West Tennessee band director dies of COVID-19, family creates scholarship in his memory

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — COVID-19 has left a void in another Mid-South family, this time taking away a beloved band director.

The transformative power of music was Joe Sills’s lifeline and lifesaver. It also created a path for Sills to attend then Memphis State University and become a member of the Mighty Sound of the South.

As a trumpeter, Sills would later play his way through some of the most infamous spots in Memphis before becoming a beloved band director at multiple schools in the Mid-South, including Bolivar Central High School, Ripley High, Haywood High and Dyersburg High, according to his published obituary.

In 1977, Sills led Murray High School in Kentucky to winning the Marching Bands of America Grand National Championship. 

Music was his life, until his recent passing due to COVID-19.

Sills tested positive after Christmas and had mild symptoms for a week before he started having trouble breathing.

“There was really only about two days between the point dad was taken to the ER and then placed in an ICU on a ventilator,” said his son, also named Joe Sills.

As he reflects on his dad’s 78 years on this earth, he can’t help but think about the far-reaching impact of COVID-19.

“If you were to trace the virus as it got to him, it’s very possible it could’ve been somebody my age or younger went out and did something irresponsible and started the chain of events that led to him being gone,” Sills said.

Through their pain, the Sills family finds solace in the same place their dad did: music.

“The flip side of that loss with COVID that hurts so much is the healing that comes and the blessing it is to have all of these students reaching out and really a family of people I never knew I had,” Sills said.

Now they work to keep his legacy alive by starting a fundraiser that would create a scholarship in his memory. The scholarship will be for Memphis-area students.

You can click here to learn more and donate.

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