Goodbye, Mr. D: Longhorn Band Legend Vince DiNino Dies at 95

 

Goodbye, Mr. D: Longhorn Band Legend Vince DiNino Dies at 95

When Vince DiNino arrived on the Forty Acres in 1955, the Longhorn Band was a ragtag group. Run entirely by students and led by a part-time hobbyist conductor, the band lacked organization, morale, or even decent uniforms. It didn’t help that the program was housed in an old Army barracks where temperatures inside regularly topped 100 degrees.

In fact, DiNino didn’t even know how many musicians he had or what instruments they played until class registration, a notoriously slow process that took place in Gregory Gym. “I had been told that hopefully we would have about 150 members following registration,” he told the Alcalde in 2010. “Instead, it came in much closer to 70. No matter—the opening game in Memorial Stadium was just a week away.”

Vince1What happened next is the stuff of Texas lore: He grew the Longhorn Band into the award-winning, internationally recognized Showband of the Southwest that it is today. DiNino died Tuesday evening at age 95.

Vincent Rairden DiNino was born in Manhattan, Kansas, in 1918 with music in his blood. His mother, Leah, was a concert pianist, and his father, Frank, was a professional clarinetist and Italian immigrant; later they both became music teachers. In high school, Vince formed a dance band that played at school dances and wedding receptions. He headed to college at the University of Minnesota, where he studied music education and played the French horn with numerous professional groups in the Minneapolis area. In his junior year, he and his high-school sweetheart, Jane Dahlgren, were married.

Following two years in the Army, DiNino took his French horn to New York City and Los Angeles, where he played in backing bands for Frank Sinatra, Percy Faith, Perry Como, and other big names. Then he returned to Minnesota for seven years, directing bands and orchestras in public schools.

Vince3Legend has it that during his 1955 interview for the position of Longhorn Band director, DiNino was asked why he was the man for the job. “Because I will build you the best damn college band in the country,” he replied.

Under his leadership from 1955-75, the Longhorn Band grew from 70 to 300 members. It traveled to 17 bowl games, two presidential inaugurations, and even toured Peru. DiNino also chose the iconic Western-style uniforms still worn by the musicians today. Those cowboy hats and fringed jackets, he said, were actually an homage to the original outfits worn when the band was founded at the turn of the century.

He also led the integration of the band, taking it from an all-male, all-white boys’ club to a diverse group where musical ability and professionalism were all that mattered. “Mr. D just wanted good musicians; he didn’t care about gender,” Leah Mabry, BS ’63, Life Member, one of the first women in the band, told the Alcalde in 2011.”The band was a family. You had to put your nose to the grindstone and work harder than you thought you could.”

DiNino continued as the School of Music’s Director of Bands until his retirement in 1985—although “retirement” seems like a misnomer, since he remained a constant presence on the campus well into his 90s, frequently serving as a conductor at football games and other band appearances. He was even scheduled to conduct at this season’s opening game until his health declined. The dozens of accolades he received—from the likes of the American Bandmasters Association, the Texas Cowboys, the Silver Spurs, the Austin Symphony, and many others—are too numerous to list. He gave generously to UT and founded the Jane and Vincent R. DiNino Honorary Scholarship to support future Longhorn Band members.

In an email to band members and alumni this morning, his stepson Geof Sloan Sr., ’84, Life Member, wrote, “All in honor of a grand iconic bandmaster, father, and friend … He is now directing a marching band of a higher authority.”

Photos from top: DiNino directing the Longhorn Band in 2012. Photo by John Mackey.

Wearing the band’s new Western style uniforms. Undated Alcalde file photo.

With Big Bertha in 2010. Photo by Jerry Hayes.

 

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