On February 20, 1908, the Second District A&M School in Tifton opened for its first classes. Two years before, the Georgia General Assembly enacted Public Law 448, which established a state-run agricultural and mechanical school in each of Georgia’s 12 congressional districts.
Called A&M schools, they were actually college preparatory boarding schools and included students from 14-21 years of age. The schools offered two and four-year programs with a study of agriculture for boys and a study of home economics for girls.
In 1924, a bill was passed renaming Second District A&M School the South Georgia A&M College and began the gradual transition from high school to college work.
The South Georgia A&M College Glee Club was organized in the fall of 1925 under the directorship of Professor John G. Holt. This was the first glee club organized in the college, and it contained only 15 members. Most of these students were inexperienced, some having a small amount of training in part singing.
In an effort to grow and broaden the institution, the college’s name was changed in 1929 to the Georgia State College for Men.
In 1933, the school was once again renamed Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College when it became a part of the newly formed University System of Georgia.
By this time, the school boasted several singing groups including the Glee Club, the Baldwin Boys, and the Baldwin Singers. The school also began a dance orchestra.
During the 1940s, ABAC’s Musical offerings expanded to include a Girls Trio, Girls and Boys Glee Club and the Baldwin Singers.
In 1946 Ernest Edwards was an ABAC student and member of the Boys Glee Club. Edwards would later return to ABAC as a full-time faculty member.
1950s – 1960s
In 1954, Mr. Howard Hult, the Faculty Director, started the ABAC Ramblers, a small dance orchestra providing music for various dances and parties. By the mid 1950s, ABAC also boasted singing groups such as the Glee Club and the Baldwin Blenders.
It was during this time that Ernest Edwards began teaching part-time. He became a full-time ABAC faculty member in 1957 and would later be awarded the first Distinguished Faculty Award at the college. During the 1960s, he helped introduce a female vocal ensemble called the Baldwin Belles as well as a bluegrass ensemble, The Waybacks.
Don Coates began teaching music at ABAC in 1974 and quickly expanded the music offerings at ABAC to include a concert band and jazz ensemble. By knocking on every student’s door in the ABAC dormitories, he filled up the band with ABAC students his first year on the job.
During the 1980s, The ABAC Music Program continued to grow, offering Concert and Jazz Bands, as well as a Rock Group, Bluegrass Band, Pep Band, and Show Choir. In 1980, the Jazz Ensemble embarked on it’s first of three European tours.
Coates also founded an annual jazz festival in the spring, which continues today. At his final concert with the ABAC jazz band in 2014, Coates was honored by letters from the United States Congress, the Georgia Senate and the Georgia Music Educators Association.
When Coates began focusing on the ABAC Jazz Band, Gene Wyles picked up the baton in 1991 to lead the Concert Band. Wyles, who already had a celebrated career as the band director at Worth County High School, would continued to teach at ABAC for the next 16 years.
Wayne Jones began directing the choirs in 1989 and would continue to do so throughout the 1990s. After accepting the position of Director of the ABAC Arts Connection in 2002, he continued to serve as Director of Choirs until 2005.
In 2005, Gene Wyles was inducted in to the Georgia Band Directors Hall of Fame. The concert band was later directed by Woody Leonard from 2007-12, and Johnny Folsom (2012-19).
Along with the choirs directed by Susan Roe (2005-present), the music program at ABAC has achieved an international reputation.
The Jazz Band, under the direction of Don Coates, has also embarked on three European tours, including a performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland (photo above), and a performance at the opening of the Tour de France.
2010 – Present
On March 10, 2010, the Board of Regents approved a new Associate of Fine Arts in Music degree for ABAC.
ABAC now boasts a rapidly growing instrumental program that includes a 100-member Concert Band, Jazz Ensemble, Jazz Combo, and Brass and Woodwind Ensembles. The vocal program now includes a large Concert Choir (photo above), Chamber Singers and Jazz Choir, all directed by Dr. Susan Roe who also serves as Department Head.
The program also hosts a variety of music festivals and concerts including the First Tuesday Concerts, Chamber Music Series, Jazz Festival and Choral Day.