Former Arkansas Symphony Orchestra conductor W. Francis McBeth died late last week. A longtime member of the music faculty at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, his impact on instrumental music was felt throughout the state, nation and world.
When the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra was launched in 1966, it used guest conductors for the first several years. As one of Arkansas’ preeminent band and orchestra conductors and composers, McBeth was asked to guest conduct from time to time. In 1971, he was named Conductor of the ASO and served in that capacity until 1973. During his tenure, the Symphony hired its first full-time professional musicians. He also started the tradition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” being played at the top of the first concert of the season. At the time of his retirement from the ASO, he was designated with the title of Conductor Emeritus.
In 1975, McBeth was designated Composer Laureate of the Arkansas by Governor David Pryor. Arkansas was the first state to designate any individual a Composer Laureate.
McBeth retired from teaching at Ouachita in 1996 but continued to compose and conduct throughout the country until recent health developments curbed those activities.