Exploring the history of the Willis Park Christmas Eve Caroling

Published 2:20 pm Tuesday, December 23, 2014

There has been Christmas music and caroling on the square in Bainbridge since  1976, when Dr. Ed Mobley, then president of Bainbridge College, and a handful of his five musical friends decided to play Christmas carols in Willis Park on Christmas Eve. Mobley led the band while playing a cornet. He said he did it “because it needed to be done.” That was even before the gazebo was built. They sat on a wooden platform and played to a handful of people who ventured into the park to see what was happening.

The following year he went to Sam Griffin, publisher of The Post-Searchlight, and bummed enough money to buy music and secure the park.

“There wasn’t much of a crowd at first, but we went on with it each year, as the band and the crowds slowly grew.”

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He and other members remember one particular year when it was so very cold that they only played a couple of songs, then headed to a coffee shop for some hot chocolate.

Mobley, who has a doctorate in music, had been studying the tradition and composition of British Brass Bands, and as the years went by he thought it was time to establish one in Bainbridge. Again, he went to Griffin at The Post-Searchlight, who agreed to purchase all Yamaha instruments for use of the band members and sponsor the band, which it continues to do today.

In 1986 it became the first official British Brass Band in Georgia, and played throughout the year for many civic affairs, Artsfests, other regional festivals, competed in 1987 at a championship in Dublin, Ohio, and even did a gig at Disney World.

Most notable about the BBBB was how it came to reflect the spirit of a community, above and beyond Christmas. A good example was the spontaneous performance of the band to cheer the workers and victims of the 1994 floods. Believing music soothes the hearts and souls of people during hard times, Mobley called for the “troops” to come and play during that time of community crisis. They responded and were a source of refreshment for the tired bodies,.

The BBBB firmly established the 38 year-old tradition of coming downtown to the square to sing Christmas carols and wish family friends a Merry Christmas before heading off to church or social gatherings.

The band membership has varied through the years but has always built on such regulars as Joe Livingston, Frank Flowers and William Widener. Judge Wallace Cato even graced the group by playing the tuba.

When Dr. Mobley retired as director several years ago, the baton was passed to BHS band director Paschal Ward, who opened up membership to any and all who wanted to play. It has become the Bainbridge Community Band and now plays in the gazebo to large candlelit crowds, where it sets a musical preamble for Christmas Eve.

Tonight, the music continues, beginning at 6 p.m. In case of inclement weather, the caroling will take place in the Coliseum at Bainbridge Middle School.