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Simmons receives national ‘Signature Sinfonian’ honor

Surrounded by fellow members of the oldest and largest music fraternity for men, Lamar University President James Simmons accepted Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity’s highest honor Feb. 19 in a ceremony on the Lamar campus.

Phi Mu Alpha recognized Simmons as a “Signature Sinfonian,” honoring him “for a lifetime of excellence” and as an alumni member who has achieved a high standard of accomplishment in his profession.

John Israel of St. Charles, Mo., chair of the Province Governor’s Council and a National Executive Committee member, presented him with the plaque, medallion and lapel pin that accompany the honor during the sixth annual Province 40 workshop of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia.

The workshop attracted Sinfonians from five universities, with about 60 collegiate members, alumni and guests attending the ceremony. Lamar’s Eta Mu Chapter and the Mary Morgan Moore Department of Music hosted the event in the newly renovated Music Building. George Beverley of Beaumont serves as province governor.

Simmons holds a unique position among the nation’s top educational executives. An accomplished musician on clarinet, saxophone and piano, he continues an active performance career after rising through the ranks as a music educator and administrator to take office in 1999 as Lamar’s 10th president.

A member of the faculty and leadership team at Lamar for more than four decades, Simmons served as dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication, as interim executive director of university advancement, as music department chair and as director of bands. He earned his doctorate in music education from McNeese State University, his master’s degree from the University of Houston and bachelor’s degree from Memphis State University.

Throughout his educational career, Simmons has attracted acclaim as a musician, with groups ranging from his high school combo (Jimmy Simmons and the Corvettes), Jimmy Simmons Trio and other jazz ensembles to the Symphony of Southeast Texas. He led the Beaumont Big Band and Jimmy Simmons Orchestra, backing up or performing with some of the biggest names in entertainment.

He often serves as guest conductor for Fourth of July concerts performed by the symphony, and his ensemble is a popular attraction at the annual Beaumont Jazz+Blues Festival, which honored him as the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Raul Ornelas Lifetime Music Achievement Award. The Christus Health Foundation of Southeast Texas paid tribute to Simmons at its 30th annual gala, billing him “Beaumont’s own king of horns” as he shared the spotlight with Chicago, featured entertainment attraction for the evening.

Young Audiences of Beaumont honored Simmons with establishment of the annual Jimmy Simmons Artists Showcase. The Southeast Texas Arts Council recognized him for Outstanding Achievement by an Artist, and The Art Studio Inc. selected him as for its top honor. He is a member of Phi Beta Mu, national honorary band directors’ fraternity.

In 2009, he received the Chief Executive Leadership Award from District IV of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, which includes Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mexico.

Whether he’s performing before thousands or before a dozen visiting educators at a campus reception, Simmons attracts admiration and applause. His love of music and his gift for sharing it with others are his trademarks. Some of his musical pursuits have, by necessity, taken a back-row seat with Simmons’ involvement in leadership at Lamar. But he often says music is his first love, and he graces the stage in venues from concerts to back-to-school convocations.