Hampton Roads Community News

Emery Fears: Remembered For Dedication To Band Excellence

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

Emery Lewis Fear, Jr., 97, who was an inspirational marching band director at I.C. Norcom, Manor High School, and Norfolk State University passed January 12, 2023.

      His death created a huge outpouring of sadness and reflections on his career and legacy for the man known affectionately as “Chief” by family, friends, and former students.

      Fears was born in 1925 on the campus of Tuskegee Institute, Alabama. He was the son of Evadne Inez Angers Fears and Emery Lewis Fears Sr.

      He graduated from Tuskegee High School and then joined the United States Navy as a musician during World War II (1944-1946).

       After he left the Navy, he enrolled at Howard University and earned a degree in music. He later earned a Master’s Degree in Music at Michigan University.

      According to his obituary, he is “noted for his phenomenal ability to implement musical excellence, self-discipline, and ‘Esprit de Corps’ into the hearts of many students fortunate enough to be under his tutelage.”

“He consistently developed leaders who have proven themselves in many professions,” his obituary continued.

        Lavoris Pace, Norfolk’s Deputy City Manager, oversees a portfolio that includes youth initiatives, arts, culture, and community partnerships.

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He is a 1987 graduate of NSU with a degree in Graphic Design.

For two years, he was a member of the Spartan Legion percussion section known as the “Million Dollar Funk Squad.”

“Even though he (Mr. Fears) was about music and musicality, he was a change agent,” said Pace. “He recruited and worked with those marginalized students in high school who did not know if they would graduate. At NSU, he recruited students who had few options for

enrolling in college. Once on campus, he taught students, in the thousands, not only about music but life.”

Fears’ concert bands at I.C. Norcom and Manor High schools in Portsmouth earned 18 consecutive Division (Superior) ratings in Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Association Festivals. His high school bands were recognized as being “of a particularly high standard

of excellence at the national level from 1960 to 1972 by the John Phillip Sousa Foundation. Sousa Foundation elected the I.C. Norcom School band to the Historic Roll of Honor of High School Concert Bands.”

       He was also a member of the Prestigious American Bandmasters Association and was actively committed to the improvement of bands throughout the United States and Canada and served as an adjudicator, clinician consultant, and conductor.


         After many successful years as a music educator at the high school level. Fears accepted the position as Director of Bands at Norfolk State University in 1974. He earned the respect and admiration of his peers in the world of collegiate and military bands as they created

the “Spartan Legion” Band which was instrumental in catapulting NSU to national recognition.

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       “Behold, the Green and Gold” originated with the Spartan Legion under Professor Fears’ directing and is heralded to this day at the university’s athletic events and other gatherings.

Fears married Jannette Johnson (deceased) in 1951 with whom he had a daughter Cheryl Denise Fears Hutchinson (Harvey). Later in 1981 he married Cheryl Lorraine Perry and had two children, Jason Michael Fears, and Ashlyn Elizabeth Fears. He is a grandfather to Damien Jerrod Huff, Athea Jeanette Hutchison, Olivia Marie William, Rhea Lee Fears, and one great-great-granddaughter. Katrina Huff and the Fears tribe are carrying on his legacy.


        Phillip Hawkins is now the assistant Principal at Young Terrace Elementary School in downtown Norfolk.

He recalls, “During my childhood, I always knew about the greatness of Norfolk State University.”

“As a child, I lived in Liberty Park on Pioneer Avenue and Majestic Avenue across the street from the Norfolk Community Hospital,” he said.  “I would always hear the musical sounds of the Spartan Legion while outside playing, or when I and my friends would venture over to the campus to ride our bikes and skateboards and listen to the band.”

“I first became aware of Chief Fears through my older siblings who also marched in the Spartan Legion while attending NSU,” he continued.

“Upon being accepted to attend NSU in 1987, I first met ‘Chief’ at a Band Camp in August 1987. I was amazed that on the first day when he entered the band room, he knew every student by name and school and something special about everyone without using a written roster!

“As I began my journey with the Spartan Legion, I knew I was embarking on something great, but I didn’t know how great the impression would be for my future.

“As a bandleader, Mr. Fears demanded excellence without excuse as he encouraged his students to work hard and do their best!” Hawkins said.

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“We would practice every day and our theme my first year was ‘Quality in Performance and Take No Prisoners!!!’”

Hawkins said that during the 1980s and 90s, as Director of the Marching Spartan Legion, the band “was the most popular and visible organization on campus that represented the excellence of NSU.”

Hawkins called “The Legion”  the greatest recruitment resource that NSU had as the university experienced exponential growth in student enrollment in the late 1980s as the fifth largest HBCU in the country.

He said he earned the title of “Captain Soul” along with Mr. Kevin Deas as “Mr. Spartan”, as they were Mr. Fears’ final Spartan Legion Drum Majors in 1990-1991 before he retired.

“Mr. Fears was like a father to all his students as he would always impart life lessons that still apply today.  I am still active as a life member of the Norfolk State University Alumni Association and Drum Major of the Alumni Band Chapter. His legacy in music education will always live on as the founder of the Spartan Legion and his lessons will be researched and taught for generations to come!”

Photo: Courtesy

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