Jack Mitchell, an 87-year-old Cleveland resident, said lightheartedly that the upcoming Airmen of Note performance will be much better than the U.S. Army Air Forces Band performances he was a part of during World War II.
While Mitchell might not think his old military band was as up to snuff with the talent of the current performers, not many could argue that either Mitchell’s skills or stories are lacking.
Mitchell never saw combat during the war. He went straight to the band, skipping basic training to join the 651st as a drummer in the regiment’s regular and dance bands.
The Army Air Forces Band performed for both civilians and soldiers and also performed at bond drives. It was also the military that was responsible for Mitchell’s start in music.
“My father was a World War I veteran, and when he returned home he brought an old field drum from the war. I found it when I was 6 or 7 up in the attic and Dad found someone to show me how to hold the drumsticks,” he explained.
That lesson, on how to hold the sticks, was the extent of Mitchell’s music education, and from that brief instruction and WWI field drum he went on to entertain at presidential inaugurations, played with his big band on television and performed with the likes of Eddy Fisher and Tony Bennett. In 2007 Mitchell was also inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.
Mitchell spent three years and three months with the military band before moving to Chicago with his wife, Bettye. He spent 30 years working as an exporter to pay the bills, but he never stopped beating on those drums. It was during this time that he performed with some of the biggest entertainment names of the age.
During his time as an exporter Mitchell visited more than 80 different countries, but as soon as he arrived back home he was already booked to play a show or two.
In between all the business traveling and musical performances Mitchell found the time to invent board games as well.
“My most successful game was called ‘Know Your America’ — it has been in production since 1970, and I think it’s still running today. All-in-all, I invented around 10 games,” he said.
In the late 1980s Mitchell retired from his business and relocated to Arkansas, where he continued to perform in several bands. Today, a big band in Arkansas that he formed in the late ’90s, still carries his name and performs. He also wrote music and lyrics and performed with a praise band that distributed thousands of CD’s to truckers driving through the state.
Within the last few years Mitchell and his wife have relocated to Cleveland to be closer to family, but he still is drumming. He plays with the Sassy Bass Big Band in Cleveland and as often as he can with his church. He also continues to write music and lyrics.
“Jack has always kept up with the music,” said his wife.
“I will keep playing as long as I can,” he added. “I love playing the drums, and I recommend playing an instrument to anyone.”
For a quick taste of Mitchell’s skill readers can visit the website YouTube and do a search for “unbelievable 84 year old drummer.”
The Airmen of Note concert will be held Sunday, March 20, beginning at 3 p.m. in the L. Quentin Lane Gymnasium on the Cleveland State Community College campus. Although admission is free, tickets are required.
Tickets may be picked up on the CSCC campus at the Administration Building front desk or in the college library.
Only ticket holders will be allowed in to the Sunday concert until 2:45 p.m. At this time, anyone will be allowed to enter the concert whether or not they have a ticket.
In the event that any Cleveland and Bradley County area residents still want to attend the jazz ensemble big band concert, but don’t have a ticket, they may show up at the door and will be allowed entrance just prior to the concert’s start.
By Thursday, some 1,300 tickets had been given out but more are available for those wishing to attend.
The Airmen of Note concert is co-sponsored by the Cleveland Daily Banner and Cleveland State Community College.