DOVER — Many community members mourned the unexpected death of beloved percussionist and band leader Lenny Knight on Tuesday night.
Mr. Knight, 46, was a fixture in directing Dover High’s band for 15 years and spurred on the award-winning Rolling Thunder Drumline at his alma mater. He left in 2015 to become an assistant band director at Delaware State University.
DSU Director of Bands Dr. Harvey Bullock Jr. said he received a text from band assistant Mr. Knight just before 5 p.m. indicating a medical procedure had gone well and he would return to work on Thursday.
Three hours later, Mr. Bullock learned through a mutual acquaintance that his long-time friend had died.
“It was a feeling of disbelief,” he said Wednesday.
A post on the Dover High School Alumni Association Facebook page indicated the musician succumbed to complications from diabetes and ongoing health issues.
Former DSU Director of Bands Randolph J. Johnson — who mentored Mr. Knight when he was a student in the 1990s and later worked with him — spoke at a meeting for band members on campus Wednesday afternoon that included available counselors and school officials. Some Dover High students also attended.
“My message was that the pain will never go away, but if he touched you in life, even though he’s physically not here any more, he will always be in your heart,” Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. Bullock, then a graduate assistant, and Mr. Knight, a student, first met at DSU in 1993 and the relationship continued until the end.
“He was exactly the same now as he was then,” Mr. Bullock said. “His enthusiasm, his drive, his love, and his passion for music and his passion for working with kids with those same interests never changed.”
Through the years, Mr. Knight always pushed students “to reach their maximum potential,” Mr. Bullock said, “and when they did, they loved him for it.
“I’ve known him for 20-plus years and he was always very caring and loving with his students and cared about their well-being.”
Reminiscing from years ago when leading the Sussex Technical High School drumline, Mr. Bullock remembered the performances Mr. Knight orchestrated at Dover High.
“He could do some phenomenal things with drumlines,” Mr. Bullock said. “Every year, whether we were at Sussex Tech or Dover for a game, everyone looked forward to performing on the same night and seeing what they would do this time.”
Funeral arrangements were pending on Wednesday. Mr. Bullock said Mr. Knight’s family was traveling to Dover from out of state.
‘A huge void’
News of the passing spread through social media and brought an outpouring of tributes and condolences by early Wednesday.
“As you can expect it is a very somber mood at Dover High today and within our community,” Dover High Principal Dr. Courtney Voshell said.
“Lenny’s passing has left a huge void in our Dover community. We were so lucky to have him give back to his alma mater and teach with us for 15 years, impacting thousands of students and colleagues with both music and friendship.”
After graduation in 1989, the former Dover High percussionist remained connected with the school as its band flourished thanks to his contributions.
“We all recognize that without Lenny, our award-winning, Rolling Thunder Drumline would not be in existence at
the capacity that it is now,” Dr. Voshell said. “Yearly, we see elementary students aspire to one day be on that drumline; and we see those drummers hype the crowd at every event they are invited to perform at; it truly is his legacy.”
In a 2007 Delaware State News article, Mr. Knight explained his philosophy on being part of the DHS “Pride of the Capital” marching band and how it related to students as a whole.
“One thing that I always tell them is, ‘100 percent heart equals 100 percent effort,’ “ he said. “If you don’t give it all your heart you’re never going to give it 100 percent effort.
“And that’s not just band. That’s life.”
That same year, Mr. Knight directed the 170-member DHS band contingent in an attempt to see how many songs it could play during a 45-minute performance at The Green in Dover.
“This year I’m going for 18 songs,” Mr. Knight said at the time. “The record is 17, so I’m going for 18.”
The enthusiasm came before the 26th annual Dover High Band-A-Thon free concert.
“Even if we don’t get it, it’s all about the fun and the crowd enjoying it,” he said. “When the band is playing nothing else matters, it’s all about the music.”
Love for music
When Delaware Technical Community College approached Mr. Knight about forming a drumline in 2006, he quickly accepted and built the Hammerin’ Hawks. Seven students and faculty joined up, and interest doubled to 14 members within a few months.
“As long as they have a love for music, I’ll teach them,” he told the State News.
Mr. Knight described his time spent as a “stress reliever.”
“This is a good way not only mentally to release that (stress), but physically. This is fun for me. This is my fun away from work.”
The way he viewed the new drumline, “[i]t’s about playing together as a unit; to me that’s bigger than anything.”
In a 2007 article, Mr. Knight credited long-time DHS band director Ron Shomo for sparking his passion for music after his football career was hampered by an injury.
The DHS drum line won the Grand Championship during a Royal Majesty of the Seas cruise Music Festival headed to the Bahamas and Mr. Knight called it the biggest win in program history in 2005.
“My reaction was ‘wow, what a way to end the year,’” he recalled afterward.
In 2016, Mr. Knight was Delaware Blue-Gold All-Star Football Game band director for the sixth straight summer.
“Every year is a blessing,” he told the State News. “I want everyone to look forward to a great show and not just at halftime, in the stands during the game too.”
Before the 2015 game, he was excited about his vision of a “Pop Hits in Blockbuster Movies” show.
“This year’s halftime, we decided to go a different route,” he said. “They’re going to bring the house down — at least I plan to.
“Keep your eyes open because there might be a surprise here and there throughout the show.
“It’s going to be fun … Do not get popcorn or hot dogs until after the halftime show because you might miss something.”
Senator musicians also performed for Jon Bon Jovi and the Philadelphia Soul, at NASCAR events, the Philadelphia 76ers during Mr. Knight’s career. In 2011, he and the Dover High Music Department traveled to the Heritage Music Festival in Atlanta and earned a slew of awards.
Dr. Voshell said the DHS community asked “for prayers for his family as they make arrangements during this difficult time.
“We also ask for warm thoughts for our students (both current and past) as well as our staff as he touched every life he came in contact with.”
Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org