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In Memoriam

William L. Prentiss

November 5, 1964 - January 27, 2023


A Life Well Lived… 


William L. Prentiss, Jr. passed away suddenly on January 27, 2023 in Richmond, VA.


He was known to be a consummate professional whose consistency made him the best to a lot of people.  He earned his BM in Music/Media, Endorsement in Education and Masters in Music Education from Norfolk State University. He also studied at Shenandoah University and James Madison University.  Through his career he taught elementary, middle and high school band and strings. He often served as an adjudicator, conductor and clinician. 


Mr. Prentiss consistently received superior ratings at the state level in marching, concert and jazz band. While at Huguenot High School, he became the first and only VA Honor band in the City of Richmond.  He is the former Band Director at Smithfield H.S., I.C. Norcom H.S., Huguenot H.S., Potomac Middle, Booker T. Washington H.S., and Assistant Band Director/Adjunct Professor at Virginia Union University.


His last assignment was serving proudly as the Band/Orchestra Director at Meadowbrook H.S in Chesterfield, VA.  His professional affiliations include: VMEA, NAFME, Kappa Kappa Psi, Phi Beta Mu,  Norfolk State University Alumni Association, and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.


At his last concert performance on January 21, 2023, while serving as guest conductor for the Henrico All-County Band event during his closing remarks he said, “we just have to be kinder and gentler these days…less stressful. So from me to you, don't let the things that don't matter too much, matter too much.”


William L. Prentiss, one of the most influential forces in Virginia’s Music Education history, leaves to cherish his memory a host of students, colleagues, friends, family and his wife Diana and their three daughters Maya, Dara, and Jana.


Christopher Moseley

Education Specialist for Performing Arts

At Henrico County Public Schools

There are innumerable reasons for which William Prentiss was always the right person to seek mentorship from…

His polite insistence to do the right thing…to stand up for a worthy cause, to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.

His means of prioritizing the right people at the right time…most often, his family. That never meant that his students got his second-best…it just meant that he was physically and emotionally present for those who needed him. He was not shy in his reasoning for the choices he made, and that transparency reflected respect.

..:His ability to be the “king of culture.” William knew how to create a reciprocal environment of respect and integrity.  He could take any music program and turn into gold by establishing expectations and helping students see in themselves a new potential. He didn’t seek glory or outside affirmation. He took pride in seeing his students find success. And their success was transformative beyond the music classroom.  He taught them to believe in themselves and in the power of hard work - attributes that will outlast their years in band.

…his musicianship. He had an incredible ear and wasn’t afraid to use it. He knew exactly what sound he wanted to come out of his band, and his own saxophone. There was refinement and confidence in these sounds, and no matter what idiom or grade level, I couldn’t help be blown away with the spotless musicality that he evoked.

-his ability to make me feel like I was the only one in the room. He gave the best hugs, and made me feel like our conversation, no matter what it was about, was the conversation that he had been looking forward to all day. He listened intently, openly shared, and found common ground more often than differences.

-William was a father, husband, believer, musician, counselor, confidant, mentor, leader, and TEACHER. His shoes will remain unfilled, while his legacy is one of inspiration. From the first time I met him 22 years ago I knew it would be wise to learn from him, because his compass always seemed to be pointing to his one true North. I am thankful the opportunity to have known and been inspired by him, as are thousands of others. He continues to teach me- the lesson this time being that time is our greatest resource…truly live and love and be humbly gracious for all that we have been given, because our relationships are the most important earthly asset we have.

God bless you William Prentiss!


Amy Birdsong

PD Coordinator – VMEA

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We often speak to our students about the value of “getting out of your own way.” Sometimes we can be so caught up in the moment trying to make sure the spotlight always shines in our direction, that we can’t see a path to success. We also tell our students that a bit of humility will get you a long way in your career and in life. We never knew of any one person that is so much the epitome of that than William L. Prentiss.


As young, black band, choir, and orchestra directors, we have had many mentors to show and tell us what it is like to cope in a world where people of color must fight from the ground up to be successful in this profession. It was William who showed us many modern ways of how to deal with that. He spent countless hours in our band rooms with our students, sharing knowledge with them. Often, that knowledge rubbed off on us as well. We catch ourselves emulating gestures and comments that William made from the podium. The second "show-style" or HBCU style high school band in the state to receive Virginia Honor Band was under the baton of William Prentiss while a director at Huguenot High School. We were told by many, that the HBCU style of marching would not get judged fairly at marching assessment. But William had already accomplished a superior rating at those assessments. He told us not to compromise but put your best foot forward in everything we do on the field. With that, and a dynamic concert performance in the spring, the Highland Springs High School Band program became the 3rd show-style band to receive the Virginia Honor Band Award.


Outside of work, we were family.  “William” affectionately became “BB” quite early in our relationship. We shared many family times together with him and his lovely wife Diana, who we call Dee Dee. They have three very beautiful and successful daughters that make us proud each day. He loved his family and his music. We all just enjoyed our time together. Our heart is broken because we have lost a great man, husband, father, brother, uncle, and the maker of the best chicken chili. Our heart goes out to his wife, daughters, and the countless other musicians, students, friends, and family that William Prentiss touched. Everyone was special in his eyes, and he will truly be missed.


Sorrowfully submitted,


Davon and Danielle Yonkers

Highland Springs High School

Holman Middle School

William Prentiss was the blueprint for what a music educator should be: genuine, selfless, giving, kind to all, humorous, prepared, dedicated, and a leader through service. I encourage all educators to study his life and career. What a gentleman! Thanks, William.


Allen Hall

Former Executive Director - VMEA

My inspiration and skills in music went to higher heights when I became Mr. Prentiss' student at Huguenot High School. He shared his love and passion for music with everyone he crossed paths with, and I'm so honored that God blessed me with him and my peers at one of the most crucial times in our lives. To me, he was known as Poppa P because he was like a father to all- firm yet caring and humorous. He was always "a cut above the rest." I love you dearly and THANK YOU, Mr. William L. Prentiss! You can count on me and everyone else you have influenced to continue doing the good work in music education and in life. Sending love and light to Mrs. Diana Prentiss (Momma P), his three beautiful daughters, Maya Prentiss, Dara Prentiss, Jana Prentiss, the family, and everyone that crossed paths with you.


Dr. LaToya Webb

Assistant Professor and Director

Wind Orchestra

Wilfrid Laurier University


When I think of William I think of a kind, classy gentleman.  He always dressed stylish-loved his bow ties!  He had a wonderful smile.  He cared so much about his kids and was able to do so much with his program, often with challenges and without a lot of support.  My husband and I went to see him perform with the QuintEssential Jazz Band last Christmas-wow!  What an awesome performer he was!  Easily the most enjoyable concert we've been to.  My heart breaks for his family, his band students, and all of us who had the privilege to work with him and call him a friend.


Jenny Ryan

Band and Orchestra Director – Monacan High School

Chesterfield County

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The epitome of educator, musician, friend… William Prentiss was all of those for me. Seeing him jam out at VMFA. Bringing his group to the Chesterfield County Public Schools in-service to help us teach better, leading the all-county jazz group… the list goes on and on. But the biggest compliment I can say about him is that he was the definition of gentleman and good guy. Saying he was one of the good ones doesn't do him Justice. William, I will miss your guidance, advice, good conversations, and laugh. Rest easy, my friend.


Emily Oyan

Band Director – Bird High School

Chesterfield County

I used to get so excited when I could be home in the afternoons to hear the sounds of the Huguenot High School band practicing. I was really proud of our neighborhood school and the consistent success of the band. When I met Mr. Prentiss, I was already a fan. Spending time with him helped me realize how really special he was as a music educator, musician, and person.


Sometime later, he offered to have my daughter Hannah play in his wind ensemble. She was a 7th grader and was eager for more opportunities to play challenging music. He and his students welcomed her with open arms – literally and figuratively, and I am not sure she would have continued in music if it weren’t for Mr. Prentiss. I told him I would never call him anything but Mr. Prentiss because of the profound respect and admiration I have for him and his family. And I never did.


I will miss you, Mr. Prentiss and will always treasure the Omega Psi Phi competitions you held that drew students from all over the City of Richmond. Attending these events reminded me of all the good, light, and hope everyone there shared for music education and their students. Thank you for showing us a way to be. We love you.


Alice Hammel

President – Virginia Music Educators Association

Mr. Prentiss was a devoted and passionate teacher and musician who impacted thousands of young people. He gave me opportunities as a middle schooler to play with his high school band at Huguenot High School that challenged me to grow as a young flutist and ultimately helped me achieve a career as a professional musician. He continued to support me over the years and I look back on my time with him as some of the most formative and inspiring experiences I had growing up. I’m so grateful for the joyful, energetic, authentic, nurturing presence he had with me and all his students. I’m sure he is resting in peace and I hope he knows how powerful his influence was on so many students. 


Hannah Hammel

Principal Flute

Detroit Symphony Orchestra

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