William Stewart, a native of Howell, Michigan, earned his Bachelors Degree at Ypsilanti Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University) in 1934, and taught instrumental music in the public schools of Eaton Rapids from 1934 to 1936. As a young teacher, and accomplished clarinetist, he added to his skills by playing in the Lansing Symphony Orchestra. Marius Fossenkemper, first clarinetist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, had been his teacher for four years, and profoundly influenced his musicianship in general and his dedication to a beautiful basic tone quality in particular. William Stewart began his work in Muskegon in 1936. He earned a Masters Degree from Northwestern University during the summers of 1938-41, during which time Glenn Cliff Bainum (band director) and Domenico De Caprio (clarinet instructor) became important influences on his musicianship.
William Stewart's success with the instrumental ensembles of Muskegon High School was immediate and profound. He may be the only public school music teacher in the country ever to have developed a nationally recognized marching band, a nationally recognized concert band and a nationally recognized concert orchestra, and to have personally directed all three and kept all three performing at the outstanding caliber of the Muskegon groups for more than two decades. The Muskegon High School Marching Band under the direction of William Stewart performed a completely different and wonderfully creative half time show for every home foot ball game played in Hackley Stadium for 24 years. Special effects included the invention of hat lights and footlights (patented in the name of the Muskegon Band), back lighting, unbelievably beautiful and elaborate props, innovative involvement of the crowd, fireworks, and a grand piano on the field for Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. When Stewart's marching band visited other schools, their coming was usually considered a phenomenon to behold. In 1949 a Royal Oak paper announced, "Muskegon is bringing its nationally famous 120 piece marching band." An out-of-town visitor to a Muskegon football game wrote to the Muskegon Chronicle: "Then there was the band! We love football, but brother, what a band! School bands are so generally school bands; but the Muskegon High Band is in a spectacular class by itself.
The Muskegon Concert Band won superior ratings in district and state contests annually. They were invited to perform several times at the Midwest National Band Clinic in Chicago, and in 1957 the national publication First Chair of America featured the members of the Muskegon Band and dedicated the issue to them. Typical of the Chronicle reviews the day after a Muskegon High Band concert are these words from 1952: "It was a packed auditorium of enthusiastic fans, and the band played. ..as near a perfect performance as can be expected of high school musicians." Merle Evans, famed director of the Barnum and Bailey Band (the "Toscanini of the Big Top"), described William Stewart's Muskegon Band as "the finest high school band I have heard in forty years of traveling across the country." William D. Revelli, Director of Bands at the University of Michigan, described the Muskegon concert Band as: ". ..superbly taught and conducted; a great credit to its community, state, and nation! I wish you could take the band on a national tour. It would do much for our band programs in the high schools of the nation." William Stewart built the Muskegon High School Orchestra on the model of the great professional symphonies of our country. In 1952, two years after the Muskegon High School Band had been featured at the Midwest National Band Clinic, the organizers of the clinic invited (for the first time) a high school orchestra to perform. That orchestra was William Stewart's Muskegon Orchestra, which was awarded a plaque for excellence at the clinic. Wayne Dunlap, as Orchestra Conductor at the University of Michigan, wrote that the Muskegon High School Orchestra' , ...plays with such style, authority and precision ...you put many college orchestras to shame." Romeo Tata, Conductor of the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, said of a particular performance by the Muskegon High School Orchestra, "I never heard the Grieg played better by any orchestra,"
William Stewart organized the Band and Orchestra Parents Association (in 1936 it was the' 'Band Mothers, , , and the members of the band were the "Band Boys") to help with the great amount of supportive work that was needed, and he had a staff of hard working, dedicated teachers at his side. Still, to quote a colleague of the time, , 'he burned up energy as if there were no tomorrow." In the process he served the community in every way conceivable. He did everything humanly possible to include large numbers of students in the band (e.g. rewriting parts for the less capable members), he served very consciously as a role model for students, and he inspired all those around him. His two compositions, "Red and White" (originally "Men in Red and White") and "Muskegon High School Alma Mater' , are two wonderful pieces of music that have become an important part of Muskegon High School Heritage.
William Stewart's mode of operation was damaging to his health, and undoubtedly contributed to his death on December 22, 1960, at the age of 48. His wife, Ruth, and his sons, Michael and Martin, were joined in their grief by teaching colleagues, students, exstudents, the community of Muskegon, and music educators across the state and nation. William Stewart will not be forgotten by those who knew and loved him, nor by those of subsequent generations who have benefited, and who continue to benefit, by the masterful piece of work that he did during his twenty four years at Muskegon High School.