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A special Thanksgiving for Madison

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The Madison High School band performs in the 1979 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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The Madison High School band marches through the streets of New York City during the 1979 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Rick Patrick, Greene Publishing, Inc.

Thanksgiving in 1979 may have seemed like just another Thanksgiving for many around the country. But for Madison, it was indeed a very special Thanksgiving. Throughout Madison, most eyes were probably glued to television sets, waiting to catch a performance by the Madison High School (MHS) band during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. An invitation to this prestigious event is rare for any band, especially for a small school like Madison High School. However, with a great deal of hard work and dedication, the band, under the direction of Gary Gazlay, earned this honor.

The process of being selected had begun a year earlier when word got to Macy's representatives about the success the MHS band had enjoyed in marching band competitions throughout Florida and Georgia. Gazlay sent a performance video to Macy's along with a list of band accomplishments. This was impressive enough for Macy's to send representatives to Madison to watch a performance and “interview” the band. Then the band received the official “invitation” to perform in the 1979 parade.

The band left Madison early Tuesday morning taking school buses to Jacksonville where they boarded a train to Washington, D.C. and then took chartered buses to New York City. The band arrived in the “Big Apple” on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. That evening they saw a production of the musical Annie, starring a very young Sarah Jessica Parker in the title role. While in New York, the students were able see several historic sights, such as the Statue of Liberty and the United Nations, in addition to seeing a couple of shows.  On the morning of the parade, the students had to get up at 3 a.m. in order to be in place for the big parade. After the parade, the band enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner. One of the chaperones, Penny Worden recalls they had tickets to see the Radio City Music Hall Christmas production that evening. During the performance, Worden looked around and nearly every band member was sound asleep. Worden's daughter, Heather was a band member who remembers that day well. “We were so tired, but we had such a good time. That was a long parade,” recalls the younger Worden. It had been a long, but exciting day.

When the band left New York City they made their way back down to Washington D.C. where they were able to see several historic sights in the Nation's Capital, including the Capitol building. It was a busy, event filled trip for those fortunate students. Millions of people had seen them perform, but none more proud than those hundreds of people from Madison who were watching their kids from back home.

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