John T. Nickens Jr., a retired engineer who played the clarinet in community bands for nine decades, died April 25 at age 99.
Mr. Nickens took up the clarinet at age 9 and was first chair in his high school band in Montclair, N.J. He enjoyed telling about the day that John Philip Sousa visited his school and led the band in a rousing version of "The Stars and Stripes Forever." He played in local bands while working as a civil engineer in New Jersey.
He retired after a 40-year career and settled in 1980 in Sacramento, where he performed with the Capitol Pops Concert Band, the American Legion Band and the River City Concert Band. He played in auditoriums, parks, American Legion halls and nursing homes. He performed a solo with the Capitol Pops in 2006 and 2007.
"He wasn't just a player," Capitol Pops conductor Jerry Lopes said. "He was an inspiration to everybody."
When his finger movements began to slow a bit with age, Mr. Nickens took up the larger bass clarinet in his 80s. He stopped playing several years ago and served as photographer for the Capitol Pops.
"He didn't just take pictures at concerts," Lopes said. "He made photo books for everybody."
Mr. Nickens was born Nov. 24, 1912, in Montclair, N.J. He graduated from Newark College of Engineering in 1937 and was believed to be the first African American licensed civil engineer in New Jersey.
He was married for 60 years to his wife, Camille, who died in 2001. He worked for the Newark Housing Authority, a construction company and the New Jersey Department of Transportation. Besides playing clarinet, he was an avid fisherman and photographer.
Survivors include his daughter, Janice; son, John III; brother, Lloyd; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A visitation is set for 9:30 a.m. today, followed by a Mass of Christian burial at 11 a.m. today, both at St. Anne Catholic Church, 7724 24th St., Sacramento.