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Staff photo by Eunice Lee
The theme of this year's parade is “Music Leads Our Youth Forward,” and features former teacher and community pianist Phyllis Sawyer as the grand marshal, and the Barstow High School Aztec Marching Band as the honorary grand marshal.

Mardi Gras parade to celebrate music

Past, current school musicians headline Saturday

BARSTOW • Phyllis Sawyer has brought sweet songs into the lives of many youth in Barstow and knows the important role music can play in school. Sawyer, a retired teacher and longtime piano player, is the grand marshal of the 77th Annual Barstow Kiwanis Mardi Gras Parade Saturday.

“Music just makes children blossom,” said Sawyer, 80, who taught grades kindergarten through junior high in Barstow Unified School District for 30 years.

As a teacher, Sawyer headed up volunteer choirs at three elementary schools and taught chorus at the junior high.

“When they’re singing in three parts, they’re just amazed at what they can do,” she said.

The veteran pianist, who began playing as a child, has played piano at her church and offered her musical talents to events held by the Barstow Kiwanis Club. Sawyer has also been part of the annual Kiwanis parade since 1945, helping to prepare the honorary king and queen, who this year are Cameron Elementary School fourth-graders Eddie McClendon and Angela Lopez.

A Barstow resident since 1949, Sawyer and husband Buzz, a ukulele player, have raised a musical family.
They have two grown children — Sandra, a teacher who sings, plays the guitar and piano, and Tim, a physical therapist by day and a guitar and harmonica player in a band called “Free Peoples” by night. For a past Christmas, their son recorded songs played and sung by the family and gave the CDs as stocking stuffers.

The former teacher said she was surprised to be named the grand marshal but excited to share the honor with the Barstow High School Aztec Marching Band, which is the parade’s honorary grand marshal.

Band director Tim Garvin said he was happy that the marching band, which performs in the parade every year, was named as an honoree. Activities like band help students to balance out their academic responsibilities, he said.

“A lot of the times, especially with a lot of my (advanced placement) students, they like being in the band because it gives them a break out of all the high stress,” Garvin said.

Sawyer, who said she hopes to see music programs continue to thrive in schools, has seen playing music and singing sharpen students’ study skills.

“You’re teaching kids to listen — you’re doing a good job for other teachers,” she said.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4122 or

If you go
What: 77th Annual Barstow Kiwanis Mardi Gras Parade
When: Saturday, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Where: Starts at Main Street and Barstow Road and proceeds east to Mountain View Street.

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