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Historical Society honors James W. “Chief” Wilson

Distinguished Educator to Receive Donald Cheney Award on October 30

The Historical Society of Central Florida will present its 2018 Donald A. Cheney Award to James W. “Chief” Wilson, legendary band director at Orlando’s Jones High School from 1950 to 1990. The presentation is slated for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 30, at the Orange County Regional History Center.

Long known affectionately as “Chief,” James Weldon Wilson grew up in Sanford, where he graduated from Crooms Academy. He joined the faculty of Jones High School in 1950, after earning a music degree from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. He soon shaped the school’s band into a Central Florida legend, earning top marks at state competitions and sending a thrill through crowds at Orlando’s annual Christmas parade.

“Music was the first thing to break down the barrier of discrimination” in the United States, Wilson has said, looking back to those years. In 1964, he and his colleague at Edgewater High, band director Del Kieffner, led a community drive to send both bands to play at the New York World’s Fair — a mark of change in a deeply segregated society.

Over the years, the Jones High School band performed at many national events, including the 1982 Knoxville World’s Fair and Bicentennial celebrations in Washington, D.C., in 1976 and 1987.

Committed to quality education, Wilson took pride in preparing his students for college and helping them obtain scholarships. After his retirement in 1990, he continued to teach and to inspire students and to serve the community.

Chief Wilson is a member of the Halls of Fame of the Florida Music Educators, the Florida Bandmasters Association, and the Orange County Public Schools. The Jones High School auditorium is named in his honor. He has worked hard to preserve our history through the Jones High Historical Society and long served the community through the Central Florida Educators Federal Credit Union, the Orange County Retired Educators Association, and other groups.

“Through his extraordinary career and his dedicated service to the community and to history, Chief Wilson has inspired generations,” said the Historical Society’s executive director, Michael Perkins. “We’re honored to present him with this award.”

First presented in 1992, the Donald A. Cheney Award honors community champions who embody dedication to Central Florida’s heritage and to civic engagement. The award carries on the legacy of its namesake, Judge Donald A. Cheney (1889-1983), founder of the Orange County Historical Society and the Orange County Historical Museum, the predecessors of the current Historical Society and History Center.