James Morgan was born July 1, 1915 in Tuckahoe, NC. He decided to attend A and T after the college band performed at his high school. “I sat there and looked at that band and admired their sounds,” he told the Greensboro Record‘s Bruce Washburn, “and fell in love with instrumental music. That did it.”
He put himself through college at A and T by cooking, cleaning, and doing housework for the school’s bursar. After graduating in 1941, he became the assistant director of B-1, famous for his strut as drum major. John Clark, who still leads the dance band started by his brother, Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts, recalled that as kids they loved seeing B-1 parade from its barracks past their house en route to the UNC campus where they’d play colors for the Navy’s preflight cadets. “Doug and I and all the kids in the neighborhood would run out to Robinson Street when we heard the band coming,” John Clark recalled, “and we followed them as far as we could. Doug wanted to be just like Morgan.”
Fellow B-1 vet Huey Lawrence still gets excited when he describes Morgan’s strut: “He’s leaning back past being straight back, I mean he’s leaning back so that his hat’s almost hitting the ground, and straight, too!, but past parallel to the ground.”
After the war, Morgan taught at several schools in North Carolina–Rocky Point, Yanceyville, Asheboro and Greensboro–and in Virginia at Albert Harris High School in Martinsville. He also directed choirs at Harris High and the Men’s Choir at Providence Baptist Church in Greensboro, where he was a beloved music teacher for 37 years–22 of them as band director at Dudley High School, where he carried on the tradition of excellence established by B-1’s James Parsons.
Also while in Greensboro, he taught music at several recreation centers and supervised a show wagon for the Parks & Rec Department, traveling around to city parks to produce programs that featured performances by community children.
He died in Greensboro on August 1, 2005.