Jim Porter was working as Hurricane’s band director during a meeting of the West Virginia Bandmaster’s Association in Huntington in the 1950s when he heard a man playing the blues on a piano in the hotel mezzanine.
It was January, during the association’s winter meeting, and the man playing piano was Lawrence Cappellanti, band director at Ravenswood High School.
Porter had just come back to the hotel after dinner when he heard the lonesome echo of the notes. He wondered who it was playing the piano, so he crept up the stairs of the fancy one-and-a-half-story mezzanine to find out.
“I went to see, and there was a man playing the piano. He was having a ball. I thought I would have a bit of fun with him,” Porter said during a Ravenswood City Council meeting Tuesday in which he received the key to the city from Mayor Josh Miller and the council.
The ensuing prank would lead to the friendship that would ultimately bring Porter to Ravenswood, where he would become one of the most well-known band directors in the school’s history.
“I walked over to the instrument table and picked up a clarinet and slipped up behind him,” Porter said.
Porter recalled that Cappellanti, whom he did not know at the time, was playing a bluesy tune with a call-and-response structure where one musical phrase is played and then answered by another. He crept as close as he could behind the man at the keys and waited for the perfect moment. Porter timed it so that just as the man finished a call phrase, he could jump in and finish the phrase on the clarinet.
“I stopped behind him and finished the phrase. I remember he turned around and said, ‘Yeah, man! Yeah!” Porter recalled.
The two sat playing music into the night and soon became friends.
During the course of the friendship, Cappellanti, who was in his 40s, confided in Porter, who was in his 30s, that he had a serious blood disorder and wasn’t expected to live very long.
“He related that he would like for me to take his job at Ravenswood when he died,” Porter said.
Not long after Cappellanti passed away, Porter got a call from superintendent Otis Casto and was asked to interview for the job.
During the council meeting, Porter recalled the sweltering June day he visited Ravenswood for his job interviews. During a break in between meetings, Porter drove around the town to take in the landscape. One of his stops was at the ferry landing, where he took off his shoes and put his feet in the Ohio River.
It was then he uttered a phrase that has been quoted several times over the years: “Here I’ll live, and here I’ll stay till the day I die.”
After Tuesday’s city council meeting, Miller said it was an honor just to be in Porter’s presence.
“This was the first key to the city myself as mayor and this group have given out. It was just an amazing moment to hear him reflect on his life,” Miller said.
Miller said Porter has a special energy and leaves an impression on everyone he meets.
“I always love gravitating toward people like him. He just has something about him that draws you into him. He’s a great individual, and he’s been essential and vital to this community – and will continue to be so,” Miller said.
Porter’s accomplishments are inspiring, Miller said. Not only did he compose the Ravenswood High School Fight Song and Alma Mater, he was instrumental in starting the Hatchet, giving a name to the storied Ravenswood-Ripley cross-county football rivalry.
He led the Ravenswood High School band in the program’s prime, when it was over 200-members strong. He also had served his country in World War II.
“It’s humbling to talk to someone like Mr. Porter. Just having him in our presence was an honor for all of us,” Miller said.