Charles H. Armstrong
November 3, 1931 – December 2, 2017
Former Supervisor of Music and longtime band director in the Charles County Public Schools, Mr. Armstrong had a dream: to recreate the American tradition of community bands in Southern Maryland. The golden age of bands, from the mid-1800s to the 1920s, was characterized by each community having its own volunteer band. Because radio and records did not exist during most of this period, the only form of musical entertainment in many communities was the town band, which typically performed on Sunday afternoons from the town bandstand. Occasionally, a professional band would come to town; these bands, which sometimes numbered up to 2,000 instrumentalists and 20,000 vocalists, generated great excitement wherever they performed. The popularity of bands reached its apex at the turn of the century when John Philip Sousa, the “March King,” created his own touring band, “The Sousa Band.”
Through Armstrong’s vision, the “Community Concert Band, Inc.” was formed in early 1984 in Charles County, largely by Armstrong contacting former students from his 25 years of teaching. In 1985, the name was changed to “Southern Maryland Concert Band” to reflect the wide geographic diversity of the band’s membership and public performance locations throughout Southern Maryland.
Charles H. Armstrong was born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina on November 3, 1931. He passed away peacefully on Saturday, December 2, 2017, in his home at the age of 86.
He is predeceased in death by his father, Willard Franklin Armstrong, his mother, Peggy Armstrong-Belanga and his step-father, Mike Belanga. He is survived by his loving wife Betty Helene Armstrong, his children Charles Raphael Armstrong, Carmel Ann Wood (Husband, Bill Wood), Betty Teresa (TC) O’Brien, (Husband, Steve O’Brien), grandchildren, Brittany Michele Wood, Kayla Marie Wood, Madelyn Elise Mazzeo and Great granddaughter, Mallory Ann Pyles, daughter of Brittany Marie Wood and Steve Daniel Pyles Jr. He also leaves his loving Sister-in-laws, Florine Joyner and Doretha Vaughan, friends, many nieces and nephews and musicians and students whose lives he touched deeply.
His love for music was evident at a young age and was proud to say he was a lead trombone player and drum major of the 100-piece marching band of Elizabeth City High School. Just out of high school he won 1st place with is trombone solo on the Horace Height Show. He received a Bachelors of Music Education from East Carolina University where he was also active in the dance band and marching band. At East Carolina, he met the love of his life, Betty Helene Armstrong. He served two years in the Army as 1st Trombone player in the 3rd Army Headquarters Band, the top band in Atlanta, Georgia and during this time was invited to tour with Hal McIntosh Band. He went to graduate school at Notre Dame University and was proud to be a member of the “Fighting Irish” Concert Band and even played a “blues” solo he wrote himself at the halftime football show with the Notre Dame Marching Band. While at Notre Dame he was a trombone soloist and loved playing and supporting his family by teaching music, giving private lessons and playing in Jazz Nightclubs. He moved his family to Maryland in 1964 and originally taught at 5 elementary schools and worked the summers for the “Head Start” program. Superintendent of Charles County Public Schools, Jessie Starkey, was so impressed with his musicianship, interaction with the students and his original song “Laughing Place” that he hired him as the first Music Supervisor in Charles County.
As Music Supervisor, he was instrumental in starting the Tri-County Honor Band program to bring more opportunity to the instrumental students of Southern Maryland. Missing what he loved most, teaching and students, he went back to the classroom and started teaching again. He had many highlights in his teaching career but he was proud to say that under his direction the Matthew Henson Middle school band was the first to get straight ones at the State Band Festival on grade level 3 music and the Lackey High School band was the 1st Grade 6 band in Charles County to get straight ones at State. Several years after he retired from teaching he brought his new dream to life by creating the Southern Maryland Concert Band. He leaves not only this legacy behind, over 35 years strong, but the legacy of all the students’ lives he touched along the way.