Marching Band Alumni Spotlight: Earl Benson
Degrees received from the University of Minnesota:
BS 1961, Music Education; MA 1967, Music Education; PhD 1978, Education
While at the University of Minnesota, Benson performed in the Marching Band and Concert Band Ensemble under Dr. Gale Sperry and Dr. Frank Bencriscutto. In his senior year, he was president of Phi Mu Alpha and a member of the University of Minnesota Presidents’ Student Leadership Council.
Dr. Earl Benson’s teaching career spanned over thirty-five years in Minnesota’s public schools beginning in Blooming Prairie (1961-1965) and moving to Bloomington in 1965. His Bloomington tenure included Bloomington Jr. High School (1965-1967), Hubert Olson Jr. High School (1967-1979), and Bloomington Jefferson School (1970-1996). He retired from Bloomington Jefferson High School in 1996.
At his Hall of Fame induction, The Minnesota Music Educators Association reviewed the contributions Dr. Benson made to Music Education in Minnesota, in this nation and internationally. They noted the numerous awards he received for his musical efforts including the MAC Award for Leadership in Music (1976), the Minnesota Business Foundation Award for Excellence in Education Award (1984), the University of Minnesota Alumni Association Outstanding Educator Award (1986), and MMEA Music Educator of the Year Award (1988). In addition, it was noted that Benson was elected to the prestigious American Bandmasters Association (1988), and was honored in 1991 as a MENC Nationally Certified Music Educator. He received the John Phillip Sousa Foundation Award for Musical Excellence (1994) and was featured by Bandwagon Magazine in that same year as “One of the Top Ten in Our Field.” He received an unprecedented five Citations of Excellence in Music Education Awards from the National Band Association for his work with Bloomington Bands and was honored by the Lake Conference receiving its Distinguished Service Award for his service to students and programs. On his retirement in 1996, he was installed as the first Bloomington Jefferson High School Hall of Fame inductee.
Dr. Benson served as a guest conductor/adjudicator throughout Canada and the United States, in addition to engagements in England, Scotland, Norway, Israel, Japan, Singapore, Spain Africa, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. His teaching methods were documented in an international film (Yamaha Corporation) in three languages titled Bands in American Education: Dr. Benson and the Thomas Jefferson High School Band; and the Josten Corporation featured Benson in their 1986 film Pathways to Performance: Ten Midwest Leaders Articulate Leadership. His (1978) doctoral thesis titled "An Assessment Procedural Model for Elementary and Secondary School Music Programs" became a model for assessment procedures in public and private school music programs throughout the nation.
Dr. Benson was bestowed Honorary Memberships in several international band organizations including Norwegian Band Federation, Israeli Band Federation, Japan Bandmaster Association, and the Southeast Asia Band Federation.
In his 26-year career at Bloomington Jefferson High School his high school bands performed throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and in several countries in Europe. His Jefferson Bands performed before three U.S. Presidents, and his Marching Band, by invitation, performed in three Tournament of Roses Parades, the Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl, and numerous performances representing Minnesota at the Festival of States, Disneyland, and Disney World. In addition, this 260 member organization appeared annually for the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, and three Prep Bowl appearances at the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome at the invitation of the Minnesota State High School League. Dr. Benson chaired the Music Committee for the Minneapolis Aquatennial for ten years and served in this role for the MSHSL Prep Bowl for five years. He adjudicated State/Regional music contests for the MSHSL for over 30 years. Benson was inducted into the Minnesota State High School League Hall of Fame in 1999.
Dr. Benson was the founding conductor of the Bloomington Medalist Concert Band in 1968, and it’s principal conductor for thirty-six years. This musical organization was invited to perform at three Midwest National Band & Orchestra Clinic appearances in Chicago, two performances at the invitation of the National Band Association in Rochester and Atlanta, and numerous Minnesota Music Educator Convention appearances. The organization was awarded the Sudler Award in 1988 for musical excellence and named “One of the top two community bands in the nation” by the National Band Association. The Medalist Concert band performed over 450 concerts throughout the Midwest in conjunction with area high schools, colleges, and civic/religious events under Benson’s direction. The Medalist Concert Band established the Earl C. Benson Scholarship Fund for talented young musicians on his retirement from leading that organization in 2004. That organization is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
After public school retirement Benson spent seven years as Midwest Representative for the Fechheimer Uniform Co. (Cincinnati, Ohio), and an additional seven years with the Fruhauf Uniform Co. (Wichita, KS). In 1994, he became the founder and president of Earl C. Benson & Associates-one of the largest distributors of Band Footwear and Marching Band Accessories in the world. Benson and his wife Janice currently reside in Cannon Falls, MN.
Favorite Memory from the Minnesota Marching Band
Marching with the U of M Marching Band down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena for the 1960 Rose Bowl Parade, and standing in a postgame formation following our 1960 Rose Bowl loss to Washington as the sun was setting in the west, and singing Hail, Minnesota with Dr. Frank Bencriscutto conducting.
How has being in the Marching Band impacted my life?
My high school (Cannon Falls) Band Director brought me to Memorial Stadium as an 8th-grade student (1952) to view a Minnesota Gopher game. I still vividly remember the U of M Marching Band in dark navy uniforms with white cross belts and white spats high-stepping on the stadium turf. From that time forward I wanted to be in THAT BAND. It was at that exact moment in time I decided to become a Music Educator-A Minnesota Band Director.
My education and teaching career began and ended in Minnesota. I am still a football season ticket holder and diligently follow Gopher sports, many of my U of M friends/current colleagues were one-time members of the Gopher Marching Band. Many of my former Jefferson H.S. graduates entered my profession as band directors. This, after “arranged visits” to my alma mater. Go Gophers!