For the past 73 years (1948-2021), the R. L. Bird Music Award has been given each year to the Belleville High School band’s “Outstanding Music Student” for their exemplary contributions to the band. In honor of the 75th anniversary of his passing, his youngest daughter, Rosalie Bird-Doolittle, decided to do some research and create a portrait and history of Rufus Loren Bird to present to the Belleville High School band (something that would help explain the man behind this annual award).
Rufus L. Bird served as the conductor of the Belleville High School band from 1929 to 1946. He was a man who was dedicated to his students and inspired them to musical excellence. He was also a family man and married Violet Reece in 1921 and they had five children, Gerald, Ralph, Carolyn, Cyril, and Rosalie. They lived on Sumpter road in Belleville.
He embodied the qualities of persistence and perseverance even in the face of incredible personal challenges, including the loss of his first-born son, Gerald, who was killed in WWII in 1944, His strength and bravery was a daily example to others. He remained faithful to his teaching responsibilities.
Anyone who has been in band, knows that the lessons you learn will stay with you for the rest of your life. Lessons of working together and discipline build the person’s strength and character.
The legacy of Rufus Bird lives on in the students, past and present, who have been chosen by their peers to receive recognition for being an “Outstanding Music Student.”
Mr. Bird passed on August 29, 1946 – Rosalie was just 4 years old at the time. She doesn’t have many memories of her father, but with the aid of the internet, newspaper articles, old yearbooks, and remaining family members, she put together his biographical information and had it framed so it could be displayed in the high school band room.
In honor of his 17 years of service to the Belleville community, many Bird family members have performed with the band over the years under the direction of various band conductors and carried on the tradition of band music within the Bird family.
The following former BHS band members, whose names are Bird and were known to Mr. Bird as Dad, Grandpa, and Great-grandpa are listed below:
Gerald Bird, Ralph Bird, Carolyn Bird-Wheatley, Cyril Bird, Jill Hackett, Konia Nikas (daughters of Rosalie Bird-Doolittle), Ray Bird, Pamela Bird-Fleming, Craig Bird (of the Ralph Bird family), Carey Bird-Blair and Kate Bird-Boehmer (daughters of Roger Bird), as well as Rosalie Bird-Doolittle.
The student who will be chosen as the “Outstanding Music Student” this 2021 academic year, will now know about the background of the band director behind the R. L. Bird Music Award. May that special student know that the Bird family expresses our heartfelt and sincerest congratulations!
The Bird family extends our unwavering support and appreciation to Mr. Nick Taylor, the current Belleville High School Director of Bands. Mr. Taylor has been with the Belleville Music Department since 2003 – 18 years of his teaching career has been spent at the same type of podium from which Rufus Bird conducted the band. We extend our gratitude to Nick Taylor for his devotion and commitment to the students of the Belleville High School Bands and the “Marching Tigers.”
— Rosalie Bird-Doolittle
daughter of R. L. Bird
R. L. Bird Music Award
(This is the information that will be displayed in the Belleville High School band room.)
Rufus Loren Bird was born December 5, 1895, in Mooreland, Indiana. He grew up with a genuine appreciation of music and learned to play the violin. Over time, he became proficient on several different instruments to become an effective band teacher. His early life included some interesting times:
• He served in WWI in France and Germany until June 28, 1919, the end of the war.
• He graduated from Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, in 1929.
• Mr. Bird taught in small towns in Indiana while getting his Bachelor of Arts degree.
• In 1927 under his leadership, the band in Fairmount, Indiana, won the Indiana State Championship in the Class B high school bands.
• In 1929 and 1930, Dr. William D. Revelli’s band in Hobart, Indiana, also won the Indiana State Championship in Class B high school bands.
Upon Mr. Bird’s college graduation, he accepted the music position at the Van Buren Public Schools and was the band and orchestra director from 1929 to 1946. He spent his entire teaching career in service to the Belleville community.
The fall of 1929 was the first time that band and orchestra were offered as a class, five days a week, with full credit granted for participation and musicianship.
From 1930 to 1938, Mr. Bird attended nine summer sessions at the University of Michigan to complete his master’s degree. The first five summers, he was a student of Nicholas Falcone at the U of M, who was considered one of the finest conductors in the country. In 1935 when Dr. Revelli came to Michigan, an equally talented conductor, Mr. Bird continued his studies. Mr. Bird lived eight years with a BA and Master’s credentials before his passing on August 29, 1946.
Rufus Bird was a man who was dedicated to his students and inspired them to musical excellence. He was also a family man and married Violet Reece in 1921. They had five children — Gerald, Ralph, Carolyn, Cyril, and Rosalie. They lived on Sumpter Road in Belleville.
He embodied the qualities of persistence and perseverance even in the face of incredible personal challenges, including the loss of his first-born son, Gerald, who was killed in WWII in 1944. His strength was a daily example to others. He was faithful to his teaching responsibilities.
Anyone who has been in band, knows that the lessons you learn will stay with you for the rest of your life. Lessons of working together, discipline, punctuality, cooperation, and learning to take instruction develops an individual’s core.
The legacy of Rufus Bird lives on in the students, past and present, who have been chosen to receive recognition for being an “Outstanding Music Student.”
The Bird family extends our deepest appreciation to all the past and current band directors who continue to exemplify outstanding leadership.
To the winners of the R. L. Bird Music Award and to all dedicated band members, we want you to know how much we appreciate your exemplary talent and dedication to the Belleville High School Band. Thank you for sharing your gift of music and for continuing to honor our father’s memory.
Rosalie Bird-Doolittle – 2021
Youngest daughter of R.L. Bird
1960 co-recipient with Jerry Anderson