HANCEVILLE, Ala. — In the more than 40 years since Wallace State Community College began its music programs, its graduates have gone on to achieve careers of varying degrees of success, from performing with award-winning groups like Little Big Town to being music directors at churches with congregations of all sizes.
Dr. Jim Walker, the first director of music programs at Wallace State Community College, created the Wallace State Singers and choral groups as a way to promote the college through performances at area schools, churches and within the community.
“The groups did a tremendous job of getting the word out about Wallace State,” Walker said as the school prepared for its 50th anniversary and a special show by the Wallace State Singers honoring its former student performers and directors.
During his 15 years as director, Walker said he saw many of his former students move on to complete their education at four-year colleges and become high school band directors, church music directors and some have even made a living in the entertainment industry. Some of those that stand out for Walker are David Harbison at Grace Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., Ronnie McCarson at Cottage Hill Baptist Church in Mobile, and locals like Brian Witcher and Scott Carpenter.
Near the end of his tenure, Walker directed a young man from Sumiton named Jimi Westbrook in the Wallace State Singers. Westbrook is a member of the award-winning group Little Big Town. “He was a great performer for us and he’s just continued that,” Walker said.
Last year, Westbrook and members of Little Big Town honored Walker and other music instructors who influenced the artist as the Country Music Association (CMA) Foundation’s CMA Music Teachers of Excellence ceremony.
Walker was a surprise guest for Westbrook, chosen by Westbrook’s sister because of the influence Walker had on him during his years in the music program.
Walker said about 500 people attended the event, with more than 30 music educators honored with grants from the CMA Foundation. “Over the last several years, the CMA Foundation has contributed $17.5 million to music teachers, primarily elementary and high school teachers,” Walker said.
Walker’s appearance, along with three other teachers who influenced the band members, was organized as a surprise for the band members. “They did not know we were there,” Walker said. “Jimi’s family was responsible for me being there.
“It was really quite an honor,” Walker said of his being asked to attend the event.
Walker and his wife, Cindy, dined with Westbrook and the other Little Big Town members during the event.
“These are the music teachers that shaped and changed our lives,” the band wrote on their Facebook page after the event.
Since that awards ceremony, Walker has faced some health issues but said he’s hopefully getting those straightened out.
Walker said no matter the level of success his students have achieved, he’s proud to see them happy working in a career they love.
He’s also proud of the fact that a scholarship was created in his name to help Wallace State students complete their education. An anonymous $10,000 donation to the Wallace State Future Foundation in 2012 established the Jim Walker Endowed Scholarship.
“That was just wonderful,” Walker said. “You never feel like you deserve anything like that. It’s just wonderful that you had someone who thought that much of you to make a donation like that.”
The Future Foundation continues to accept donations to the scholarship fund.
Wallace State Community College’s Fine and Performing Arts program offers music and voice performance opportunities, as well and drama, and visual arts. A Fine and Performing Arts Academy is offered to area high school students through the Fast Track Academy. For more information about Wallace State Community College, visit www.wallacestate.edu or call 256.352.8000.