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Band of Gold Story - 1979-80

posted Aug 12, 2018, 7:17 PM by LBOG AA

1979 was the most difficult year in the entire history of the band. However, there were still good things happening too. The band appeared on the nationally televised Dinah Shore Show on February 6, 1979, when it was on location at the old St Petersburg Pier. In addition, the band appeared at Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer games on February 17 and May 12. The Rowdies/Cosmos game on May 12 was broadcast nationwide on ABC, but blacked out locally. The Largo bands also continued traditional appearances at the Pinellas County Fair, the Magnificent Sound of Gold and at various events during the Festival of States.

In the fall of 1979, Mr. Cotter started the Suncoast Sound Drum and Bugle Corps.  This new organization not only allowed him to circumvent the recent school board policies, but opened up membership, and more importantly broadened the talent pool to well beyond the confines of Largo High school.  In the early years of the Band of Gold, his vision was to bring the drum corps style to the high school band.  Now 11 years later, he was going to bring the Band of Gold style back to Drum Corps International (DCI).

Following the triumphant win in Kerkrade the past summer, the Band of Gold toured Europe.  One of these stops had been at the Royal Tournament at Earls Court in London. The band so impressed their hosts that Mr. Cotter was given an open invitation to return the next summer.

The decision to take the Suncoast Sound instead of the Band of Gold to the Royal Tournament in the summer of 1979 caused division and strife within the organization.  Many members, including some of the band’s student leaders, and parents believed it was the Band of Gold, not Bob Cotter that was invited back to the Royal Tournament.  The controversy boiled over into the local newspapers where there were accusations against Mr. Cotter made by some band members.  By the spring, having lost his bid for the school board, Mr. Cotter returned as full time director of the Band of Gold, upon which Mr. Aerts abruptly left, and some of the student leadership resigned.  The Suncoast Sound went to London.  By the end of the summer of 1979 most of the controversy surrounding the Band of Gold had died down…but the damage had been done.

The first half of the 79-80 school year for the band was filled with the usual parades, concerts, football games, and hosting the Golden Invitational Band Contest.  This was to be a “rebuilding” year, with the band marching a mere 140, of which only 28 were seniors. The first major competition of the year was the Florida Tournament of Bands at Al Lang Field in St Petersburg.  Different from past years, for the first time ever the winner would earn the right to represent Florida in the Festival of States. The competition was held on December 1, 1979. In the multi-year history of the Florida Tournament, there had only ever been one champion…the Band of Gold.  This night would prove no different.  The Band of Gold won the Field Show, and the Parade competitions, and came in second in the concert competition. They would represent Florida in April at the Festival of States.

 For many years at the Festival of States, the Band of Gold had played “host” to the weeklong event. But this year, the band was a competitor, representing Florida. Boca Ciega High filled in as host band that year.  The competition was fierce in every category, and for the first time in a decade, the Band of Gold finished outside the top three in the Field Show competition.  The Festival of States award ceremony was held at the band shell on Saturday afternoon, April 12, at Williams Park in St. Petersburg. In the last competition of the Festival, the parade, the Band of Gold took first place, beating the band from West Genesee, NY by a mere 0.55 points, winning  the Governor’s Cup and being proclaimed National Parade Champions.  Afterwards, in a moment of reflection, Mr. Cotter stated the Band of Gold had never lost a parade competition…ever. So much for the rebuilding year.

On Saturday, May 3, 1980, the band put on the Magnificent Sound of Gold at the Bayfront Center in St Petersburg.  The band spent the day rehearsing not only the field shows and concert arrangements, but also the “small bands” that had become a tradition of the event. The curtain went up at 8PM with Master of Ceremonies Herb Melleney, assisted at the mike by Guard of Gold Captain, Ann Klein.  Performances by the Blue Band, the Guard of Gold (and drum line), the Golden Strings, and the Largo High Concert Choir were true crowd pleasers, as was piano soloist and BOG 1975 alumni Richard Crosby. But the highlight of the evening was the formal presentation, in the center of the arena, of the Governor’s Cup as National Parade Champions by Senator John Ware, representing Governor Graham. The evening’s finale began with Mr. Melleney’s now famous (and exclusive) introduction of, “Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your musical seatbelts…” as the Band of Gold executed its premiere field show.  At the end, as it formed up on the baseline to march off through one of Bayfront’s  exits, Mr. Melleney invited past members of the Band of Gold to “fall in behind and march out one last time” with the band…the reason became clear in the next few minutes.

As the band was given the final “Band Halt” of the day, Mr. Cotter called everyone into the now familiar semi-circle and congratulated them on an excellent performance.  He then announced he would be leaving at the end of the school year.  He was taking a job as the music director of Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina…you could have heard a pin drop.  In the media interviews that followed over the next few days, he explained that he had passed up on getting his PhD and on writing a book. He had done all he had set out to do at Largo…the band was again National Champions…it was time.  In a press release he wrote, “The current Band of Gold has been one of the greatest success stories in all my experience, and I am proud to have worked with them.  It is with considerable regret that I leave the legion of super adult volunteers and supporters who have helped us pay the price for being world champions.”

And so it was, on Thursday, May 29, 1980, after 12 years, the Largo Band of Gold performed its last field show with Bob Cotter as director.  It was the annual Spring Concert, and started out in the Largo High auditorium with the concert band playing to a packed house of fans, parents, alumni and media.  After the indoor concert, everyone “repositioned “to Packer stadium, under perfect weather and a full moon, for the final field show.  It was flawless. 

Prior to the evening’s festivities, the band gathered in the band room, closed the doors, and presented Mr. Cotter with a gold watch with twelve diamonds, each one representing a different BOG year.  Bob Cotter thanked everyone, and stated that he had learned more from the band, than the band had from him.  The Largo Band of Gold then finished as they had started so many years before…they huddled up, sang the Lord’s Prayer and the “Halls of Largo” …then marched off into history.


Band of Gold Story - 1978

posted Aug 12, 2018, 7:04 PM by LBOG AA

The year 1978 proved to be an emotional roller coaster for the Largo music program. First, anticipation as the Band of Gold prepared for the long awaited return to Holland. Next, the euphoria of a triumphant trip to Europe, followed by controversy as the year drew to a close.

For the first time since the beginning of the program, there would be no trip to Tampa for the American Bowl. The game was being restructured, and was now called the Can-Am Bowl, which was an American bowl game played with Canadian rules, and without the Band of Gold. Instead, there would be a string of performances and fund raising events lasting right up until the departure for Europe. Some new ideas included paper drives, hole-in-one putting contests, and even a Band of Gold night at a Dunedin Blue Jays baseball game.

In the meantime, the musical preparations continued. Results of the World Band tryouts were announced on February 15. A special demonstration field show was held for Cecil Korer of the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) on March 9. Mr. Korer also attended the annual performance of the Magnificent Sound of Gold on March 11. In reality, Korer was here to scout out the Band for a possible documentary on British television. Of course, the Mag Sound was a huge success, and highly anticipated due to the band’s upcoming return to Europe. After Mag Sound, all of the members of the Largo music program participated in the Festival of States. This was the eighth year that Largo was the Festival’s Pageantry Unit.

After all of the hard work leading up to the July 11 departure date for Europe, there was bad news. On June 9, a meeting was held in the auditorium, where Bob Cotter announced to parents and supporters that the fundraising was still $60,000 short. Without these funds, it would be necessary to either cancel or curtail the trip. To raise money, parents were asked to invest in ten tickets for $25 each (for a total of $250) for a special sendoff concert. They could either sell the tickets or just count the money spent as a donation. They also had the option of purchasing tickets for an exclusive party at $1000 per person. A Ford Thunderbird would be raffled as part of this final drive. Cotter then wrote a personal check for $1000, waved it in the air, and in a move worthy of a Billy Graham revival, waved for the audience members to come forward with their checks. Barry Ford and Joe Donahey followed next, and soon the money was rolling in. When the weekend events came to a close, $42,000 had been raised. On June 12, Al Schroeder, President of the Band Boosters, announced that the trip would proceed in its entirety. Any shortfall in funds could be made up when the Gold Medal house was sold.

The Band of Gold arrived in Holland on July 12, with contest events being held on the weekend of July 15. Unlike their trip in 1974, the Band had an advantage by performing last, something that Cotter had demanded before agreeing to return to the contest. 

The concert competition was held at the Roda Hall, and the Band’s performance was outstanding. They scored 317.5 points out of 360, taking first place and winning a gold medal with distinction. 

The parade and field show competitions were held at the Kerkrade Sports Park on July 16. The Band of Gold won another gold medal in the parade competition, however finished third to the National Band of New Zealand and a Band from Oslo, Norway. 

Finally, the field show competition, which proved to be a showdown between rivals Band of Gold and the National Band of New Zealand. Both shows were amazing. At the award ceremony, the score for the Kiwi’s was

announced first: 171 out of a possible 180 points, which was the highest in the history of the competition. It seemed unlikely the Americans would be able to top such a lofty score. However, the unlikely happened, and the Band of Gold scored 175 points, an all-time high, and another Gold Medal with Distinction. Largo was to be crowned World Champion with wins in two of three events. That evening, the Band sipped champagne to celebrate their victory. In ten short years, the 77 member Packer Band had transformed into the 210 member World Champion Band of Gold!

Even though the contest had concluded, the trip was far from over, with touring and performances in Paris, Britain, and Ireland. Two of the performances were especially noteworthy. First, the Band performed twice at Earls Court in London on July 21. The Royal Tournament was held at this venue, which was the oldest and largest Military Tattoo in the world. The Band of Gold was the first group that was not part of the British commonwealth of countries to perform at the event. The Cecil Korer visit to

Largo during the spring resulted in the “Sounds of Gold,” a thirty minute BBC documentary on the Band of Gold. The show was taped at Alexander Stadium in Birmingham, England on July 22, and then broadcast throughout Europe. The band’s triumphant trip to Europe would end with concerts in Ireland, and then a flight home to Tampa on July 27. A hero’s welcome was planned at Tampa International Airport and Largo High School. Unfortunately, there were late flights and rain. Still, a large crowd waited until after midnight to celebrate the achievements of this remarkable organization. On July 29, 1978, the World Band of Gold performed for the last time to a standing room crowd at Largo’s Packer Stadium. And finally, there was another television show, this time a thirty minute documentary on WLCY, Channel 10, titled “Solid Gold Salute.”

Less happy times awaited band members as the 1978-79 school year started. Bob Cotter in effect resigned his position, in part so that he could run for the school board. Cotter also wanted to start a drum corps, and announced in November the formation of what would become the Suncoast Sound. Assistant Director Roy Aerts took charge of the music program and Cotter continued as a consultant. On the first day of classes Mr. Cotter stated, “One of the hardest things to do this year was to stay in the band.” There wasn’t much money to work with after returning from Europe as World Champions.  Additionally, the Pinellas County School board had imposed new restrictions with regard to “community bands,” and while not naming the Band of Gold, it was clear on whom these new policies were focused.  There were now limits on type of fund raising that could be done, and distances the bands were allowed to travel. In the meantime, Cotter’s run for school board started with some success as he narrowly defeated republican Joann Florin in the primary. He would eventually loose in the general election to democrat Betty Hamilton. Responsibility for the loss fell in part to the teacher’s union, which didn’t endorse Cotter because he was in fact a strike breaker in 1968. After the election, Cotter would return to Largo, but this caused confusion with Roy Aerts. In addition, some of the band boosters became concerned about possible conflicts of interest between the Suncoast Sound and the Largo music program. These controversies would continue into 1979.

In the meantime, there were still some positives to complete 1978. On October 21, WEDU, Channel 3 broadcast the 6th annual Golden Invitation Band Contest. Congressman Bill Young was in attendance to hand out gold medals to World Band members. The Largo bands also participated in the Florida Tournament of Bands. Finally, due to scheduling difficulties, for the first time the Band of Gold was not to appear at any Tampa Bay Buccaneer games. The sting of this was lessened however, when the Band was invited to appear on the Dinah Shore television show. The episode was taped on November 20, and would be broadcast in early 1979.


Band of Gold Story - 1968-69

posted Jul 14, 2012, 8:00 AM by Largo Gold   [ updated Aug 8, 2018, 4:49 PM by LBOG AA ]

During the winter of 1967-1968, Florida public school teachers were becoming increasing disgruntled over pay and benefits. Governor Claude Kirk and the Florida state legislature refused to consider the teacher’s requests for increased pay due to a lack of funding. On February 19, 1968, the Florida Education Association initiated a strike, and thousands of school teachers across the state resigned their positions. The Pinellas County School Board gave teachers one week to reconsider or face permanent termination. Statewide, many teachers returned after just a few days. However, the Pinellas County Teacher’s Association refused to call off the strike for this county. On February 26, Pinellas County schools started to reopen with staffs made up of non-striking teachers and supervisors, and on February 28, Superintendent Thomas Southard announced the opening of 1695 education jobs. On March 4, Largo High School reopened with many new faces, including the band director, Robert R. Cotter. Cotter had been approached by friends to see if he could help out during the strike. He was given a choice of Clearwater High or Largo. He chose Largo because he considered the program to be more of a challenge. On March 11, the Pinellas County Teacher’s Association agreed to allow striking teachers to return to work, however the school board refused their request and followed through with the terminations for the strikers. Bob Cotter, who originally was just a substitute, was now a full time faculty member at Largo High.

Cotter immediately set forth to change the attitude and image of the

“Packer Band.” It was to become the “Band of Gold,” and members had to adhere to a new set of rules. Those not willing to conform were given the option of leaving. Many did. During the remainder of 1968 school year and into 1969, Cotter started teaching music and values. He developed an acronym for the word “PRIDE” which stood for Practice, Responsibility, Integrity, Determination, and Enthusiasm. Structured rehearsals and hard work started to pay off.

A Band Camp started before the school year, actually for a week in August 1969. During this time, the Band learned much of the music they were to perform during the year. And since they were staying at a remote Boy Scout camp, Camp Flying Eagle in Manatee County, they started to bond as a group. The primitive state of the camp, with no mattresses, sulfur water, and outhouses served to bond the group even more, since they were all going through a rough, common experience.

The Band of Gold participated in many events in 1969, including school
concerts and local parades. A sophomore band was created, called the
“Blue Band,” and they participated in these events as a separate entity. The Band of Gold sported new gold satin uniforms, replacing the dark blue cadet style uniforms that were previously worn. Early on, the Blue Band inherited the dark blue uniforms until they were eventually replaced with blue satin uniforms. Both bands had to adhere to strict grooming standards, including short hair for boys and appropriate attire (no jeans). Local residents started to take notice, and it wasn’t long before the popularity of Cotter’s bands skyrocketed.

Band of Gold Story - 1970

posted Jul 14, 2012, 7:59 AM by Largo Gold   [ updated Aug 11, 2018, 12:11 PM by LBOG AA ]

The Band of Gold was busy right at the start of 1970. They performed the pregame and halftime shows at the 3rd Annual Lion’s American Bowl at Tampa Stadium on January 3. Even though this was the third American Bowl, it was the first time the game was sanctioned by the NCAA. Because of this, the game was broadcast on syndicated television. It would the first of many television appearances for the band. During the rest of the winter and into spring, the band continued to perform at school concerts, parades, and the opening of the Pinellas County Fair.

On April 8, the band was involved in a controversy involving the Florida Bandmaster’s Association (FBA). The FBA held an annual assessment in which bands were rated on a scale from poor to superior, but were not given a numerical score to see how they competed against each other. The Band of Gold was given an “excellent” rating at the assessment, which was the second highest rating. The judges were impressed by the

field show, but deducted points because the Band of Gold marched in a style more typical of drum corps; a style not recognized by the FBA. The Pinellas County School Board would not allow bands rated less than superior to travel outside the county. This rule did not sit well with Bob Cotter, who was already planning for the Band of Gold to compete at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) national contest, which was being held in Miami in 1970. To accomplish this, Cotter withdrew the Band of Gold from the FBA, and in order to legally compete, he formed the “Largo Summer Band of Gold,” which would later be renamed the “Largo Community Band of Gold” in 1971. The Summer/Community Band of Gold was essentially the same as the high school band, however it did allow a few recent graduates to perform with the core high school group. Since this version of the band was a separate entity from the high school band, the school board was powerless to prohibit travel to out of county events. The Golden Strings Orchestra continued to participate in FBA assessments since there were really no contests for high school orchestras.

Just a few days later, on April 8, the Band of Gold made its first performance at the St. Petersburg Festival of States marching band contest, “Champions on Parade.” The band performed for demonstration purposes only, but this was the first of many visits the bands of Largo High would make to St. Petersburg and the Festival of States during the next ten years.

During the weekend of August 15, the Band of Gold would enjoy its first victory at a national contest. The Summer Band of Gold traveled to Miami to compete at the VFW National Contest. They did well, finishing third in concert, second in field, and first in parade competition. Suddenly, Lago had a national champion on its hands. Local media picked up on the story, and demand immediately increased for the band to perform at functions around the area and statewide.

As the 1970-1971 school year started, the Band of Gold was prepared for several big events. Weeks earlier, Bob Cotter held another band camp, this time at Camp Keystone near Odessa. The band had already learned three field shows by the time school started, which was a good thing, for they were to perform at the Miami Dolphins/Washington Redskins exhibition football game at Tampa Stadium on September 5. The Band performed at a couple of political events in October. Gov. Claude Kirk, Sen. Reuben Askew, and Sen. Lawton Chiles were speaking at the Florida Farm Bureau convention, which was held at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater. The Band of Gold was there to perform at a barbecue and to unfurl a large 40 by 60 foot American flag. President Richard Nixon spoke at a Republican Party campaign rally in St. Petersburg on October 28, and the Band of Gold was there to welcome him. During the fall, the Band of Gold and Blue Band continued to perform at Largo Packer football games, where they found themselves sharing the spotlight with the football team. 1970 finished in grand style with another trip to Miami. This time, the Band of Gold performed at the Miami Dolphins/New York Jets football game at the Orange Bowl on December 13. The game was of some importance, and was broadcast nationwide on NBC. This was a special moment for Band of Gold fans, because in the early 1970s the television networks still broadcast NFL halftime shows rather than switching to other programming as they do today. It was the band’s first appearance on national television, with many more to come.

Band of Gold Story - 1971

posted Jul 14, 2012, 7:54 AM by Largo Gold   [ updated Aug 11, 2018, 12:12 PM by LBOG AA ]

The year 1971 started out much the same as it did during 1970 with an appearance for the Band of Gold on syndicated television at the Lion’s American Bowl at Tampa Stadium on January 9. The remainder of the winter continued with the usual local concerts and parades. Entering spring, the band enjoyed some new experiences. In March, the Band of Gold provided entertainment for first American Gold Cup horse jumping competition held at Tampa Stadium.

Of greater significance was Largo’s expanded participation in the St. Petersburg Festival of States during late March and early April. The festival was expanding, to include colorful flags and costumes depicting

1971 Festival of States Parade
the history of the United States. The Lakewood High School band was originally going to be the honor band for the Festival of States, but when the flags were added to the festival, Lakewood simply did not have the manpower. Largo High, with two bands, fit the bill. The Band of Gold would provide the music and the Blue Band would carry the flags. This was a major commitment for the Largo music program because the festival would require many performances in a two week period, including the Youth Parade, Flag Pageant (which highlighted the flags and costumes), Champions on Parade marching band contest, a coronation ball, and the Festival of States Parade itself. The relationship between the Largo music program and the Festival of States continued for many years, and provided Largo with tremendous exposure.

It was a busy summer in 1971. After another band camp at Camp Keystone in July, the Community Band of Gold provided pregame and halftime entertainment for the New York Jets/Detroit Lions NFL preseason game on August 7 at Tampa Stadium. This was just a warmup to one of

the great milestones in Band of Gold history when they traveled to Dallas in late August to defend their national parade championship at the VFW competition. Not only did the band defend its parade championship, but it also won the concert and field show competitions. This was an unprecedented sweep of the competition, especially because the contest was so competitive. The band was competing against traditional marching bands as well as drum corps, which usually placed very high at the contest.

As the 1971-1972 school year started, the Band of Gold was in great demand for appearances in the local area due in part to the Community Band’s success in Dallas. Bob Cotter always believed in participating in as many local functions as possible, thereby giving back to a community that was providing a great deal of financial support. So the band started to appear at many local events such as grand openings for a tourist welcome center, a McDonalds and a bank. Additionally the Band of Gold and Blue Band continued to entertain crowds at Largo Packer football games. During October, the band had a possible scheduling conflict. Walt Disney World was opening, and extended an invitation for the band to perform. However since there were doubts about the exact opening date, and with another commitment to the Miami Dolphins, Bob Cotter elected to decline the Disney invitation, even though a special field show highlighting Disney music had been prepared. On November 9, the band traveled back to Miami to provide pregame and halftime entertainment for the Miami Dolphins/Buffalo Bills NFL game. The Dolphins were having a successful season, so once again the halftime show was carried live and nationwide on NBC television. As the busy year came to a close, the orchestra program, the Golden Strings, was increasing its membership and performed concerts for the holiday season. 

Band of Gold Story - 1972

posted Jul 14, 2012, 7:52 AM by Largo Gold   [ updated Aug 11, 2018, 12:36 PM by LBOG AA ]

The year 1972 began much the same as in the past with a trip in early January to Tampa Stadium to perform pregame and halftime shows at the Lion’s American Bowl in Tampa, followed in March by the American Cup horse jumping championship. The only difference was that the Blue Band

accompanied the Band of Gold to these events to carry the flags of the Festival of States’ National Flag Pageant.  The flags were the perfect addition to these patriotically themed events, and when combined with the various units of the Band of Gold, made for very impressive shows. In fact, the pairing of the Band of Gold and the Flag Pageant continued at special events for many years. The Largo bands continued their duties as the pageantry unit for the Festival of States later in March and into April, performing at many events. Also in April, the Golden Strings participated at a FBA assessment for orchestras in Gainesville and received the highest “Superior” rating. During this entire period in the winter and spring, the various instrumental musical units at Largo High continued to perform at a number of local concerts and parades.

It was another busy summer in 1972. Due to a scheduling conflict with Camp Keystone, band camp was moved to a more luxurious home. The Edgewater Beach Motel in downtown St. Petersburg served as the host for band camps for the remainder of the Cotter era. Band members loved the upgrade in accommodations from the previously rustic camps, including air conditioned rooms.  An additional benefit was more exposure, since residents and local media were able to easily stop by and watch the rehearsals. The Baltimore Colts were playing all three of their home preseason exhibition games at Tampa Stadium in 1972, and the Community Band of Gold performed at two of them. The first was the Colts versus the Washington Redskins on August 4, and the second,

which was on national television but blacked out locally, was the Colts versus the Detroit Lions on September 1. In between these games was another big moment in Band of Gold history: The VFW National Band Competition in Minneapolis. The contest represented a unique opportunity for the Community Band of Gold to repeat their unprecedented sweep of the parade, concert and field events, which they had accomplished in Dallas just a year earlier. They were successful and were crowned National Champions again. This would prove to be the last VFW competition for the Band of Gold. Denise East and Tom Jones are shown holding the championship trophies.

After returning from Minneapolis, Bob Cotter was contacted by a former student who had become the director of the high school band in Forest City, North Carolina. His band had competed at an international competition in 1970 in Kerkrade, Holland. This inspired Cotter, and plans were put into place to take the Band of Gold to the next level by competing at the international contest. The World Music Concourse was held every four years in Holland. It would prove to be quite a challenge to raise the necessary funds in time to compete at the next scheduled competition in 1974. It would become necessary for the Band of Gold to compete in contests closer to home. The music program would need every dime in order to travel to Europe.

When the 1972-1973 school year started, demand for the band to perform was at an all-time high. Of course the Band of Gold and Blue Band continued to perform at Friday night Packer games (with the exception of the Clearwater/Largo game, which was traditionally played on Thanksgiving night). But first, it was back to Miami to perform at the Dolphins final preseason NFL game against the Minnesota Vikings on September 9. The game was broadcast nationwide on CBS.

Unfortunately the local affiliate, WTVT Channel 13, preempted the Band of Gold’s halftime performance to broadcast local news. They were unaware that a local band was performing. After complaint calls flooded their switchboard, the news department became curious about the music program at Largo. Eventually, this led to a thirty minute documentary on the Band of Gold, broadcast during prime time. The accompanying picture shows the Channel 13 "mobile studio"  which was used while filming at Largo High.

A few weeks later, the St. Petersburg Times featured the Largo music

program as the cover story for their Sunday magazine, “The Floridian,” on November 26. These were indeed exciting times.

Just prior to all of this media coverage, the Largo music program started an event that continues even today. The Golden Invitational Band Contest was first held in October 1972 as a way to offer local bands the opportunity to compete against each other rather than just receive a FBA rating. The Band of Gold and Blue Band performed demonstration shows, but did not compete. The Golden Invitational not only became a way for local bands to showcase their talents, but it also became an excellent fund raising opportunity for the Largo music program. This past September (2017) marked the 46th anniversary of the event.


Band of Gold Story - 1973

posted Jul 14, 2012, 7:47 AM by Largo Gold   [ updated Aug 11, 2018, 12:50 PM by LBOG AA ]

The hectic pace of activities that ended 1972 continued into 1973 for the Band of Gold. This started with the usual performances at the American Bowl in January, and the America’s Cup horse jumping championship in March, both in Tampa.

Since the announcement was made that the Band would be competing against the world in Holland in 1974, a greater emphasis on fund raising began in 1973. After all, it was going to cost well in excess of $100,000 to send the Band to Europe. The Band had already been engaged in standard fund raising activities, such as “Tag Days” at local supermarkets, where customers were asked to donate in exchange for a paper tag that said that showed their support, candy bar sales, and a rummage room, in which clothing and used household items were donated and then sold for profit. The Band Boosters also staged another “Golden Invitational” band contest after the success in 1972. As usual, the Largo Bands, both Blue

and Gold, were performing at many functions for the St. Petersburg “Festival of States” in March. During the Festival of States Parade, the Band of Gold performed twice, once at the beginning and again the end. One Festival event was added in 1973 that turned into a great fundraiser and also a way to showcase all of the units of the musical program at Largo. The first “Magnificent Sound of Gold” was staged at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg on March 24. This revue type of show featured all of the musicians from Largo right down to the choral department. One of the highlights was a contest in which four breakout units from the Band of Gold competed against each other for the Grand Prize; the Gilded Gizmo, which turned out to be a garbage can stained in gold. This event entertained thousands of people, not only during 1973, but also for remainder of the band’s history during the Bob Cotter era.

The Golden Strings Orchestra jumped into the limelight in May 1973. The orchestra had developed a fine reputation of its own during the early years of the program, and was rewarded with an invitation to travel to Norfolk, Virginia to perform at the Music Educator’s National Conference. Famed American composer Aaron Copland was a speaker at the conference, and sat on stage as the Orchestra and chorus performed a program of his compositions. Another performance followed in Abbeville, South Carolina, which held an annual contest in which the Band of Gold would eventually compete.

The fall of 1973 brought a certain amount of controlled chaos to Largo High School.  Overcrowding throughout Pinellas County led to major changes.  Junior High Schools were converted to Middle Schools, ninth grade was moved to High School, and most High Schools ran on double sessions.  Seniors and juniors began their day at 7:15 and finished at 12:15; freshmen and sophomores began at 12:30 and finished at 5:30.  However, the Band of Gold simply adjusted its process and took it all in stride.  As Cotter used to say, “The program works, rain or shine.” 

The adjustment started in the summer of 1973 with a band “pre-camp” for rising freshmen and sophomores, even though the ‘Boss’ had not yet figured out exactly how he would handle a whole new grade of students.  Because of the increase in student numbers, an additional instrumental teacher was hired: Roy Aerts.  Mr. Aerts was a woodwind specialist and joined Mr. Cotter that summer, coming from Sarasota High School.  Bob Cotter eventually decided on how to handle the new students. He added a ninth grade “Fife and Drum Corps,” under the direction of Mr. Aerts.

An evolution started to take place at the Band of Gold band camp in August 1973. Parade and field performances of the Band during the earlier years were highlighted by sheer power. This “shock and awe” type of sound certainly got the attention of audiences, but Bob Cotter realized that the quality of this sound would need to evolve in order to impress the judges in Holland. It was during this period that the band developed a powerful, but more controlled sound. With sophisticated instrumentation, this sound became more concert-like, but still with the “shock and awe” factor of the earlier bands. So, it was at this band camp that the first “World Show” and two other drills (after Cotter’s usual multi-show approach) took shape.  

In the fall of 1973, Joe Donahey Jr., a Clearwater attorney and graduate of Largo High School, volunteered his services to Mr. Cotter.  Both Donahey and Cotter had a background in Junior Drum Corps.  They forged a partnership that led to many more championships.

In October, the Band of Gold traveled to Abbeville, SC, to compete in the Southeastern Invitational Band Competition.  The Band placed first, in a narrow win (1.5 points) over the Sylva-Webster High School Golden Eagles, from Sylva-Webster High School, NC.  Cotter was displeased with the performance.  Many of the 1973-74 Band of Gold members remember Cotter’s post-performance statement: “You all know me pretty well, and you know I will never lie to you.  That was LOUSEY – you’ll be lucky to place third.”  Fortunately, the judges didn’t agree with his assessment and the Band scurried to the buses and took off with the first-place overall trophy.  

In December of 1973, the Band traveled to Miami to compete in the Winter-Nationals, a regional contest that had invited a number of bands

from around the State of Florida to compete.  Notwithstanding the rumor circulating in various circles that the Dunedin High School Black Watch (the local kilt band) had been working for months to beat the band from Largo, the Band of Gold notched another first-place trophy that evening.   The “Boss” was using these smaller competitions to get feedback on the World Show.  As the winner, the Band once again played a nationally televised halftime show for the Miami Dolphin’s home game that followed the competition. Pictured is Bob Cotter and 1973-74 Drum Major David Brittain, holding the Winter-National championship trophy at the Miami Orange Bowl.



Band of Gold Story - 1974

posted Jul 11, 2012, 9:57 AM by Largo Gold   [ updated Aug 11, 2018, 4:38 PM by LBOG AA ]

The Band of Gold opened 1974 by playing halftime at the American Bowl football game at Tampa Stadium, followed by the American Invitational horse jumping show.

Those chosen for the World Band were notified of their selection in January of 1974.  Planning and fundraising for the trip shifted into high gear.  The band performed many times that winter and spring to foster community support and raise money for the trip.

Scouting is not just something confined to sports; it was also a practice employed by Bob Cotter. The “World Show,” which had been practiced since band camp the prior summer, was altered in the spring. The song “Cabaret” was added to the show. “Cabaret” featured a series of uncharacteristic dance steps by the musicians that was disliked by the hard core drum corps purists in the band, but designed to appeal to a specific World Music Contest judge, the Band Director of Purdue University. Ultimately, the show was changed to please this judge.  

Spring brought the second annual Magnificent Sound of Gold. This version of the “Mag Sound,” as it was called was even more intricate than the first, since it now included added performances by the new Fife and Drum Corps, and a jazz band, known as the “Golden Tones.” The capacity crowd was delighted, and support for the Band of Gold in Largo soared into the summer. The Largo instrumental music program continued to perform numerous times during the Festival, as it had in prior years.

By May, Cotter and the Band Boosters were dealing with the rapidly escalating costs of the European trip.  The overall cost had almost doubled since the preliminary planning in 1972: from $125,000 to $233,000.  For comparison, $233,000 in 1974 is equal to about $1,243,000 in 2018.  With $50,000 in non-refundable deposits at stake, Cotter sought funding wherever he could.  A bill was introduced in the state legislature to support the trip, but it was not passed. The band did its first walkathon May 25th, raising $5,500.  Cotter was “roasted” at the Fort Harrison Hotel on June 17, raising another $7,500.  Another appearance with the St. Petersburg Society for the Preservation of Barber Shop Singing at the Bayfront Center occurred on June 24, 1974.  This was another of the fund-raising efforts capitalizing on the band’s appeal and the upcoming Europe trip. Ultimately, the band had to borrow about $50,000 to make the trip. The band had to use new sousaphones and other equipment as collateral in order to secure the loan.

When school ended, the band made final preparations for the trip to Europe by holding a week-long band camp. Due to heavy rain, the band drilled relentlessly on the concert pieces.  By the end of the week, the rain lifted and the band was able to work on the World Field Show. 

Finally, the day of departure arrived – July 3, 1974, and it was not without incident.  There were two planes, one for parents and supporters and the other for the band members. The plane carrying the “tagalongs” took off without incident, however the heavily loaded Pan Am charter carrying the band members taxied off the end of the runway at Tampa International Airport.  The plane was stuck and damaged. Band members were deplaned and later feasted on hamburgers provided by the airline while they awaited a new plane which was coming from Puerto Rico. In the meantime, the “tagalongs” arrived on time and enjoyed a scheduled Rhine River cruise. The band members finally arrived in Germany on July 5, a day late.

July 7, 1974 was competition day.  The band went through its traditional warm up of inspection, and singing the Lord’s Prayer and the Alma

Mater.  When it came time to enter the stadium, Cotter, in a cunning move, had the Band enter single file.  This had a two-fold purpose: It bought time for the line crew, made up of chaperones, to get the field properly lined to resemble an American football rather than a European soccer field. It also provided a “shock and awe” effect since the Band was significantly larger than European and other International Bands; as the entrance went on and on, the murmuring in the stands was audible.

From David Brittain’s first bark of commands to the last strains of Auld Lang Syne, the feeling in the stadium was electric.  Fifteen thousand people watched the band’s performance, rewarding them with the longest ovation of the contest.

That evening was the concert competition.  The band performed its required number, “The Netherlands Suite” and then awaited the judge’s selection, which unexpectedly was the “Manx Overture.”  Cotter had been certain that a Shostakovich composition would be selected.  He later remarked, “When I heard them announce the Manx, I damned near died.”  But the rained-out band camp turned out to be fortuitous.  Instead of drilling on the field, the “Manx Overture” had been polished to near perfection.

When the scores were announced, the band had accomplished something never before achieved in the history of the World Music Festival: gold medals with distinction in both the field and concert categories in the Open Division.  The Band of Gold scored 270.5 out of 300 in the field competition, and 325.5 out of 350 in the concert division. In the accompanying picture, Bob Cotter displays the gold medals for the first time. 

That Sunday evening, Cotter gathered the Band, and invited them to sip champagne in celebration of what had been a long and amazing journey. But the journey was about to continue as the Band toured Europe, performing under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, with additional concerts in Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and Germany. The Floridians even enjoyed a snowball fight in the Alps.

The Band of Gold returned home July 25, 1974 to a tumultuous welcome.  Thousands of people welcomed the band back to Largo High, where the Blue Band performed. The World Band of Gold gave a final farewell performance on July 27, 1974 at Packer Stadium.

There is a bittersweet epilogue to the first World Contest story.  Somehow, Cotter had missed the fact that the Contest also had a parade element, so the band did not compete in that event. Additionally, the Band of Gold performed during the first weekend of the six week contest, a traditional disadvantage. The National Band of New Zealand, on the other hand, was last to compete. News that Largo had finished second to the Kiwis was not received until after the Band of Gold returned home.

Cotter, never satisfied with finishing second, set his eyes on 1978.

In the meantime, another school year was approaching, and it was going to be challenging; there were debts to be paid from the European trip, and for the first time, controversy. Band Camp was once again at the Edgewater Beach Motel.  The drill from the World Show was kept, and different music added.  To the now-seniors, the show began to feel tiresome.  They had marched the same steps intensely for a year; now they were marching them again, only with different music.

As School geared up, the St. Petersburg Times did a feature article on the band’s finances and Cotter’s control of the program.  Some former supporters were dissatisfied with Cotter’s financial decisions. This negative publicity, after the huge push for the Europe trip, may have been the reason for a big drop off in fund raising. Plans to travel to Abbeville to defend the band’s title had to be scrapped.

Still, the Band was in high demand, and it performed many times to thank the community for support. One new event was the Florida Tournament of Bands, which was associated with the Festival of States. The competition would score bands in parade and field competitions.  Two divisions were created: A Gold division, for bands with over 70 members; and a silver division, for bands with under 70 members.  Cotter, sensing an opportunity, entered the Band of Gold in the Gold division and the Blue Band in the Silver Division.  For the first time, the Blue Band would compete in a competition.

The first Florida Tournament of Bands resulted in the Band of Gold winning the Gold Division in parade and field, and being declared the Grand Champion.   The Blue Band finished second overall in the parade competition and third overall in field competition, winning the silver division.  This was probably the first time in the history of the United States that one band director put two different bands on the field in competition, and they both won their categories.

In December, the band added another new annual event to its schedule – The Big Sun College Basketball Tournament, played at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg.  The Band performed in the stands, while the Guard and Golden Girls performed at halftime and between games.


Band of Gold Story - 1975

posted Jul 11, 2012, 9:56 AM by Largo Gold   [ updated Aug 11, 2018, 1:19 PM by LBOG AA ]

In January 1975, the band returned to play at yet another American Bowl game, followed by the American Invitational horse jumping show at Tampa Stadium.   In between, they traveled to Miami to perform at the Pro Bowl football game. Local fans were looking forward to the halftime show, but were disappointed when Howard Cosell showed highlights during the performance. The switchboard at WLCY, Channel 10, logged over 200 complaints, but nothing could be done. Network television no longer broadcast marching bands at NFL games. Later, the Band made their daily appearances at the Pinellas County Fair, marching over each day for a one o’clock performance.

With no big trip for the band scheduled in the summer, the band focused on the Festival of States, the Magnificent Sound of Gold, and its spring concert. 

The band rented the old Taylor Packing Plant at the corner of East Bay Drive and Seminole Boulevard.  After cleaning decades of bird droppings, the band moved the rummage store, and had an ideal indoor practice facility, marked off exactly for the Magnificent Sound of Gold. 

Cotter invited a band competing in the Festival of States to come early and perform in “Mag Sound” – the Dundee High School Scots, from Dundee, Illinois, winners of the 1973 Festival of States competition.   Mary Nic Shenk, music critic for the St. Petersburg Times wrote an antagonist review, describing the Magnificent Sound of Gold as “…a Big Band extravaganza, but not of St. Petersburg bands.”  Shenk praised the Illinois band for its musicianship and criticized the Band of Gold for its intonation.  She also raked the younger bands – the Blue Band and 9th Regiment – for their failure to be as good as the Band of Gold.  The sting of the editorial was offset by a generous gift for Cotter – a new Thunderbird, provided by Chick Smith Ford in Clearwater (Smith’s daughter was in the band).  The Band Boosters were determined to give every incentive they could to keep Cotter on board.  Smith promised to provide him with a new car as long as he continued to serve as Largo’s Band Director.

The Golden Strings did perform at the All-State Orchestra Convention in Orlando.  Cotter’s commitment to the orchestra continued, despite the added cost of running another 100 member ensemble.

As the school year rumbled to an end, Cotter began to cast around for another mountain to climb before returning to Europe in 1978.  The debt from the 1974 Europe trip had been paid down, but was not yet paid off.

With the bicentennial a few months away, a show was designed around a Fife and Drum Corps, drawn from the Band of Gold members (unlike previous years, when the Fife and Drum corps were freshmen).  There were uniform modifications for the first time: the cummerbund was replaced with a cummerbund/sash combo, sewn by the uniform Moms.

The new show was rolled out at Band Camp at the Edgewater Beach Motel in St. Petersburg.  In an effort to move toward current drum corps style, the drill featured more flowing lines, instead of the band’s traditional rank and file style.  The show lacked the Band of Gold’s traditional “wall of sound” impact, largely due to the featuring of the Fife and Drum Corps. The band came right out of Band Camp to perform at a Buffalo Bills/Atlanta Falcons exhibition football game at Tampa Stadium on September 6.

After the negative publicity in the fall of 1974, Cotter seemed to have scored a coup by having a St Petersburg Times reporter accompany the Band to the Southeastern Invitational in Abbeville, SC.  The band left early, arriving in time to play a concert at Furman University, where a number of former Band of Gold students attended. 

The Band took the field in Abbeville on October 21, 1975, and the unthinkable happened: for the first time, they finished second in non-international competition.  Sylva-Webster High School, though in a smaller class, had a field score of 88.15; the Band of Gold, though winning its class, finished second with 85.95.

For members of the band, it was as though the world had ended.  “We were the groups that lost the perfect record,” declared one student.

Cotter, never one to accept defeat, rolled into action.  He accepted some of the responsibility for the loss. The design of the contest show lacked the excitement that would score points in the General Effect category. So the Fife and Drum Corp was scrapped.  It would play only a minor role in activities for the rest of the year.  The show was revamped, and stalwart Band of Gold tunes like “Barnum and Bailey’s Favorites,” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” were inserted into the drill.

This revised show was taken to the Florida Tournament of Bands in December, and the Band of Gold once again swept the Gold division, winning the parade and field competition.  The Band was once again named the Grand Champion.  This healed some, but not all, of the sting, of placing second in Abbeville.

The Band completed 1975 by performing at the Big Sun Basketball Tournament for the second consecutive year, and the Golden Strings Orchestra held their annual Christmas concert.



Band of Gold Story - 1976

posted Jul 11, 2012, 9:52 AM by Largo Gold   [ updated Aug 12, 2018, 9:36 AM by LBOG AA ]

America’s Bicentennial was tailor made for the Band of Gold.  At first, Cotter imagined a tour through the East and Midwest, with stops in many cities. Highlights would be performances at the P.T. Barnum Festival in Traverse City, Michigan and the Aquatennial Festival in Minneapolis. Plans for the tour fell through, however, and Cotter cast around for another mountain for the band. He then became aware of the Virginia Beach National Band Competition.  It seemed perfect for the Band: a concert, field, and parade competition


Cotter, with the help of Herb Melleney, Director of the Festival of States, enlisted General Telephone (GTE) as the band’s sponsor for the Bicentennial.  The band would perform at festivals and parades throughout GTE’s service area in exchange for significant financial support.  The band made a lot of day trips that spring, including: The Fort Pierce Sandy Shoes Festival; the Venice Circus Parade (marching behind the elephants); the Plant City Strawberry Festival Parade; the Tampa Gasparilla Parade; and the Ocala Christmas Parade.  The irony of the Ocala parade was the band was awarded first place as best band – Cotter had not even known there was a competition.

Because the Band was so busy, students usually missed school dances (which were not exactly BOG friendly).  The band officers proposed to Cotter that the band sponsor their own dance.  Cotter agreed, serving as chaperone.  The officers engaged a band and the dance was held in one of the “Pod” buildings.

“The Magnificent Sound of Gold” kicked off the Festival of States as usual.  The band again served as the host band for the Festival of States, with the band being judged, but not competing.  The band outscored all the out of state bands.  In a new tradition, the Band of Gold led the Festival of States parade; and then was bused back to starting point to be last band in the parade.  That made for seven miles of parade in one day and sore feet the next day.

Some of the administrative burden was taken off Cotter when Len Fisk volunteered to be the band’s Business Manager.  He coordinated fundraising efforts, made travel arrangements, and let Cotter and Donahey focus on the music and drill. 

The band held a Walk-a-thon fundraiser in May, to pay for the trip to the Virginia Beach Music Festival.  The band hoped to raise $30,000 walking 20 miles.  It poured rain, but still some 500 people came out in force to raise money.

The Virginia Beach National Championship was to be held in June.  The competition featured parade, field, and concert competitions.  The concert competition had a unique element: the band would be given a piece to “sight read.”  The director was given a limited time (less than five minutes) to talk the band through an unannounced piece of music.  It was test of both the band and the director.  Cotter, always meticulous in his preparation, began to pull long forgotten pieces from the band’s vast music library to rehearse in advance. 

The band departed in June for the competition at Virginia Beach, still jittery from the second-place finish in Abbeville.  Prior to the parade competition (the first event), a young woman in a pickup truck flashed the band, providing a momentary distraction!  The Band went on to win the parade competition.

The Concert Competition was next.  Cotter chose his old favorites, “A Manx Overture” and “Finale to Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.” Both were performed flawlessly.  When the sight-reading piece was passed out, it turned out to be one of the pieces the band had practiced earlier!  Cotter’s thoroughness paid off.  The band swept the field competition and were the named the Virginia Beach National Champions, placing first in all five categories.  The 214 band members then toured Washington, DC and Charleston, South Carolina before returning home as champions again.

The Band finished out its bicentennial duties by playing concerts on July 4th in Belleair and Largo.  The Band had overcome an early stumble, recovered its sound, and was on top again.

The Band was given an early challenge as the 1976-77 school year approached: Perform at the first Tampa Bay Buccaneer game ever – a pre-season game against the Miami Dolphins.  Band Camp was held early that year, back at the Edgewater Beach Motel, to prepare. The game was played on August 21, 1976, and the band was ready.

The band also was invited to play halftime at the University of Florida/University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill football game to be played at Tampa Stadium, September 11, 1976.  Because the University would have a late start, the Florida band was not ready.  One of the tunes the Band of Gold performed was the Theme from “Jaws,” the 1975 blockbuster movie.  One of the Florida cheerleaders came over and asked the band to play the song again.  The cheerleaders began making chopping motions with their hands.  Thus, the Band of Gold gave birth to one of the enduring traditions of Florida Gator football – “The Gator Chomp.”


Cotter wanted to keep the band on its toes, so in November he entered both the Band of Gold and Blue Band in the Southern Open, sponsored by Valdosta High School, in Valdosta, Georgia.  He entered both bands since many of the members would also compete in Kerkrade the next year, and would need the experience. Arriving in Valdosta, the band was greeted by heavy rain, which seemed to follow them to many performances that fall.  After the Band of Gold’s performance in the driving rain, Cotter declared win or lose, he was pleased with the performance (unlike Abbeville in 1973). 


Cotter and the band were shocked when they placed second, behind South Cobb High School, from Austell, Georgia.  It was the one time Cotter was unable to explain why the judges scored the way the way they did.  Ironically, the Blue Band won first place in Class B.  Gene Patton won the Best Drum Major award, but he was downcast at the band’s second place finish.



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