The Sonic Boom of the South: Marching to their own beat!

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JANS – Although Jackson State University’s marching band hasn’t always been called “The Sonic Boom of the South,” it’s always been explosive! It all started nearly 100 years ago when Dr. F.D. Hall served as director of the band, chorus, and orchestra in the 1920s. The marching band took flight a few decades later with students from Jackson College and Lanier High School. One student, Kermit Holly Sr., would later take the helm as director of bands.

Holly was heavily influenced by Dr. Hall, a favorite amongst his students. Apparently, Dr. Hall recognized an exceptionally talented youth and encouraged him to study all phases of instrumental and vocal music, as well as develop his rich baritone voice. 

Holly’s professional career in music instruction began at Clark College in 1929 and was continued at Jackson College and Alcorn College. While teaching in Jackson, he organized the Jackson College quartet that traveled far and wide to raise funds to help support the college. He taught music in the Jackson Public Schools for 43 years, 30 at his alma mater, Lanier.

Charles Sausburg was appointed band director in 1947. He served for one year.

In 1948, William W. Davis of Ironton, Ohio, former arranger for Cab Calloway’s legendary big band, became Jackson State University’s first full-time band director. After serving in the U.S. Army and touring with military service bands, he played trumpet in Cab Calloway’s orchestra. Davis’s marching band concept was greatly influenced by Cab Calloway’s big band sound and showmanship.

Cab Calloway’s influence is still present today in the sound and show designs of the Sonic Boom. For 23 years, from 1948-1971, Davis, the man affectionately known as “Prof” and “Maestro”, was the head band master, director of the Marching Band, Symphonic Wind Ensemble, and the coordinator of the instrumental division. For an additional 10 years, until his death on October 3, 1981, for a total of 33 years, he continued to serve as conductor of JSU’s Wind Ensemble and chief arranger for the Sonic Boom. According to JSU, during Davis’s tenure, the urban university became known as the Mecca for young musicians. 

Following Davis in 1971 was Harold J. Haughton Sr., a native of Canton, Mississippi, who remained for 13 years. Also during his tenure, he initiated several changes in the marching band program, most historic was embracing the name change chosen by band members – “The Sonic Boom of the South”. Other changes included amending the primary band uniform color from royal blue to light navy blue, replacing majorettes with featured dancers (J-Settes), and introducing the title “The Thrill of a Thousand Eyes” commentated by the late Dr. Jimmie James Jr., longtime chair, JSU Dept. of Music.

Up next, Dowell T. Taylor, a graduate of Callaway High School and Sonic Boom standout. During Taylor’s undergraduate years, he arranged more than 100 band selections including the current JSU theme song, “Get Ready”, originally arranged by John Paul Jones. In 1975, he received the highest honor a JSU bandsman could receive, the “Best All Around Bandsman” award. From 1984-1992, Taylor served as director of bands and director of music technology at JSU conducting both the symphonic and marching bands. (He would be recruited again in 2012 and 2017 to lead the Sonic Boom.)

Another Jackson native and JSU graduate, Dr. Lewis Liddell  Sr., took the helm as director of bands in 1992. He studied conducting under Professor William W. Davis and the renowned national conductor, Dr. Joe Barry Mullins, and marching band techniques under Dr. William C. Moffit, the originator of patterns of motion. He retired in 2016 after a stellar career of leading the Sonic Boom to statewide, regional, and national notoriety, establishing a new benchmark for musical excellence; under his inspiring leadership the marching band grew from a standard marching band of 128 members to an electrifying marching unit, composed of more than 300 members.

O’Neill Sanford served only one year (2016-17) before Dowell Taylor was persuaded to serve as interim director. He remained until Dr. Roderick Little was hired in 2020. 

Presently, Dr. Little serves as director of bands/assistant professor of music at his alma mater. A product of Lanier High School and former member of the Sonic Boom, Dr. Little is an accomplished conductor, clinician, adjudicator, composer, arranger, drill writer, and instrumentalist. He has arranged for numerous middle and high schools, colleges, chamber groups, jazz ensembles, and church conventions.

Over the years, the Sonic Boom has shared the stage and screen with stars like Drake, Lil Boosie, Ciara, Cedric the Entertainer, Lil Jon, Big Krit, Pastor Troy, Jon Batiste, J. Cole, Yo Gotti, Dear Silas, F.L.Y., battles of the bands, scores of college and pro sports half time shows, and more. From Motown’s 30th Anniversary to the NBA All-Star Game to the NAACP Image Awards to the inauguration of President Joe Biden, the band has dazzled every audience. 

But to date, nothing compares to their appearance during Super Bowl LVIII half time show featuring Usher with some 123.4 million viewers, the largest in television history. However, the party is just getting started. In 2025, the JSU Sonic Boom of the South is scheduled to perform in the Tournament of Roses Parade.

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The Sonic Boom of the South: Marching to their own beat!

By Jackson Advocate News Service
February 26, 2024