Dr. Roger Max Pemberton

October 17, 1930January 7, 2021

COLUMBIA – Roger was born on October 17, 1930 in Evansville, Indiana. He was the son of John Max Pemberton and Mildred Norma Schauss Pemberton of Evansville. He graduated from Reitz High School in 1949 and from Evansville College (now University of Evansville) in 1953 with a Bachelor of Music Education degree. In Evansville, he performed with many bands including Bobby Barrett, George Fountain and Bill Teague. Before graduation from college, he did a brief national tour with the Ray Anthony Orchestra. In December 1953, he entered the U.S. Army as a bandsman (clarinet and saxophone) and organized bands that performed at the NCO and Officer’s Club at Fort Leonard Wood. On release from the Army in 1955 he attended Indiana University and received a Master’s Degree in Music Performance. While there, he performed with the Al Cobine Orchestra and Warren Covington. He took a leave of absence from school and toured with the Jimmy Palmer Orchestra and Woody Herman’s Third Herd. After receiving his Master’s Degree he taught public school music in Illinois and married Jacqueline Brown in 1959. He was a faculty member at Indiana University from 1961-1964. His daughter, Nina Cielle Pemberton, was born in 1961 and son, Nathan Kerby Pemberton was born in 1963. In 1964, Roger and family moved to New York City where Roger played lead alto and woodwinds and was arranger for the Merv Griffin television show. He also played with the Fred Waring, Jr. Orchestra in the Philadelphia based television show, “Step this Way” with Gretchen Wyler. He recorded albums with many artists including Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson and Les Hooper. He did educational clinics and concerts for C.G. Conn through the United States and Canada. He wrote published arrangements for Studio PR, Hal Leonard and others. He did a National tour with Sammy Davis. He also worked with numerous singers and groups including the Jackson Five, Peggy Lee, Judy Garland, Ray Charles and many, many others, too numerous to name. He moved to Chicago in 1972, continued clinics for Conn, writing for Hal Leonard and recorded extensively including his album “Chicago Jazz” (Roger Pemberton Band). His wife died in March 1986. He received Honorary Doctorates of Music from Newberry College and the University of Evansville and was inducted into the SC State Jazz Hall of Fame. In the Fall of 1986, he moved to Columbia, South Carolina, and took the position of Jazz Artist in Residence at the University of South Carolina. He was Director of the Left Bank Jazz Band at the University and taught saxophone. In October 1987, he married Mildred Peeples Grogan of Columbia at The Church of the Good Shepherd (Episcopal) in Columbia. He recorded his second feature album “Carolina Love Moods”. In Columbia, he performed with Jimmy Fall Orchestra, Dick Goodwin, and formed the Columbia Area Community Big Band as well as having his own band for weddings and special events. He also directed the US Airways Jazz Orchestra from 1995-1998. They performed all over the United States and Europe. He retired from the University of South Carolina in 2000 as Distinguished Professor Emeritus. He has performed in many musicals at Trustus Theatre, Workshop Theatre and Town Theatre in Columbia as well as many community bands. He has taken student groups to Europe on a jazz tour as director and he has appeared in the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands and the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. In 2016, he was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame at Indiana University. In 2016, he finished his autobiography, Saxy – the Musical Life and Times of Roger Pemberton as told to Bob Knox. Throughout his musical career, Roger has received numerous awards, plaques for his profound contribution to the world of jazz.

Roger died on January 7, 2021 at the age of 90. He is predeceased by his parents, his first wife, and his stepson, Patrick George Grogan.

Requiem Mass will be held at The Church of the Good Shepherd (Episcopal), 1512 Blanding Street, Columbia, South Carolina, of which he was a member, officiated by The Rev. Dr. James F. Lyon IV and The Rev. Deacon Fred A. Walters, on Monday, January 11, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. There will be a limited number of people allowed in the church and everyone must wear a mask because of the virus. Overflow will be seated in the Parish Hall with means to see the funeral service. Interment will be in the Memorial Gardens at the church. Before and after interment, Dick Goodwin will play “When the Saints Go Marching In” before and “Amazing Grace” after. There will be no visitation before or after the funeral because of the virus, but people can speak to the family outside using social distancing.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials may be made to The Church of the Good Shepherd, 1512 Blanding Street, Columbia, SC 29201-2907.

Roger is survived by his wife; his daughter, Nina Pemberton Clarizio (Chris) of Bolingbrook, Illinois; his son, Nathan Kerby Pemberton (Valerie) of Littleton, Colorado; his stepsons, Michael Andrew Grogan of Irmo, and Christopher Peeples Grogan of Columbia; step-granddaughters, Lauren Michael Grogan and Ashley Nicole Grogan of Irmo; sisters, Betty Grinn of Kendallville, Indiana, and Lindi Reed (Steve) of Cherry Log, Georgia.

Roger was loved and admired by everyone whom he came in contact with and so loved sharing his love of music with anyone and everyone. He will be sorely missed, but we all know that he will make wonderful joyful music in heaven, so be listening.

Memories may be shared at


  • Requiem Mass

    Monday, January 11, 2021


Dr. Roger Max Pemberton

have a memory or condolence to add?

Carol Elliott

January 12, 2021

We were blessed to call Roger our neighbor.
Carol and Haze Elliott

M. Rowena

January 10, 2021

What a great guy and a great musician! I played in a band Roger ran for a few years, just wonderful. He had the knack of not wasting time, and he seemed to think if you weren't having fun while making music, perhaps you weren't really making music at all! Wonderful man!

Richard McMahan

January 10, 2021

My heart goes out to Mildred, Nathan, and Nina as well as all those Roger touched during his life.
Since we met in 1961 Roger, in addition to being a great musician , was a true friend, teacher and mentor. I will always cherish our times together. Thank you for all Roger, I'll miss you.


January 9, 2021

It was such a delight in my life to participate with Roger during his tenure as director of the US Airways Jazz Orchestra. Roger was more than a great musician and arranger. He was a true gentleman who loved every moment of life.