During his days at Consolidated High School in Forrest
City, Arkansas, Charlie was such a great fan of Stan Kentons big band
music he was often called "Charlie Kenton" by his closest friends.
His love of big band jazz arrangements, which grew and sustained him
throughout his storied career, had blossomed while Charlie played
saxophoneyes, saxophone!in the high school band.
Another relationship that bloomed around this time was
with his life-long love, fellow jazz enthusiast Margaret Ann. She had
accompanied her father onto Rich property in search of a perfectly
illegal Christmas tree when up rode Charlie, with a guitar slung across
his back, and his father. As reported by Margaret Ann, "We should not
have been on their property, especially cutting down a tree, but Mr.
Rich was so congenial that it was OK. And Charlie, he was like my knight
in shining armor."
After high school, Charlie attended Arkansas State
College on a football scholarship. Music quickly became the emphasis
after an injury put an end to his gridiron days. He then transferred to
the University of Arkansas as a music major but left after one brief
semester to join the Air Force.
Charlie was based in Enid, Oklahoma. With his wife in
tow (Charlie and Margaret Ann had married in 1952 and blown their
honeymoon spending money on jazz records during their stay at the
Peabody Hotel in Memphis), Charlie supplemented his military
responsibilities with piano and saxophone duties in a jazzy little group
called the Velvetones. They played the songs of Dave Brubeck, Oscar
Peterson, and other contemporaries.