By Dedra Cordle
Bryan Corbett can barely contain his excitement.
For months, the long-time resident of Grove City has had the days of May 26 through May 30 circled on all of his personal calendars, complete with urgent underlines and several exclamation marks.
“I have been counting down the months, weeks, days, and even some hours,” he said.
So what is the event that has this normally laid-back associate minister in such an anticipatory state? It is the arrival of close to 50 alumni of the former McDonald’s All-American High School Band who will be practicing and performing for a concert and parade during the Memorial Day weekend in the city of Worthington.
“It is a momentous occasion, one we thought might never be able to take place again,” said Corbett.
From 1967 to 1992, the McDonald’s All-American High School Band was one of the country’s most recognized musical ensembles. Perennial favorites in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, it was comprised of two of the best musicians from each state and one from the U.S territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Nearly every member of a high school band wanted to be chosen for this distinction, but only a handful made it through the rigorous selection process. One of those high school students who dreamed of reaching All-American status was Corbett, then a rising senior at Airport High School in West Columbia, South Carolina.
It was 1978 and Corbett had just been informed by his band director, Bill Ackerman, that he had nominated the star trombonist to the corporate selection committee. Though honored by the thought and the nomination, Corbett was certain he would not be the one who was chosen.
“I didn’t think it would happen for me because I didn’t think I was one of the best musicians in the state,” he said. “Though I had always been selected to be in the All-State Band, there was a group of us who were really good and within that group were people I thought were even better than I could ever possibly be.”
Entirely convinced he would not receive the honor, he let the dream of being recognized nationally as one of the best high school musicians go.
Several months later – a moment Corbett recalls vividly – he was informed of his selection to the McDonald’s All-American High School Band by accident.
A friend of his who worked at one of the local restaurants had seen the list of those chosen for the 1978-79 year and went up to him in the school’s parking lot to pass along her congratulations. In shock, he ran into the band director’s office to ask if it was true. He told Corbett not to believe everything he heard.
Wanting to get to the bottom of this deepening mystery, Corbett rushed to the restaurant to look at the flyer his friend had mentioned. Printed on the bottom was his name along with the other recipient from South Carolina.
“I was shocked, humbled, happy,” said Corbett.
And also a little sad.
“I felt so bad for my band director because he had apparently planned a surprise announcement of my selection during one of our school events and it had been inadvertently spoiled by one of my friends,” he said with a laugh.
For much of the latter portion of that year, Corbett and the newly chosen All-Americans were whisked away to perform at beloved parades, grand openings, and telethons. They were even able to fit in an album recording session in New York City’s renowned Carnegie Hall.
Though their time together was brief, Corbett said hundreds of new and positive memories were created and they all left such an impression on each and every one of them.
“This band had such an impact on our lives,” he said.
Fourteen years later, the band was no more.
Flash forward to 2016 and alumni of the band had formed a group on social media. Though sharing pictures and memories were the primary activities, there were rumblings of “getting the band back together.”
“It was just a nice thought at first, and then it started to snowball from there,” said Corbett.
Unable to use the officially licensed name, the All-American Alumni Band was formed. Their mission: find a sponsor so they can return to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, re-establish the recognition for current high school musicians, and honor their most ardent fans while gaining new ones.
In 2019, a small group performed at a park in St. Louis for Labor Day. It was considered a “very successful endeavor.” More events were planned for 2020 and 2021 but they were canceled due to the pandemic.
This year, on May 26-28, close to 50 alumni will be flying in from around the country to practice and rehearse at the First Baptist Church on Orders Road where Corbett is an associate pastor and worship music minister. On May 29 at 7 p.m., they will perform their second public concert together under their new name at the Village Green Park in the city of Worthington as part of their Concert on the Green Series. Renowned jazz artist Wycliffe Gordon will be a featured guest and Ohio State’s Director of Bands, Russel C. Mikkelson will serve as the guest conductor. On May 30 at 10 a.m., the All-American Alumni Band will participate in their first Memorial Day parade as they step off from the American Legion Leasure-Blackston Post 239 in Worthington.
As was the case in 2019, Corbett will be participating as a trombonist representing the state of South Carolina; it will mark the first time he has performed in a parade since 1980.
“I’m a little nervous,” he said, “but overall I am so excited to be a part of this band and to be able to see it perform once more.”