Instruments: Trumbet
Place of Birth: Georgia
Home: Birmingham, Alabama

Sam Foster was originally from Georgia. He met Birmingham native, "Pop" Williams in Des Moines, Iowa when he signed up to play with the Ringling Brothers Circus Band under the direction of the renowned cornetist, P.G. Laurel.

Foster's nickname was "High C," a tribute to his skill in playing in the upper-register with a speciality in playing the high C note with ease. This was considered quite a feat at that time. later louis Armstrong became the first star trumpeter who incorporated such a feat as part of his act.

Williams and Foster grew to be friends. They had grown weary of the road and life as a traveling musician. Williams encouraged Foster to consider coming to Birmingham where they formed a group called the "Ivory Williams Combo" with Foster as lead trumpet and Williams playing the bass fiddle. They worked steadily all over town, at the night clubs, saloons and after-hour joints.

Williams had great respect for Foster's teaching ability and eventually introduced him to Mrs. Carrie A. Tuggle, founder and head of Tuggle Institute. Mrs. Tuggle had expressed a desire to have a band for the school. On the strength of Williams' recommendation, Foster got the job as band master, somewhere between 1905 and 1910. This important development was the first endeavor to teach music in a black school in the Birmingham area outside of the church. This represented the establishment of a formalized system for the transmission of Afro-American music from one generation to another. For the first time in the city, an aspiring Afro-American youth had an opportunity to develop musical skills in western-oriented musical instruments, implemented by the formal training, experienced, and guidance from a teacher.

It is not clear what the breadth of Foster's previous musical experiences were. What is clear is that Foster was a professional. To be featured under the direction of P.G. Laurel with the internationally acclaimed Ringling Brother's Band; to be able to read music fluently; and improvise, was quite an accomplishment during this time. In addition, to this professional performing experiences, his teaching skills were an asset to the Birmingham musical community. Over a period of time, Tuggle Institute gained a reputation as one of the best schools in the State.

Foster had tremendous success in training young musicians. As the esteem of Tuggle's band grew, it attracted many youths throughout the state. One such aspiring musician was John T. Whatley from the Tuscaloosa area. Under the tutelage of Foster, Whatley learned to read music and became a solid trumpet player. With this foundation, Whatley would go on to become one of the great music educators of the state.

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame


Hawkins was the son of Edward Hawkins, who died in World War I, and Carey Hawkins, a teacher. His name honored Erskine Ramsay, a major benefactor of Birmingham City Schools. He, his sister and three brothers grew up in a house directly across from Tuggle Institute, with his maternal grandfather and other members of his mother's family, the Sneads, who helped Carrie Tuggle rebuild the school in 1920 after a fire. He became entranced by the sound of the school's band parading around the neighborhood every afternoon. Seeing his interest, Tuggle offered to place him in the school once he turned six.


At the Institute, Hawkins became best friends with Tuggle's grandson, Jack Dozier. He enjoyed ample opportunity to practice music under the school's music director, Sam Foster. He started on triangle, then drums, and soon learned to play saxophone and trombone before Foster interested him in the trumpet. During the summers he played with neighborhood bands, often spending Sundays at Tuxedo Park with older musicians.



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