85-year-old band director still inspires

TROY, Ala. - The National Band Directors Hall of Fame in Troy, Alabama has about 52 inductees - 48 of them you've probably never heard of.

Johnny Long introduced CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman to "Paul Yoder - father of the band movement in Japan."

Then, Long said, "This is Mr. Sousa, one of the great, great band directors,"

"You're what they call a living legend," Hartman said.

"I don't know about that," Long replied, "But I'm living, and that's important."

Starting in 1949 as a high school band director and later as director of the Troy University band - Johnny Long became known as one of the most inspirational band directors in America.

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More than three hundred of his students went on to become band directors themselves.

"AlI I know about band - which isn't very much - but I've done it for 60-some years - is that you spell it F-U-N," Long said. "And if you change that, it's over."

Long retired 14 years ago to spend more time with his wife Mary Lynn. But his passion for band never went away. He dreamed of forming a top-notch community band in Troy. But Troy is a small town - with not a ton of top-notch talent.

"I didn't think it would work, I really didn't," Long said.

Fortunately, there was one thing Johnny hadn't considered: the devotion of his former students.

Now, once a week during concert season, they drive in from all over the south and across the decades.

65-year-old Bobby Johnson was in Long's first college class. He lives in Atlanta and drives 3 hours each way to practice.

Johnson said he does it because Long's "such a unique character and I just admire him so much."

That characterization of Long was echoed in the rehearsal hall by many people.

"He's the single biggest influence on my career."

"He was a father figure to me. He's just a genuine person."

Long said he wants to be remembered as a teacher. "I think 'teacher' is the greatest word in the English language, next to 'mother'."

Fortunately, it seems were quite a few years away from writing any epitaphs. At 85, Johnny still doesn't miss a beat.

"Stars and Stripes" is his favorite. And his band, now easily one of the best community bands in the country, can play it like the 4th of July.

It's a real American classic - courtesy of a real American class act.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.