The independent news organization of Duke University

Band director Jim Henry remembered for service to University, generous personality

James “Jim” Donald Henry, the director of Duke Athletic Bands from 1960 to 1985 and the founder of the Duke Pep Band, died Oct. 20. He was 84 years old.

Known as “Coach Henry" to his students and colleagues, Henry was a faculty member until 1998. In addition to his role with Duke Athletic Bands, he taught woodwind classes and directed Hoof 'n' Horn—the theatrical organization that produces three shows per year. He was also the director of undergraduate studies and assistant chair of the music department for 13 years.

“Jim was a legend at Duke,” wrote Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, in an email. “He made the Duke marching and pep bands the fixtures of campus life they are today. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family and generations of Duke students who called him a mentor.”

Friends, family, colleagues and former students remembered Henry for his service to the University, his commitment to campus athletics culture and his cordial, generous and mischievous spirit.

A native of Kingsport, Tenn., Henry attended Western Kentucky University and served as an instructor in the U.S. Army for two years before earning his masters in music from Indiana University. He was hired in 1960 to take over the marching band, and in 1962 he started the Duke Pep Band—the first modern-style basketball pep band east of the Mississippi River. 

Today, the Duke Pep Band remains a prominent part of the Duke basketball experience. Jeffrey Au, director of Duke Athletic Bands, said Henry’s legacy lives on in the band’s current form. It was Henry, for example, who first arranged the pep band’s rendition of “Devil With the Blue Dress On,” which plays when the men’s basketball team takes the court before each game. 

“He was all about making the band a great experience for the students,” Au said. “Whenever I talk with any of his students, they say how much they loved him and what an important person he was to them.”

Read Rankin, Trinity ’72 and a member of the board of directors for the Duke Alumni Band Association, said Henry has sometimes been credited with making the Cameron Crazies what they are today.

“To me, Jim isn’t really dead because his spirit is alive and well in the Cameron Crazies and in the pep band and in the marching band,” Rankin said. “He was the founder of the pep band, but he was the father of the Crazies.”

Rankin explained that though nobody had ever decided who was the father of the Cameron Crazies, he believed it was Henry because "it was the pep band that taught the Crazies to be the Crazies before they were ever the Crazies."

“Who else had the spirit and the position and the continuity and the money and the power and the mischievous personality to create the Crazies and support it with the pep band, if not Jim Henry? I think he’s the only one you can point to,” Rankin said.

Terri Mascherin, Trinity ’81 and a member of Duke Athletic Bands for four years, echoed Rankin’s sentiment. 

“I think that the esprit de corps that you see in the band now, which particularly comes through when you’re in Cameron—I think Coach Henry fostered that,” she said.

Henry’s legacy extends beyond the Duke Athletic Bands, as well. His “Master Works of Music” class drew several students to the music major, said Robert Parkins, the chapel organist and a professor of the practice of music who came to Duke in 1975. 

“That was pretty much the bread-and-butter course in the music department in those days,” Parkins said. “I would say that about half of the enrollments in the department were from those classes.”

Rodney Wynkoop, director of chapel music and a friend of Henry’s since 1984, said Henry was also a “down-to-earth” resource for others in the music department. 

“He was the kind of person that you would sit down at lunch with and say, ‘You know, I’m wondering about this or that particular issue and I don’t know how to get it done,’” Wynkoop explained. “He was just a fountain of information and happily would give it.”

Even outside of the University setting, Henry was generous with his wisdom and time. When Wynkoop arrived at Duke in 1984, Henry drove him around Durham to introduce him to the city and help him hunt for a new house. 

“Within that first year, I told him I was renting a place and that I wanted to consider buying a house,” Wynkoop said. “He didn’t know me all that well at that point, but we drove all over Durham looking for a house for me. He showed me the neighborhoods of Durham and how to get around and find things, and it was just a genuinely nice thing for him to do.”

Parkins recalled how, toward the end of his tenure at Duke, Henry moved to a rural home north of Durham.

“He bought this house with a good deal of property and liked to grow his own vegetables,” Parkins said. “He would often bring me big bags of homegrown tomatoes in the summertime—even after he retired.”

But generosity was not Henry’s only defining feature. Both Rankin and Mascherin said they would remember him for his mischievous and fun-loving personality.

“His personality was very warm, very supportive, and he had a mischievous way about him and he was a rabble-rouser,” Rankin said. “He never told you to do anything bad, but he liked being clever and needling the other side.”

Mascherin added that Henry took the bands seriously because he wanted them to look and sound good, but he "also was a lot of fun."

“He always had this mischievous twinkle in his eye, like he was thinking about some scheme or some practical joke he was going to play,” Mascherin said.

Rankin said Henry would sometimes devise plans to make the marching band spell out funny words—even if only for a moment—when its halftime shows were nationally televised. 

Through all the mischief, Henry showed his students and colleagues that he cared. 

“He was anything but pompous,” Parkins said.

After retirement, Henry traveled to Virginia and Tennessee, where he wrote two books covering his family genealogy.

He is survived by several family members: his daughter Dina Hester and her husband James, his son Brett Henry, his grandson Daniel Henry and granddaughter Blake Henry and his great-grandson Aiden Gonzales.

Wynkoop said faculty in the music department responded to the news by gathering to hear Henry’s obituary and recalling their favorite memories of him.

Likewise, Au said he addressed the current marching band after he received word of Henry’s passing. Duke Athletic Bands and the Duke Alumni Band Association are planning on designing an award to be given in Henry’s name, he added.

There will be no public funeral for Henry. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Duke Athletic Bands in his memory.


Share and discuss “Band director Jim Henry remembered for service to University, generous personality” on social media.