The Somerset High School band marched in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on November 23, 1961 — 60 years ago. The band marched about two miles before performing in front of national TV cameras in front of the iconic Macy's department store.

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is as much a part of holiday traditions in this country as turkey dinners and Christmas trees. Every year since 1924, millions of people have gathered on the Gotham streets or tuned in on television to see the streets of New York filled with floats, balloons, and marching bands from around the United States.

And 60 years ago, the Somerset High School marching band was part of it.

For those who took part, the experience was one they'll never forget.

"I watch the Macy's Parade every year," said Somerset's Judy Phillippi, who was a senior baton twirler in the band at that time. "I cry because it's so emotional. It was such a wonderful experience and I am thankful."

The band took part in the nationally-televised event on November 23, 1961. Under the direction of iconic Somerset High School music instructor Don Stone at that time — a name recalled by many in Pulaski County, whether for his time as a band director or his choir work with First Christian Church in Somerset — the band was 106 members strong at the time, with 90 marching musicians and 16 majorettes and twirlers — or "Jumperettes," a name inspired by the school's Briar Jumper mascot. Phillippi was the head Jumperette at that time, and recalled that there was a big sense of pride in getting to be among that number.

Stone demanded the very best from his students, and Phillippi credits that drive with helping the band reach the heights that it did.

"If you knew Don at all, he was very strict. He wanted everything just right, and if you didn't do it, you kept doing it until you got it right. What might have been an hour practice turned out to be two hours or longer," said Phillippi. "I guess that's how we achieved that honor of being chosen (for the parade)."

According to the November 15, 1961 edition of the Commonwealth — the Republican-leaning periodical published in Pulaski County before the merger that produced the Commonwealth Journal — the Somerset band was chosen to participate after Macy's parade executive saw what the paper described as an "outstanding performance" by the band in the Kentucky gubernatorial inauguration ceremonies in 1954 and 1959, as well as a '59 appearance at the Kentucky State Fair. About a month before the parade, organizers sent Stone an invitation to participate.

"We had a big band in those days," recalled Don Haney, a sophomore trumpet player on that 1961-62 Somerset High School band roster before he took over Haney's Appledale Farm in Nancy with brother Mark, a job that made him well-known in this area. "We marched 100 horn players. We had the old Jumperettes. We had the drum major (Buddy Morris) and we had a sponsor. Back then, the sponsor was always the prettiest girl in school."

The band's opportunity was a big deal at Somerset High School and fostered a great sense of pride, not just among their fellow students, but the community at large.

"Everybody in our part of the world was (excited)," said Haney. "They really got behind the idea of us going to Macy's in New York."

Added Phillippi. "Everybody supported us totally. They thought it was such an honor and they got so excited with us. It wasn't just the band that was excited, everybody was."

But going on the trip took money — which not everyone in the band had. Phillippi observed that some students' families were well-off enough to afford it on their own, but others, like herself, weren't as fortunate. She noted that fundraising was different then than in the decades that followed, when students might raise money with candy bar sales or the like. Instead. Stone did a lot of the work on his own behind the scenes, securing donations from those who were willing.

"There were certain kids in the band, including me, who never had extra money," said Phillippi. "So some of the people in our community got together and made donations and made envelopes for the kids who didn't have the extra money. I was one of them. I will always be thankful for those people. They made a difference in my life that day."

Phillippi noted that most of the band hadn't even been out of the state. "To go anywhere in Kentucky would have been a long way for us," she said.

The band got on a bus and left Somerset the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in a "motorcade furnished by parents" headed fpr Lexington, where police from that city would escort them to the train they'd board to head to Washington D.C. They would tour that city and even met with Somerset's own Sen. John Sherman Cooper before arriving in New York City via bus and found lodging at the Paramount Hotel, located in the Times Square area.

"We sang on the train, and it was a good time," said Phillippi.

She recalled the band instantly making quite an impression on the native New Yorkers, whose ideas of what Kentuckians might be like clearly originated more in the funny papers with the likes of "Li'l Abner" than reality.

"We get up there in this hotel. We go down to a dining room they had reserved for us to eat, and the servers were amazed that we wore shoes," she recalled. "They were in awe that country people coming from Kentucky wore shoes. We just looked at each other and thought, 'Is that so unusual? My goodness, we all wear shoes.' But it was their idea of what we were supposed to (look like). We laughed, and I have never forgotten that."

Eating in that dining room, however, did prove to expose some of the cultural differences between small-town Kentucky and the Big Apple, at least in terms of gastronomical choices. 

"One thing that sticks out in my mind is the lunch we had after the parade," said Haney. "It was a wonderful luncheon. We had roast beef, served rare. A lot of the kids had never seen roast beef rare. Some kids complained (about it)."

Added Phillippi, "Sometimes we would look at each other and say, 'What are we eating? What is this?' Because we were used to Holsomback's. We weren't used to stuff like that."

Haney noted that the band got to go to Radio City Music Hall to see the legendary Rockettes perform — "That was pretty cool" — and also watched a movie while in New York. And of course, there was lots to see in the city.

"Everybody probably walked around with their heads stuck up looking at the tops of the buildings," said Haney. "We had a wonderful time."

A follow-up report in the Commonwealth told of some excitement that took place while the band was in New York. "(The band members) fanned out over mid-Manhattan, visiting all points of interest they could during the evening hours. A spectacular fire in the New York Times Building on Times Square Wednesday night attracted many of the Somerset boys and girls and their chaperones."

 But the band wasn't there to just eat or take in a spectacle — they were there to perform for the entire nation to witness. The choice of song, viewed through a more modern-minded lens at least, was an interesting one. 

"An estimated 50 million people will see the SHS band march into Herald Square in New York during the parade via a coast-to-coast telecast," according to the Commonwealth article from November 15, 1961. "Each unit of the parade will be 'on camera' for one to two minutes. The Jumpers will present a special waltz style dance march to 'Little Brown Jug' during this period, Director Stone said."

The article said that the band did a "dry run" of their routine in front of the 34th Street Macy's store early Thanksgiving morning "for the benefit of the television cameramen," stated the article, then started their march down Broadway at about 9:30 a.m. The band was shown performing "on camera" at about 11 a.m. They would present the routine twice more during the course of the parade for those in the reviewing stands.

"We Jumperettes met down in the lobby. We had worked hard and got new uniforms and we wore those," she said. "We had to get on buses and go to the designated place where we started the parade. It was maybe two miles or longer that we had to march before we came around that corner by Macy's. That's where the cameras started.

"When we came around that corner, the Macy's department store on your right, those cameras are starting, and you're thinking, 'Oh my goodness, how did we rate this? How could we even be here in New York?'" she added. "So after we go through that, it was almost like a dream, like you can't believe it's real, like a little country girl like I was could do something like that."

Indeed, that "little country girl" was rubbing shoulders with some household names. Phillippi said that the actors who portrayed the famous Cartwrights, famous from "Bonanza," at that time one of television's biggest hit shows, were right behind the Somerset band in the parade.

"They were on their horses, all of them," she said. "They talked to us. They were behind us and they were so friendly, and we were just, 'Oh, did you see who that is?'"

Phillippi remembered that it was a bit cold that day, but her Jumperettes were wearing tights and their short skirts. The parents who went on the trip were dressed up for the occasion; "The ladies wore their hats, the men had suits on. They were just so proud."

She noted that at the time, not every household had the luxury of owning a television, so people in Somerset had to find creative ways to watch the big event. "I can remember my mom and my family going to a neighbor and watching their TV so they could watch me march in the parade," she said. "Other kids did the same thing."

The band also reportedly passed out ping-pong balls during the parade. The balls, provided by the state's tourism department, had the words "Explore Kentucky in 1962" on them.

"Once you got past Macy's, it was over with," said Haney. "We went back to our hotel and had a real nice dinner."

The band arrived back in Somerset that following Saturday, greeted by more than 125 cars and trucks which ushered the buses through town, with a welcoming ceremony planned by the Chamber of Commerce.

According to the Commonwealth, the band made quite an impression. "Before the band even left New York, telegrams, cards and letters from all parts of the nation starting piling up at the high school," read the article. "The 'fan mail' came from former Somerset students and residents of Pulaski County who had seen the band's performance on television. All were highly complimentary." 

The November 29 edition of the Commonwealth, in which the story about the band's visit was printed, even included a letter from "Wm. B. Hansford, Jr." of Wilmington, Ohio, who said that watching the band on TV made for a "proud few minutes" and helped him remember his own days at Somerset High, from which he graduated in 1912.

"It did this old Kentuckian's heart good to know that the old home high school has enough pride in its band to cause the townspeople to 'put up' the necessary funds to 'show the world' what the kids from the hills can do!" he wrote. "With all the dozen or more bands in the parade, not a one of them was as good, much less better than, the outfit from the 'Hills of Old Kentucky.' There wasn't a bobble of any kind in their maneuvers nor in their musical display ... and their director is to be congratulated for the show that they put on in America's metropolis!"

For those who took part, being in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a chance to show that not only did Kentucky kids wore shoes, they belonged on the nation's biggest holiday stage as well as any of their peers across the nation. It was not just a trip to a parade — it was a vindication of identity.

"Everybody was aware of the circumstances," said Haney. "We were kind of country bumpkins going to the big city. That's the way it was. But we did very well. We had a successful appearance. We were very proud of our group and what we did there. It was a wonderful experience."

Said Phillippi, "One thing I'll never forget, when you come around that corner (by Macy's), it's like going to a bright place. The most outstanding thing you could do is twirl that baton and have that routine and play that music and everybody is looking. It was just such an honor. You can get honors through life, but this was exceptional."

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