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7 Successful People Who Were in School Music as Kids


Many of the world’s most successful people participated in school music at some point in their lives.

From astronauts and politicians to actresses and CEOs, lots of people learned valuable skills in music class.

Bill Clinton playing the saxophone

School music programs have had an impact on far more people than those who go on to become professional musicians.

Music teaches dozens of life skills that help with any career path.

The list includes teamwork, attention to detail, and never giving up.

Here are seven successful people you probably never knew took part in school music programs as kids. The list includes some of Ohio’s most legendary musical figures! 

1. Nelly Furtado: Musician and Activist

Nelly Furtado

Who says girls can’t play brass instruments?

Not Nelly Furtado!

She’s well-known for her pop music with a Latin flair. This Canadian icon got her start as a trombone player in her school band.

Marching band is not as popular in Canada as it is in the United States. But she participated in a Portuguese marching band as a teen to celebrate her Latin American heritage.

She also plays the ukulele, guitar, and keyboard.

Many parents like to see their children involved in community service activities. Participating in school music ensembles lets students support causes they care about.

Nelly is a strong advocate for a variety of charities, such as Free the Children and Artists Against Racism. Many school bands, orchestras, and choirs offer opportunities for students to perform or volunteer at various community events outside of school.

Like Nelly Furtado and other professional musicians, music students can use their talents to meet needs close to home.

2. Neil Armstrong: From the Baritone Section to the Moon

Neil Armstrong

Having an interest in science doesn’t have to keep your child out of band. Several well-known astronauts and other scientists performed in their school bands.

Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, played the baritone in high school and college. Also, he was a member of the Purdue All-American Marching Band

Bonus: John Glenn, the first man to orbit the Earth, was also a musician! He played the trumpet. His wife Annie played and taught the trombone and organ.  

School music programs aren’t just for future professional musicians. Music students learn persistence, teamwork, attention to detail, and other life skills.

These will help them succeed in any field they choose.

School band and orchestra directors aren’t just there to teach music. These teachers care about teaching their students to be good, hardworking people.

Many music teachers become students’ most trusted mentors.

Even if your children’s goals will take them to the moon, or to Mars, there’s a place for them in the music room!

3. Julia Roberts: A Woman of Many Talents

Many school music students have gone on to be successful in other areas of the performing arts.

Julia Roberts, a well-known actress, played the clarinet and oboe in her high school band.

Several members of her family are also involved in the performing arts.

It isn’t unusual for Juilliard pianists to play only one instrument. But many performers find that playing multiple instruments is helpful.

Acting, singing, and even painting classes can help further creative careers. This can increase their overall musicianship and sensitivity to the arts.   

There are many opportunities for woodwind players, in particular, to perform on more than one instrument in a single performance. Many pit orchestra woodwind books are written for “doublers“, or players of multiple woodwind instruments.

High school doublers can often find opportunities to play for school and community musicals.

Orchestral musicians are usually expected to be able to play auxiliary instruments. These are smaller or larger versions of their primary instruments that sound higher or lower.

So, follow Julia Roberts’s lead! Learning a second (or third) instrument can open doors to exciting opportunities. 

4. Steven Spielberg: Legendary Film Director 

Steven Spielberg, one of the biggest names in film, played the clarinet as a child.

He has partnered with composer John Williams many times. Williams has scored countless major Spielberg films, such as:

  • Jaws
  • Jurassic Park
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Schindler’s List
  • The Indiana Jones films 

Music is all around us. It plays an important role in setting the mood and moving the plot in films.

The next time your son or daughter watches his or her favorite movie, encourage him or her to think about what it adds to the film

5. Bill Clinton: From the Saxophone Section to the White House

Former president Bill Clinton playing the saxophone

Studying music teaches children a variety of traits and skills that can be applied to any career.

Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, was a tenor saxophone player as a child. His dedication and persistence as a young musician paid off.

In fact, He earned first chair in Arkansas’s high school state honors band!

Those personality characteristics also helped him to work his way up as a political leader. His achievements include becoming the Governor of Arkansas and the President of the United States. 

Learning a musical instrument is rarely easy. Many beginning band students struggle to form a full, solid tone, perform basic rhythms, and play in tune.

However, students quickly learn that trying again and again pays off.

Individual persistence makes the whole band sound better. This motivates students to keep improving and strive for excellence in everything they do.

The grit that comes from learning to play an instrument matters, too. It can move music students in the direction of any career (like President), even when things get difficult. 

6. Henry Fillmore: Ohio’s March Legend

Henry Fillmore is a well-known composer from Ohio. He wrote over 250 pieces that have been performed by high school band students across the country.

As a child, he played the trombone, flute, violin, piano, and guitar. 😳

He started composing when he was 18 years old. Then he studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

Though he is best known for his marches, he also wrote a variety of other styles of music.

He used several different pseudonyms throughout his career as a composer. Many of them corresponded with specific types or difficulty levels of music. However, many marches were published under his real name.

If your child is interested in a professional music career, now’s the time to start planning.

Most music students don’t go on to pursue music as a career. However, there are plenty of options available for those who are interested.

Students can go beyond becoming a professional performer. Talented, hardworking students can consider careers in composing.

Other careers include teaching, the music business industry, and many other specializations.

If your child is interested in a professional music career, now’s the time to start planning. Talk to his or her band, orchestra, or choir director about steps to consider taking in middle or high school.

These steps might include private lessons, community ensembles, camps, and other summer music programs.   

7. Ron Nankervis: CEO of WGI

Ron Nankervis, CEO of Winter Guard International, has brought international fame to the Dayton area.

WGI gives young color guard, percussion, and wind students the opportunity to continue performing in a similar style to marching band and drum corps throughout the winter months.

In fact, most of the world championship performances have taken place right here in Dayton!

Ron’s passion for the marching arts led him to the head of an organization that inspires young musicians throughout the country and around the world. He currently lives in Centerville.

color guard and a marching band marching down the street

No matter what your children’s current interests and career goals are, there’s a place for them in their school band or orchestra. Music benefits everyone.

Also, it teaches students life skills that will help them be successful in any career path they choose.

At Kincaid’s Is Music, we are always happy to answer any questions about how to become a successful student musician!

Who knows? Maybe we’ll be adding your child’s name to this list one day! 😉

What famous people do you know that were in their school band and orchestra? Who has inspired your child (or you) to get better on their instrument? Let us know in the comments below!


About Author

Ryan Ruff is a Music Education Consultant for Kincaid's Is Music, using his expertise to help band and orchestra directors build better music programs. He graduated with a degree in Music Education from Cedarville University in Cedarville, OH.

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