I have been very blessed in my life to have had the opportunity to meet some very fascinating people. People from literally all walks of life, from all over the world. I remember very well the first time I met Herb Allen. “Herbie,” as most of us knew him, was one of those fascinating people who could make an instant and lasting impression on anyone whose path he crossed. A man of immense talent, Herbie was the first musical director for the international group, Up With People. As some of you may know, I was fortunate to spend a year of my youth touring with that group and have maintained close friendships with many of those with whom I traveled. But my first encounter with Herbie predates my official involvement with Up With People.
As some of you may remember, Up With People held their winter staging for a couple of years here in Madison, on the campus of North Florida Junior College (NFJC). It was during one of those years that I met Herbie. Late one afternoon, in either late January or early February, I was in the Fine Arts Building on campus, in one of the music practice rooms. I was a music student at NFJC at the time, with hopes of being a music teacher one day. I had been practicing my weekly assignment on my saxophone when I stepped out to take a break. In the lobby of the Fine Arts Building at the entrance of the auditorium were a couple of folks I recognized as being from the staff of Up With People (The cast had been in town for a couple of weeks, and I had befriended many of them). I said “hello,” simply to make conversation and a short, middle-aged man with the group, shook my hand and with a huge genuine smile, said, “Hello young man, what’s your name?” I told him who I was and that I was a music student and I was practicing my weekly assignment in one of the practice rooms. I said I hoped I was not in the way or interrupting their rehearsal plans. I even offered to give up the practice room in case they needed it. My offer was purely meant as politeness, and I was in no way searching for an excuse to cut my practice time short. The short man laughed and said “No, we appreciate that, but you practice and keep up the good work. I hope you’re planning to come to the dress rehearsal.” I told him I was definitely planning to come and was hoping to interview for the program. He smiled even bigger and said, “That’s great! Good luck to you.” That man was Herb Allen.
It was later when I finally went on a tour with Up With People and had the great opportunity to work more closely with Herbie. I was playing my saxophone in the band for my cast, and Herbie spent a good amount of time working with us while we were learning the show and later when we were preparing to start our Mexican tour, I reminded Herbie of our chance encounter. He smiled that big “Herbie smile” and said, “I’m glad you were able to join us.” Many years later, I saw Herbie at one of our reunions we have every five years, and he asked me, “Didn’t you teach music in Tucson?” I told him that I had been a music teacher in Florida, but not in Tucson. Herbie was well advanced in years by this time, and I am sure he had me confused with another one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of young musicians who crossed his path. I told him what an influence he had on me not just as a musician, but as a mentor and an example of a great teacher and friend. He gave me that same “Herbie smile” and said, “Thank you for that.”
Herbie passed away this past weekend after a brief illness. He was 88 years old. Herbie often told us, “Life’s a song, sing it!” May we all live our lives that way.