By Denise Stewart
For The Birmingham Times
Longtime Birmingham band teacher Edward Crenshaw Sr. has either been in school or teaching school most of his 70 years. Still there are two words he hasn’t mastered — no and retirement.
Crenshaw officially retired as Ramsay High School band director in 2009, but he has returned to the school twice to fill in when the band was without a leader. The school this week honored Crenshaw’s commitment by giving the band hall a new name. It’s now the Edward E. Crenshaw Room of Musical Excellence.
“I’ve spent a lifetime building this program. I always want it to continue and thrive,” Crenshaw said. “I want the full music program to be here for the children, so they will have the full experience of high school music and go on with their lives.”
During the ceremony at Ramsay, parents, teachers and students said Crenshaw is a sustaining presence — teaching musicianship and lessons for life.
“I met Mr. Crenshaw when I came to Ramsay as a freshman in 1982, and today, more than 30 years later, he’s still a part of my life,” said Ingrid Brown, a former student who is minister of music at Destiny Covenant Church.
“Mr. Crenshaw affirmed me,” Brown said. ”He believed in the potential he saw in me.” As a freshman, Brown says she was an introvert, facing a diverse Ramsay High School that included students from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“It really helped having Mr. Crenshaw as a father figure in school,” she said.
Kristin Booker, principal of Hemphill Elementary School, met Crenshaw in 1990. She played clarinet and tried out for the dance team.
“Mr. Crenshaw was a firm, stern person on the outside, but a gentle giant on the inside,” Booker said. “He taught us to believe, achieve and succeed. He wanted us to believe in ourselves. He wanted us to put goals in place so we could achieve and be successful.”
Terras Gatlin graduated Ramsay in 2016 and said Crenshaw has influenced his professional goals.
“We need more black, male educators today. Because of you, I want to be an educator,” Gatlin said, speaking at a Sunday program honoring Crenshaw. Gatlin attends junior college now, and said he is looking to complete his bachelor’s degree at a university with a strong music program.
The Early Years
Crenshaw was one of 10 children born to Rev. and Mrs. Charles Crenshaw. He attended Carver High School in Collegeville. That’s where he met Arthur Means, a man who inspired him to play good music and enter the field of teaching.
Crenshaw mainly played trombone, but along the way, he also began playing the tuba. He was offered a scholarship and attended Alabama State University. He marched in the band in the days when only men marched in the Hornets band. Crenshaw earned leadership roles in the band and in the choir. He was a drum major, and he was president of the choir.
Today, he continues to flip roles in music. It’s not unusual for him to direct the choir or congregation at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, then pick up an instrument to play in an ensemble.
Crenshaw went to work for Birmingham City Schools in 1970. He had a dual assignment at Hudson School and Calloway School, near the community where he had grown up. But his work was interrupted by the military draft.
He was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., and he found a way to get into music there too. Crenshaw was in the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division Band and the 82nd Airborne Division Chorus.
Back In Birmingham
Crenshaw and his wife, Dradine, returned to Birmingham after he served three years in the military. That’s when he landed at Ramsay in 1974, a time when white flight had not set in, and Birmingham schools were gradually being integrated.
Angela Crenshaw, a retired police officer, said her uncle was stern.
“People thought we were going to be dancing and playing the top songs like Bama State, but he was about precision,” said Angela Crenshaw.
Because he’s been affiliated with Ramsay so long, he’s taught students, and his students’ children. As part of Sunday’s program, Crenshaw presented medals to band students. One of those students was Brian Sims, who plays first trumpet. Years ago, Crenshaw had another Brian Sims in the band. It was the younger Sims’ father, and he too played first trumpet.
“Brian plays trumpet just as good as his father – Dr. Bryan Sims Sr.,” Crenshaw said.
More than 40 years ago, Crenshaw entered the band room as a teacher because of the children. Each time he’s been asked to return to Ramsay, Crenshaw said he responded “yes” for that same reason – the children.