Clover schools mourn loss of master musician Matt Wingard

CLOVER -- George "Matt" Wingard, considered the founder of the Clover High School band and a former school board member, died Tuesday.

He was 89.

A musician and composer, Wingard was band director in Clover for 27 years and served on the school board for 12 years, said his son, Phil Wingard.

The Clover and York school districts recruited Wingard to York County in July 1949 to start their band programs. After that first year, Clover hired him full time, according to the school's Web site.

By then, Wingard already had years of experience traveling and performing in bands and had graduated from New York University.

"He could have been a professional musician and arranger and gone on the road and done that, but, instead, he chose to come back home to South Carolina, teach music and be a jazz musician on the weekends," Phil Wingard said.

While at Clover, Wingard continued to compose and to perform on various woodwind instruments. He wrote arrangements for Bill Kanof's band and performed with a jazz band in Charlotte.

"All the top-name talent that came through Charlotte, he was there in the back playing backup," Phil Wingard said.

Over the years, he performed with Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett.

Wingard also had a knack for copying music he heard off the radio and making band arrangements.

"He was an arranger back before computers could do it for you," Phil Wingard said. "You had to listen to it, and you had to write it down on paper. You had to figure out what the notes were. That's what my dad was great at."

As much as Wingard enjoyed performing, he also felt compelled to share his passion for music with students.

"He was an incredible musician and that permeated his teaching, so his bands were outstanding" said Ron Wright, Clover High principal who worked as Wingard's assistant band director from 1975 to 1977. "He built popularity in the program."

Many of his students continued to be involved with music all of their lives, Wright said. Today, they are teachers, band directors and performers.

Wingard truly was the father of the Clover band program, Wright said.

"In doing so and influencing so many kids, I think Matt also had a huge impact on the fine arts in the community," Wright said.

As a board member, Wingard fought to get the Clover school district's 1,500-seat auditorium approved in the early 1990s, Phil Wingard said.

"A lot of the community didn't think we should spend the money it was going to take to build the facility," Phil Wingard said.

Matt Wingard disagreed, saying then that the $5 million auditorium was needed to showcase the students.

"I think everybody would agree now that that is a wonderful facility," Phil Wingard said.