Rock Hill native in Army band to escort Obama in inaugural parade

adys@heraldonline.comJanuary 21, 2013 

Millions of people will watch Monday’s inauguration of Barack Obama in Washington D.C., and the parade afterward that moves from the U.S. Capitol to the White House.

First Sgt. Joseph Henson, a Rock Hill native, will march near the president, as part of the U.S. Army band, “Pershing’s Own.” Henson plays tenor saxophone in the 99-member band that has escorted all presidents since 1925.

And because he is an Army sergeant first and foremost, Henson, 41, calls his duty: “An important mission.”

His mission is to play loud and great, with an audience of the country and world.

“It is a wonderful honor to be a part of such a historic occasion in the country,” Henson said. “It is a privilege to be part of it.”

A 1989 Rock Hill High graduate, Henson is a classically trained musician with music degrees from the University of South Carolina and University of North Texas. His normal duties are playing for the U.S. Army Blues, a jazz band that is combined with a ceremonial band and concert band to make up the inaugural band. He has played all over the world in shows in the past 15 years. But Monday’s “show” is larger than a normal audience.

About a half-million people will see Henson perform in person, with millions more on television.

“We will be leading the parade, right there in the front,” Henson said. “Everyone will see us. And hear us.”

Pretty big stuff for a guy who started playing saxophone for Rock Hill High’s Marching Bearcats all those years ago, but Henson said he is ready for the big show.

The parade is almost two miles long, and the musicians will play several patriotic songs. Before the parade, the band members will also be near the podium where Obama will take the oath of office.

It is expected to be cold - 20s - Monday.

But when you are an Army soldier whose mission is to play saxophone in front of the whole world, it doesn’t matter if your lips turn purple with cold.

“I will warm up afterward,” Henson said. “This is a time when you have to be great - no matter the weather.”

Andrew Dys * 803-329-4065

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