave me, as he did all of us. This carried with me throughout my life. He’s the reason I pursued music and my fondness and love for music is attributed to Bill, who was a great teacher, very well respected and admired by all of those who he taught,” Sheheen said. “He demanded 100 percent and we all gave 100 percent. We ended up being the best high school band in the southeast.”

Sheheen said it was a thrilling trip to New Orleans for a group of kids from Camden.

 “We got to see Bourbon Street and participate in all the festivities at Mardi Gras. I would never have had that opportunity had I not been in the band. It was a fantastic experience,” he said. “That was a highlight with being associated with the band. We stayed four or five days. It was an extended trip.”

He said Mardi Gras was the kind of event none of the band members had ever seen in person.

“We were eyes wide open. Bill hovered over us pretty much and kept us in line but, basically, the Bourbon Street experience and the night life and the bars and what we saw were just like what we had seen on television in the news accounts,” he said. “We were just right in the middle of it and just had a great time.”

Sheheen said Basden chose songs for the band that were complex and grabbed the judges’ attention.

“Bill used very difficult music and we performed that music on the field and were second to none. It was flawless, the kind of music that we did,” he said. “It was marching band music, but more difficult pieces that most band directors wouldn’t attempt.”

Sheheen said Basden pushed the band hard, but the students respected him and gave their all.

“We all felt like we had the potential to be the best with his leadership and his direction, and we were,” he said. “It was a fun time. We were all very close. It was a great group of people. We were all friends and we worked very hard.”

Sheheen still plays trumpet 50 years later in a local group called Reflections and again credited Basden for cultivating his talent in school.

“He gave all of us this appreciation and knowledge of music that is probably one of the best things that ever happened to me, because I’ve been able to pursue my music all these years,” he said.

When the band returned to Camden, it received a rousing welcome home by more than 1,200 residents at what is now Rhame Arena.

“Band competition back in those days was very intense. People took it seriously and when we got back from New Orleans we got a police escort into town,” Sheheen said. “That was really special.”

William Charles “Rusty” Major also played trumpet in the CHS band in the late ’60s and said he is the “quasi-historian” of the band in the 1960s.

“The Camden High School band, under the direction of Bill Basden, won four straight South Carolina AA state championships. Guy Hutchins was the band director before Bill Basden and he developed the band into a first-class parade band. When Bill arrived, he turned it into a championship marching band,” Major said. “I asked a number of them how they felt when they got back from New Orleans. I was there at City Arena when they arrived. The whole town was there. One of them said when the police stopped them at the city limits to escort them in they thought maybe they had done something wrong. That was Dr. Larry Owen.”

Major said the championship band had great power.

“It was just a fantastic time for the city. It was a gigantic national title,” he said. “They were all great musicians.”

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