EDISON — Winston Hughes, who passed away last week, set the bar for every music teacher in the township, according to Board of Education member Theresa Ward.
“For 40 years, he was head of the music department and part of the music department in Edison High School,” Ward said at a board meeting on Oct. 10. “He was a perfectionist … I know when I was packing up my LPs (albums) to bring to my son … a couple of the recordings were of Winston Hughes.”
Ward said she hopes the board does something to remember Hughes.
“He set the table for the music people in the township,” he said. “We lost a great musician and a wonderful man.”
Board Vice President Beth Moroney echoed the sentiments of Ward. She said she would also like to see something named after Hughes to honor his work in the district.
“Mr. Hughes was a rare individual,” she said. “One thing his obituary didn’t say was long after he retired from Edison, he continued to mentor students from the township. He gave private lessons to many of our youngsters and all the kids loved his style of teaching.”
Hughes, 84, passed away on Oct. 3 at Regency Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Somerset.
Hughes was born in Perth Amboy on Jan. 10, 1934. He resided in Perth Amboy throughout his youth and then attended Virginia State University. At Virginia State, he became the co-founder and co-director of the Omega Choraleers, a popular singing group from the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
It was his experience with this singing group and his student teaching that laid the groundwork for his future in music education. In 1956, he received his bachelor’s degree in public school music. He later continued his musical studies at the College of New Jersey, formerly Trenton State College, and in 1966 received his master of arts degree in conducting.
Post college, Hughes began his distinguished 40 plus year career in music at the Edison Township Public Schools as a general music and choral teacher at Thomas Jefferson Junior High School. In 1964, he became director of choral activities at Edison High School. In 1966, he began a four-year term as chairman of related arts at Edison High School where he served as liaison for the departments of Art, Music and Industrial Arts.
In 1968, the Edison Jaycees named him Outstanding Young Educator of the Year. In 1971, he became supervisor of Music K–12, and in 1994, he served as supervisor of Music and Art K–12, until his retirement in 1996. Under his tutelage, the Edison High School Choir received numerous first place and overall best awards during 10 years of choral competitions.
In 1977, he became the first African-American to conduct the New Jersey High School All-State Chorus.
Hughes was a conductor/guest conductor and instructor for several other school and community groups including the Madrigal Singers of the Newark School of the Arts, and the 1988 Duke Ellington Chorus, which performed with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and he performed with Talent in Triplicate.
For five years, he was the artistic director of the Ric-Charles Choral Ensemble, noted for its classical to gospel singing repertoire and its performances with such noted artists as Nancy Wilson, Lou Rawls, William Warfield and Maya Angelou.
Hughes was a past president of the Edison Supervisors Association, a past state president of the NJ American Choral Director’s Association and past state president of the NJ Retired Music Educators Association.
He served on the boards of the New Jersey Choral Directors Association, the North Jersey Philharmonic Glee Club and the New Jersey Music Educators Association where he chaired the Multi-Cultural Music Committee. He was also a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, and adjunct faculty at the College of New Jersey.
At his retirement from Edison Township Public Schools, the Winston Hughes Scholarship was established to be given to students who exemplify the high ideals and standards he established. In 2004, Hughes was inducted into the Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame.
In 2006, he was named a Contemporary African American Achiever by the Sons and Daughters of the Anguilla Benevolent Society Inc. He received awards from numerous other associations honoring his achievements, including a local branch of the NAACP (National Association of the Advancement of Colored People) and write-ups in various local papers.
Hughes and his wife Ruth married on Aug. 25, 1963 and have two daughters, Diane and Donna. The couple primarily resided in South Brunswick before moving to Spring Hills-Somerset Assisted Living Community in 2016. He shared his love of music with his family and during their youth, his daughters played instruments, participated in their high school marching band and sang in various ensembles.
He was a member of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Perth Amboy and served as an associate choir master.
Hughes was predeceased by his parents, Christopher and Helen Hughes, his wife Ruth, and his brother, Calvin Hughes.
He is survived by his daughters, Donna Hughes and Diane Hughes. Hughes is also survived by his brothers, Christopher Hughes and Hilton Hughes, both of New Jersey, Eric Hughes and his wife, Norma of Washington, D.C. and grandson, Winston Latta. He is further survived by a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and devoted friends.
In lieu of flowers and in remembrance of Winston Hughes, donate to www.littlekidsrock.org, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding music education in public schools.