George Wilson Sr. dies
By Mark Wineka
As a music teacher, George Follett Wilson Sr. had one commandment:
“Thou shalt do the best thee can and then some.”
Once known as Salisbury’s “Music Man,” especially for the highly acclaimed Broadway musical productions his Boyden High School students performed, Wilson died Saturday in Salisbury.
At his death, the 83-year-old Wilson had just moved into the N.C. Veterans Home at the Hefner VA Medical Center.
He had been living at his Forsyth County home with his wife, Doris.
Funeral arrangements are still being worked out. One of his sons, Alfred, said Sunday night the service may wait until the end of the week as family members make travel arrangements to be here.
From 1957-71, George F. Wilson Sr. was the face of the music department at Boyden High School, as both its band and choral director.
In his resignation letter April 19, 1971, he noted that when he took the job, the band had 24 members; the mixed chorus, five.
“I leave Boyden High School with 100 registered for band, 135 for mixed chorus and 176 registered in consumer music for the school year 1971-72,” Wilson said.
The late Post Editor George Raynor wrote a column in 1982 after he ran into his old friend at the N.C. Oyster Festival in Brunswick County, where Wilson had moved in 1971 to re-establish band and music programs in those public schools.
“George Wilson is best remembered haranguing his cast at a rehearsal or presiding over an orchestra at one of his famous Boyden High musicals in the ’60s,” Raynor wrote, “or at the head of the marching band at the football games. Or arguing and laughing with friends.”
At the time, Wilson was working the Oyster Festival crowd, trying to drum up votes for his run for the Brunswick County school board. He later won a spot on the board.
In 1960, Wilson produced and his high school students starred in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” It was used as a vehicle for getting more kids in the music program.
The successful production led to “Oklahoma” the next year and firmly established a Wilson musical as a must-see event over the next decade.
They typically ran for three days and attracted standing-room-only crowds.
Alfred Wilson said his father found a way to have the whole community involved in the productions, from choreography to building sets.
The musicals included “South Pacific,” “West Side Story,” “Guys and Dolls,” “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” “Carousel,” “Bye-Bye, Birdie,” “Camelot,” “All-American” and “Wildcat.”
“He screamed, screeched, badgered, jumped, pummeled, pulled, pushed, babied, soothed, showed you how — and loved you,” Post columnist Rose Pose wrote in 2001.
In late September 2001, the Boyden High Class of 1961 paid tribute to Wilson at its 40th class reunion.
About 100 of his former students took the stage at Salisbury High the night before the reunion and thanked the teacher who gave them the gifts of singing and acting.
Wilson attended from his home in Forsyth County. “If you were in Mr. Wilson’s shows,” Arnold Chamberlain said at the time, “you were something.”
Many of today’s Salisburians still remember having a part in one of Wilson’s shows. Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz was a stagehand in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
Alfred Wilson said his father, a veteran, also made it a point to provide one of his student horn players for any military funeral at the National Cemetery in Salisbury.
George F. Wilson Sr. joined the Navy after quitting school in the 10th grade. After his discharge in 1945, he returned to finish high school and earned his degree in music from Appalachian State. He often supported himself with his music and was accomplished on the clarinet, flute and saxophone.
His part-time musical exploits brought him in contact with the Barnum & Bailey Circus, Ice Capades and Judy Garland, according to newspaper accounts. Before taking the Salisbury teaching job, he had taught in Valdese.
George Wilson Sr. is survived by five children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.