Melvin Miles: A Legacy Left Behind

Morgan State band director retires after 49 years.


Antonio Mann

Melvin Miles at the 2022 commencement and his last university band performance ahead of his retirement.

Alana Bynes-Richardson, Campus News Editor

For over 50 years, Melvin Miles has been a member of the Morgan State University community, 49 of which he spent instructing and directing multiple bands. 

His work with bands includes the Morgan State University Symphonic Winds, Concert Band, the MSU Jazz Ensemble, the MSU Marching Band “The Magnificent Marching Machine,” the “Bear Band”- MSU’s Pep Band, and the MSU Jazz Combo.

During his time at Morgan, several monumental moments shaped the future of the fine arts program and impacted Miles’ life. 

Every decision he made led to this path of success. Yet, he still believes coming to Morgan was the best of them all.

Miles did not set out to attend Morgan College at first. He attended Delaware State for his first two years of college. But there was a lot going on in his life at that time. 

He was an active member of the band, A Sound Experience, which required a lot of traveling back and forth across state lines. Furthermore, his first daughter was just born in his sophomore year.

“I wasn’t being a good student. I had to decide whether or not I wanted to go to school or continue doing what I was doing playing wise,” said Miles. “And I came to Morgan.”

He described it as the “natural thing to do.” Miles had friends at Morgan and he was a Baltimore native. It just so happened that his high school band director and mentor was teaching at Morgan as well. To Miles, it was almost fate. 

After completing his bachelor of science in music education in 1973, Miles was immediately offered the position as band director. 

“It was like I was still a student leader but getting paid,” said Miles. 

The transition from band student to band director was smooth. Throughout it all, Miles attributes some of his success to the support from alumni and his own students. It was a collaborative effort from the beginning. 

Now that he officially announced his retirement, Miles reflects on his career and life that has been deeply entwined with Morgan. His presence did not go unnoticed in the community. 

“If anyone bled orange and blue, it was Melvin,” said Eric Conway, chairperson of the Department of Fine & Performing Arts and director of the Morgan State University Choir. 

Conway had the chance to connect with Miles professionally and personally. At first, they did not cross paths as much until Conway became the chair. As soon as they collaborated, Conway was able to see how much of a dedicated person Miles truly is.

“Most universities have five or six full-time staff in their department. Miles only had one: him,” Conway said

He fondly refers to Miles as the “Departmental Historian.” 

Whenever he needed clarification or just had a question in general, Conway knew he could rely on Miles to know the answer. 

Miles became a great voice of council to Conway in the years they worked together. He is sad to see Miles leave, but grateful for the systems he put in place. 

“I’m going to miss his stabilizing force,” said Conway. “The one to replace him will have to build up their network.”

Conway is not the only one who felt the impact of Miles’ service. Lakecia Mattocks, a senior sociology major, has been in the marching band since her freshman year. Although she graduated this past Saturday, she already feels the absence of this prominent figure at Morgan. 

Mattocks believes the band program at Morgan is an experience no other band student will get, simply because they did not have Melvin Miles at its helm. 

“He pushes you to have faith despite everything you may have going on,” said Mattocks. 

She explained times when students, including herself, were tired or dealing with typical college life problems. But when Miles entered the room, the energy shifted. They were happy when leaving practice. 

During Mattocks’ matriculation, she had the opportunity to play in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, NBA games, and other national events. Historical moments, even when an air of professionalism was expected, nothing could erase the bond she felt with her band team.

“It [band] will be different under anyone else. He encouraged us and pushed us to be the best we could be,” said Mattocks. “There was just so much joy that everyone had from being there.”

Miles himself had many iconic memories and opportunities he was able to participate in, such as directing the United States Marine Band, meeting Barack and Michelle Obama, and writing arrangements to be performed across the nation. 

But he believes his finest moments are whatever opportunities the students have had. 

“Make it always for the students. If you make it about the students and the things they need to do, then everything works out. Never make it about yourself,” said Miles.

He uses this statement as his number one rule: If there are situations or events that hinder the student’s ability to learn or focus, it shouldn’t be done. The support he received when he was a student at Morgan was returned tenfold unto those he instructed. 

There are numerous things that Miles has the right to be proud of accomplishing by himself. Yet, he praises the events that he believes were in collaboration with others. Although, he is happy to say that the stigma behind the marching band will forever be changed. 

Miles said, “Band wasn’t a big deal here. Now…it’s kinda a big deal!”

Melvin Miles at his final university commencement as band director. (Antonio Mann)