Music professor and bandleader John Phillip Paynter, named for John Phillip Sousa, was born in Mineral Point, Wisconsin on May 29, 1928. Paynter received early musical training at the insistence of his father, an amateur bandsman who admired Sousa. As a child, Paynter took piano and organ lessons and, like his father before him, played clarinet. He participated in band throughout his school years, and was influenced by Bernard Stepner, his band director.
Paynter began his musical studies at Northwestern, graduating with a Bachelor of Music degree in 1950 and a Master’s in Theory and Composition in 1951. While working on his Master’s degree, Paynter was Acting Director of Bands (in Glenn Cliffe Bainum’s absence), and when he graduated in 1951 he was appointed to full-time faculty as Director of the Marching Band, Assistant Director of Bands, and Instructor of Theory. Two years later, when Bainum retired, Paynter succeeded him to become the second Director of Bands in the history of Northwestern University.
Bainum was an important mentor and friend of Paynter’s. Paynter recalled playing his freshman band audition for Bainum and being hired by Bainum to be an assistant in the band office. In 1994, twenty years after Bainum’s death, Paynter still remembered him warmly, saying: “Hardly a day goes by that I don’t remember some little thing he said....Simply said, Mr. Bainum was my idol, my mentor, and my conscience.”
During his career at Northwestern, Paynter taught classes in band music, conducting, and arranging. He also worked on composing and arranging music, and completed more than 400 works during his lifetime. As a student in 1949, Paynter was part of the Wildcats’ trip to the Rose Bowl. In 1995, shortly before his death, Paynter returned to the Rose Bowl, this time as the Director of the Northwestern Band.
One aspect of music that was important to Paynter was that of the American tradition of community bands—groups comprised of music teachers and musically trained amateurs. In 1956, Paynter helped establish the 113-member Northshore Concert Band, but his work in this area did not end at the North Shore of Chicago. Paynter also helped to organize and inspire such community groups around the world—traveling to all fifty states and four continents.
A leader in his field, Paynter was President of the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles and the Mid-West International Band and Orchestra Clinic. He was cofounder and Honorary Life President of the National Band Association. The professional organizations to which he belonged included the Music Educators National Conference and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia.
Paynter received honors from many organizations for his contributions to music. These organizations included Pi Kappa Lambda, Phi Eta Sigma, Tri-M Modern Music Masters, Phi Beta Mu, Kappa Kappa Psi, Illinois Music Educators, the John Phillip Sousa Foundation, the National Band Association, the School Musician, the Instrumentalist (for which he edited the
“New Music” column), and the National Association of Music Clubs. In August 1987 he was named one of the inaugural recipients of the Northwestern Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award, and in June 1992 DePaul University granted him an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.
At the age of 67, John P. Paynter passed away on Sunday, February 4, 1996 at Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview, IL. He had been hospitalized there since suffering a stroke on January 23.
(taken from the Northwestern University Archives, Evanston, Illinois)