The Arizona Winds was founded in 1974 to support the budding music program at Glendale Community College (GCC) in Glendale, Arizona. Adult musicians from the surrounding community joined the junior college musicians to provide a dual-role educational and a community outreach program. As the GCC music program evolved and the band required fewer supplemental musicians, the decision was made in 1999 to develop a separate music department band program and move The Arizona Winds into a true community band role.
When Colonel Rich Shelton, USAF (Ret.), was appointed as the band’s Music Director and Conductor, he quickly moved the band to a 501C(3) non-profit status, developed an annual fund campaign, and took the band to an entirely new level of programming and entertainment. The band’s reputation for outstanding entertainment and musical excellence under Colonel Shelton’s direction soon created the kind of problem all performing groups hope to have…too many patrons and not enough seats. The band moved from a 350-seat auditorium to a 1000-seat auditorium and the band’s patron base in 2020 is once again reaching maximum auditorium capacity.
Through the years, guest conductors for the Arizona Winds have included Geoffrey Brand of the London Wind Ensemble, A.S.C.A.P composer William H. Hill, former Arizona State University Director of Bands Dr. Richard Strange, former Northern University Director of Bands Dr. Patricia Hoy and Dr. Donald Wolf, and the former Director of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, Colonel (Ret.) John Bourgeois.
The Arizona Winds, now celebrating its 46th year as a Phoenix cultural institution, has performed throughout Arizona and Southern California. Its musicians, comprised of adults from across the Greater Phoenix area and representing numerous professions from music educators to doctors and engineers, homemakers to accountants and pilots, continue to share their love of music and
enrich the lives of thousands of patrons in a five-concert season each year.
Music Director and Conductor
Colonel Shelton is only the second Music Director and Conductor of The Arizona Winds in its 46-year history. He retired from the United States Air Force in 1995 after 25 and-a-half years of service as an Air Force Band Commander and Conductor. He retired at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and, at the time, was the senior ranking officer in the Air Force Band Program.
Colonel Shelton earned a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from the University of Arizona in 1971, and a Master of Music Education degree from Auburn University in 1978. He is also a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Air Command and Staff College and Air War College. During his Air Force career, he commanded six Air Force Bands in the Philippines, Alabama, New Jersey, Virginia, Georgia and Ohio. He directed ceremonial support for the 1983 World Economic Summit in Williamsburg, Virginia, and the US Bicentennial Celebration at Yorktown; led US Embassy hosted tours throughout Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines and Portugal; has entertained and performed for Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush, French President Francois Mitterand, Pope John Paul II, Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, a host of US Ambassadors, Secretaries of Defense, US Air Force and foreign military Chiefs of Staff; and, just prior to his retirement, he had the honor of entertaining the U.S. Secretary of State and Presidential delegations during the State Department-hosted Bosnian Proximity Peace Talks in Dayton, Ohio.
Colonel Shelton is one of the most highly decorated band commanders in the history of the Air Force Band Program. His military awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit Medal, five Meritorious Service Medals, the Air Force Commendation Medal, two Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards, and the National Defense Service Medal with bronze star. Under his progressive leadership and vision, his bands have earned four Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards, The Air Force Organizational Excellence Award, the 1991 Presidential Award for Quality and Productivity Improvement, the Air Force Materiel Command’s Small Unit Quality Award for 1994, and the internationally acclaimed John Philip Sousa Foundation’s Colonel George S. Howard Citation of Musical Excellence for Military Concert Bands and Conductors. He was also selected by the US Jaycees as one of the “Outstanding Young Men in America” for 1983.
Following his retirement after two years as Personnel Manager of the Naples Philharmonic and eight years as Executive Director of the West Valley Symphony, Colonel Shelton moved on to his third career in real estate. He was a founding member of the Board of Directors of Arrowhead Community Bank (now First Fidelity Bank) in Glendale and served on that board for ten years. He is also a former member of the board of directors for West Valley Leadership West. Colonel Shelton was inducted into the Arizona Kappa Zeta Chapter of Phi Beta Mu (International Bandmasters Fraternity) in 2019. He and his wife, Stacia, reside in Glendale, Arizona and will celebrate 50 years of marriage in August, 2020.