John Whitesides Alexander (1948 - 2017)

  • "The best saxophonist that I ever saw live, and one of the..."
    - Mike Edwards
  • "I got to know John through his regular gigs at the Blue..."
    - Vance Cariaga
  • "I was shocked and saddened to hear of John's passing. He..."
    - Lenny Steinberg
  • "Beth, Robert, and Family, We are so very sorry to hear of..."
    - BettyAnne Smith
  • "John, thank you for sharing your musical talents with those..."
    - Abernethy Laurels

Gaston County native John Whitesides Alexander died on November 19 at Caromont Regional Hospital in Gastonia, NC. The son of the late Anne Whitesides and John McAuley Alexander, Jr., born on May 3, 1948, he was a 1966 graduate of Hunter Huss High School and a 1970 Magna Cum Laude graduate of Erskine College where he received the American Legion Award. He was student body president at both Hunter Huss and Erskine College.

He served from 1970-1973 in the U. S. Army with the 282nd Army Band, Ft. Jackson, SC and with the 8th Army Band in Seoul, South Korea. After receiving an Honorable Discharge with the rank of SP5, John earned his teaching certificate from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 1974, followed by a Master of Music in Jazz Pedagogy from the University of Miami in 1977.

While in Florida, John was heavily influenced as part of jazz great Ira Sullivan's group of young proteges and has extended that experience to the students of Gastonia, Charlotte, and surrounding areas since returning to Gastonia in 1992. Supporting students in their discovery and relationship with music was one of John's most significant passions. Revered and respected as an outstanding music educator, he participated with many music camps and workshops, gave private lessons, worked in many schools from middle school through the collegiate level, and obtained grants to support music education.

John knew the way music could bring a diversity of people together and constantly worked to create and participate in these pathways toward unity. He demonstrated this as a member of the cultural delegation to Gastonia's sister city of Gotha, Germany in 2000 and as the music director for several interracial unity- oriented events, such as the Harmony Services (1998/1999) and "Celebrating Unity" (2002). He was recognized for his constant work toward building bridges among communities by many.

Lovingly referred to as "the wiz" for his pure musical talent for composing, arranging and playing, John brought jazz to the ears of many. As the music director for gtownsound, LLC, he helped produce Reunion 2011, A Rhythm and Blues Revival, a DVD featuring four Gastonia bands from the 60's and 70's, including The Counts, of which he is an original member. "You Need 'Dis" and "Many Hands" are CDs featuring his own compositions. In the Charlotte music scene, some of his most beloved endeavors include membership in the Charlotte Jazz Orchestra, The Monday Night All Stars seen at Double Door Inn, Big Octave common to Blue Restaurant and, most recently, Rhythm Plus Latin Jazz at the Ritz Hotel. On special occasions, John would wow the crowd as he masterfully played both the alto and tenor saxes simultaneously.

He is survived by his wife Sandra (Sandy) Isrel Alexander, Gastonia; and daughters Julia Alexander Christensen (Adam), Ann Arbor, Michigan; Christina Marie Alexander, Gastonia; his grandson Burke Alexander Christensen; his brother Robert McAuley Alexander (Jeanie), Rock Hill, SC; and sister Mary Elizabeth (Beth) Alexander Rickenbaugh (Jim), Charlotte; and a host of other family members.

A visitation will be held at McLean Funeral Directors on Friday, November 24 between 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. All are welcome and encouraged to attend. Memorials can be made to the Veterans Administration, any music education fund or charitable organization of your choice.

Condolence messages may be sent to

McLean Funeral Directors of Gastonia is serving the Alexander family.
Funeral Home
McLean Funeral Directors
700 South New Hope Road
Gastonia, NC 28054
(704) 865-3451
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Published in Charlotte Observer on Nov. 22, 2017
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