Guests of the Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel were swinging to the sounds of the 1930s this weekend thanks to the Auburn Knights Alumni Association’s 87th anniversary reunion.
Members of the local orchestra new and old gathered for a weekend of reminiscing, rehearsal and reliving the past through music. Starting on Friday night, bands from the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s played the biggest swing and big band hits from their era.
On Saturday, after AKAA board meetings and a jazz brunch, the president of the association Woody Leonard passed his position on to Vice President Richard Garrett, part of the yearly tradition. Garrett, celebrating his 50th consecutive AKAA reunion, thanked his family and friends before Knights from the '70s, '80s, '90s, 2000s and today kept the celebrations going with shows featuring jazz and swing music.
John Norton, reunion coordinator and member of the '60s Band, explained the importance of the reunions because of their ability to raise funds for future generations of Auburn musicians.
“Auburn Knights Alumni Association became a non-profit to support and help the current band to keep the tradition going,” Norton said. “This really needs to keep going.”
Norton joined the Auburn Knights in 1966 with hopes of playing the piano in a big band setting. He had heard of the Knights’ because his siblings attended Auburn, and knew they had a good reputation since they started in 1930.
“Unlike today, live music was one of the primary forms of entertainment,” Norton said. “They were well organized, great musicians and really took hold."
That reputation continues today, as Wilson Childers, a rising junior who recently switched majors from electrical engineering to musical performance, plays lead trumpet for the Knights to honor his family’s legacy.
“In 1936 my great grandfather was an original member of the Auburn Knights,” Childers said. “When I came to Auburn I said that’s just something I have to do”.
AKAA reunions not only help current members connect to the past, they help them continue the tradition as well. In the early days of the Auburn Knights, the only funding they received was from shows they were hired to perform, Norton said.
This changed in 1956 with the start of the alumni reunions and their support, according to Norton. Along with the ticket sales for the shows over the weekend, a silent auction featuring Auburn memorabilia and products from local stores and artists was held to raise money for scholarships given to current band members.
Now the Auburn Knights practice once a week and fill up dance floors at local weddings, birthdays and events. The Alumni Association holds their reunion every year to not only bolster these events, but remember events of times passed too.