John Head, Atlanta Symphony trumpet player, conductor

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📷HEAD, John H. John H. Head, age 83, passed away from natural causes on May 23, 2022. A native Atlantan, born to Julian and Louise Head in 1938, John spent a lifetime profoundly impacting countless lives as a trumpet player, teacher, mentor, conductor and director, composer and arranger, recording artist, and friend. With great musical encouragement at home, he began playing the trumpet in the band at E.L. Connally Elementary School under renowned director Roy Lee. Although John wanted at times to give up the trumpet, he ultimately was grateful that his mother saw significant talent in him and did not allow him to quit. After graduating from Brown High School, John received his Bachelor of Music degree in Trumpet Performance from Stetson University and his Master of Music degree in Trumpet and Conducting from Indiana University. In his early performing years, John was a member of Colorado’s Aspen Festival Orchestra, and in the fall of 1961, he won the position of Principal Trumpet with the Birmingham Symphony in Alabama. While pursuing a symphonic career, John also performed as a studio musician for popular soul artists, including the iconic Otis Redding, James Brown, and Isaac Hayes. In 1963 John auditioned for and won his dream job of Principal Trumpet with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. During his 31-year tenure with the ASO, his trumpet playing could be heard in thousands of concerts in Atlanta’s Symphony Hall as well as on tours throughout the United States and Europe. He also performed on the ASO’s numerous recordings, including many Grammy Award-winning albums under Robert Shaw’s direction. In addition to his commanding musical leadership, John played an integral role in building the ASO from a part-time orchestra into a world-class organization. Knowing that the ASO would need to develop a summer season in order to grow, in 1972 he convinced the ASO Board to give him the permission and funding to begin a summer season. John did the necessary legwork to accomplish this goal, including securing approval from the mayor of Atlanta to revive Chastain Park Amphitheatre, which had fallen into disuse. The 1972 four-week summer season was highly successful both financially and artistically, and it continued to grow each year. John was named the summer season Acting Director, and he served in this capacity for several additional seasons until a permanent staff position was created. Thanks in large part to income from the summer concerts, the orchestra ultimately achieved its long-term goal of a 52-week season. A staunch advocate for musicians, John served for many years on the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association negotiating committee, where he pushed for advancements in the players’ compensation and pension, and he was very active in the Musicians’ Union. He served on the Board of the American Federation of Musicians Local for 51 years, 21 of which were as Union President. Under John’s leadership, ASO musicians gained the right to ratify or reject future contract proposals, allowing the orchestra to grow into an award-winning organization of international prominence. Upon his retirement in 2015 from his role as President, the Union Board honored him by naming their annual scholarship the John H. Head Scholarship. As a teacher, John dedicated decades of his life to imparting his musical skills and knowledge to students. His teaching career included Howard College in Birmingham, Clark University Atlanta, Georgia State University, and Morehouse College. Former trumpet students have held principal positions in many professional orchestras, including the Indianapolis Symphony, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Beginning in 1988, John collaborated with acclaimed organist Sue Mitchell-Wallace to write a collection of solo trumpet and organ books, as well as to record CDs of their arrangements. These recordings and arrangements, designed for weddings, Christmas, Easter, and patriotic celebrations, are a staple among musicians. Four of these works hold spots in the top ten all-time best-sellers for Hope Publishing Company. In addition to his trumpet career, John was a very experienced conductor. He conducted the Atlanta Pops and the Atlanta Ballet for many years, and he served as guest conductor for the Rochester Philharmonic, the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Florida Orchestra, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He also led concert tours in Taiwan, China, and Japan. John had a lifelong love of musical theater. He served as music director for Atlanta’s Theater of the Stars and Artpark Theater in Lewiston, New York (Niagara Falls). In these roles and others, he directed more than 60 Broadway musicals that featured stars such as Dick Van Dyke, Lucie Arnaz, Carol Lawrence, Ann Blyth, Shirley Jones, Morgan Fairchild, Mary Ellen Ashley, Richard Kiley, Joe Namath, and many more. Whether he was performing, conducting, recording, or teaching, John was well known for his great sense of humor. He always had a story, joke, or quick-witted comment to make people laugh. A student fondly remembers that during one trumpet lesson late in the afternoon, John answered the phone and said, “Hello. No, no. I have to go home and shower first. I’ve been teaching all day and I’m covered in bad notes.” John is preceded in death by his parents, his stepfather Lee Wallace, his sisters Barbara Head Heinlen and Betty Head Morgan, and his first wife Mildred Reid Head. He is survived by his wife of 49 years Martha Reaves Head and his five children, LeAnn Blanchard (Ted), John Head, Jr. (Jennifer), Julian Head (Valerie), Lucile McKay (Troy), and ClaraAnn D’Onofrio (Dennis), as well as 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 10:00 AM on Saturday, July 9th at John and Martha’s place of worship, Dunwoody United Methodist Church, 1548 Mt. Vernon Road, Dunwoody, GA 30338. Family and friends are encouraged to attend. A livestream will also be available for those unable to come. Memorial donations may be made to the following organizations: Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, mailed to 1280 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta, GA 30309 or online at aso.org/give (scroll down to “Gift Options” and select “In Memory Of”) John H. Head Scholarship, mailed to Atlanta Federation of Musicians, 551 Dutch Valley Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30324 or online at atlantamusicians.com/donate Online condolences may be expressed at www.crowellbrothers.com. Arrangements entrusted to Crowell Brothers Funeral Homes & Crematory, 5051 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, Peachtree Corners, GA 30092. 770-448-5757.

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Crowell Brothers Funeral Homes & Crematory