In 1960, Warren Bass wowed the fans on Mizzou’s Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium as the drum major for Sumner High School, St. Louis, Missouri. The occasion was Mizzou’s High School Band Day. At the time, Bass had never had professional baton twirling lessons and actually started twirling with none other than a broomstick. After seeing him toss the baton 100 feet into the air above the press box, Marching Mizzou director Charles Emmons recruited Bass to serve as a feature twirler for the university. Bass went on to win two U.S. National Baton Twirling championships.
Despite how beloved Bass was and how much success he had as a twirler, in 1962, he was banned from competing in a state baton twirling contest in Missouri. Organizers were concerned his appearance would lead to a race riot. (Source: Mizzou Alumni Magazine, Fall 2011)
Bass was featured in the following article in a Mizzou alumni publication in 1964. We love the title so much: Warren Bass Goes Marching On. (Please note, this is a PDF in the Mizzou archives, which we converted to a PNG file.)
Death and Legacy
After college, Bass worked as a model in New York. Tragically, he died of AIDS in 1990. He was only 47. It was largely due to his efforts that Mizzou’s band finally stopped playing Dixie after every touchdown.
You can learn more about Bass in a 2017 story in The Daily Beast. He was also featured in the fall 2011 issue of the Mizzou Alumni Magazine.
Editor’s Note: In 1991, while working as a rookie reporter, I was assigned a story about the AIDS quilt. It was part of a traveling exhibit and the city where I lived was on the stop. When I learned that Bass died of AIDS in 1990, I couldn’t help but wonder if he had a quilt block in the quilt. So, I did a little research and discovered that the AIDS quilt has searchable database of more than 50,000 names. Warren Bass is not listed. I also reviewed all the blocks tagged with just “Warren.” None of them appear to be in honor of him.
Wouldn’t it be great if the baton twirling community came together and made a quilt block in honor of Mr. Bass? He was an amazing twirler and also a civil rights leader. He deserves to be remembered.