(JACKSON, Miss.) – Jackson State University’s Sonic Boom of the South will make history again when its recent New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons halftime show is shown at the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) Southern Conference. The meeting will be Feb. 20-22 at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
This will be JSU’s first time participating in the conference, founded in 1941, and the university is the only historically black college selected this year.
According to its website, members of CBDNA are devoted to the teaching, performance, study and cultivation of music, with a particular focus on the wind band medium. It is an inclusive organization whose members are engaged in continuous dialogue encompassing myriad philosophies and professional practices. It also serves as a dynamic hub connecting individuals to communities, ideas and resources.
“The reason why this is significant is that HBCUs usually aren’t selected to be shown in this particular light, so this is new grounds for JSU. It’s a sentiment to the hard work that our students are doing,” said Dr. Roderick Little, JSU’s band director.
Band directors from each selected school will showcase their program, share the development of its field shows and educate participating schools on their techniques.
“In that realm, people tend not to understand what we (JSU) do, so now we have a vehicle or avenue for predominately white colleges to understand that what we do matters at HBCUs and not just at predominately white institutions (PWIs). It’s more of a connection for us culturally, but then again it is for them,” Little said.
“People will leave during halftime at a PWI because they come to see the football team, which is a big thing for PWIs, as opposed to HBCUs’ halftime shows where the HBCUs’ bands are just as important as the football team; so, people actually stay and watch the Sonic Boom of the South. The things we do to entertain is way more different from what a PWI would do.”
Little, a graduate of Lanier High School, was also recently honored by the Jackson City Council for his long-standing service with the Jackson Public School system and his accomplishments at JSU, both in which he served as a music instructor and band director.
At 36, Little is one of the youngest band directors and arrangers in the history of JSU. It’s an accomplishment that makes him proud, he said. It also makes him feel more connected to his students.
“I started having band director duties at the age of 16. I have a lot of experience, and so you definitely need someone to connect to the generation of the millennials,” Little said. “If you don’t know how to connect with them and overall understand the trends of what’s going on now, you can miss out on a lot of things.”
A JSU alum, Little received his bachelor’s and master’s in music from JSU, and more recently, a doctorate in urban higher education. He shares that some of the band’s song selections reflect what he believes is the best way to cater not only to the JSU community but, just as importantly, prospective students.
“We have a wide range of people who we serve; however, the way we need to look at it as band directors is that we are recruiting 15-, 16- and 17-year-old kids, and we really have to thread that needle. We do want to tend to those people who give back to the school but also those kids because they increase enrollment. So, it is a Catch-22,” the director said.
Little shares that his dream always has been to be a band director for JSU and light a torch for students who attend and graduate from the university. He also shares more far-reaching plans for the university’s music and band program.
“My goal is to shed light on the program [the band] on a national standpoint. I believe the last thing we’ve done nationally was the 34th National Association for the Advancement Colored People Image Awards in 2003,” he said. “It’s time to get the band out on a national scale because right now we’re the best-kept secret. Though a lot of people know about us, we can do so much more nationally.”
The director said that when he inherited the marching band program he often wondered how he could contribute to the rich legacy of the Sonic Boom and all the “great directors” that came before him. Although he had ideas, Little says he could not pinpoint which direction he’d go in.
“Over time, my goal was to honor the traditions of the Sonic Boom while implementing creative themes to better frame the shows: interesting drills that change on a weekly or biweekly basis; putting spins on the traditional aspects of the Sonic Boom; and focusing more intensively on the sound. Examples of the aforementioned would be floating different formations down the field or different variations of the beloved JSU,” Little said.
Realizing that innovation takes risk along with trial and error, Little says the Boom has managed and is still developing to find just the right formula to take the legacy of the band into the 21st century. And, it’s just getting started.
“Since being honored and blessed to take the helm of the Sonic Boom in 2015, the Sonic Boom has had several legendary shows that display the awesome talents and hard work of our wonderful students. The following shows will display a small part of why the Sonic Boom is (still) being recognized with such high honors – from 2015 to present:”