NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University’s world-renowned Aristocrat of Bands (AOB) and award-winning New Direction Gospel Choir were invited to perform at the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture in New Orleans, Louisiana, sponsored by a partnership with McDonalds, highlighting African American culture.
AOB, New Direction Gospel Choir and The Sophisticated Ladies led three spectacular performances during the festival, one of which the University band debuted their new single “Dance Revival” featuring Grammy nominated gospel singer Jekayln Carr and the choir.
There were more than 1,000 festival participants in total watching the magic unfold.
“Having an opportunity to premiere our original music at the Essence Festival is monumental for the AOB as well as the HBCU Band community at large,” said Dr. Larry Jenkins the Assistant Director of TSU’s Aristocrat of Bands.
Reginald McDonald, AOB director said the band will be seen in more unimaginable places.
TSU drum major, trumpet soloist Curtis Olawumi said his first time in New Orleans was a once in a lifetime experience as he met and spoke with his favorite trombonist Jeff Bradshaw, when leaving rehearsal.
“That was the pivotal moment for me,” Olawumi said, noting that the pair talked about music and took photos. “Being able to perform on stage next to Jekayln Carr was a thrill,” he said. “I enjoyed myself and cherished every moment.”
AOB is set to release a gospel album titled ‘Urban Hymnal,’ primarily produced by AOB assistant director Professor Larry Jenkins and two-time Grammy award-nominated writer Sir the Baptist.
Grammy award-winning songwriter and artist Dallas Austin is the executive producer of the album while it also features production from platinum recording artist, TSU alum Aaron (Dubba-AA) Lockhart.
Justin Butler, TSU New Direction Gospel Choir director described the experience of performing at the festival and being featured on AOB’s upcoming album as, ‘pretty amazing.’
“We were blown away to be asked to be a part of this,” Butler said, mentioning that the choir recorded their portion of Dance Revival right on campus.
“I can’t wait for the world to hear this,” he said.
The album release date has not been disclosed as of July, but will include features from known artist and singers such as Fred Hammond, Kierra Sheard, John P. Kee, Jekalyn Carr, Louis York, Dubba-AA, Take 6 and more.
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About Tennessee State University Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a premier, historically black university and land-grant institution offering 39 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs, and seven doctoral degrees. TSU is a comprehensive research intensive institution with a R-2 Carnegie designation, and has a graduate school on its downtown Avon Williams Campus, along with the Otis Floyd Nursery Research Center in McMinnville, Tennessee. With a commitment to excellence, Tennessee State University provides students with a quality education in a nurturing and innovative environment that prepares them as alumni to be global leaders in every facet of society. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.
Atlanta Native Only the Third Female in History to Lead TSU Marching Band
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Don’t be fooled by Devyn Miles’ lanky, 110-pound frame with a baby smile that will charm even the toughest heart.
At 5 feet 10 inches tall, she does not settle for the conventional. In fact, she challenges the status quo.
And that, along with hard work, has earned her front-row presence with the Aristocrat of Bands, as the only female drum major on the Tennessee State University 221-member marching show band.
Miles’ presence breaks a long all-male dominance of the now four-member squad, considered the heartbeat of the band. She becomes only the third female drum major in the marching band’s nearly 70-year history, and the first in almost 20 years.
“I had been watching and wondering how come there is no girl up there,” said Miles, a junior Computer Science major with concentration in Bioinformatics, and a French horn player in the marching band and the Wind Ensemble.
After being with the band for three years, Miles was just not pleased with the continued absence of a female on the leading team, referred to as the “Fantastic 4,” although she knew becoming a drum major would require a lot of work.
“Just then the call came out for applicants to try out for two drum major spots, and immediately I said to myself, ‘This is your chance Devyn,’” the Atlanta native said. “But there were some key requirements. Before even applying you had to have proven leadership skills, a minimum 2.7 GPA, and playing ability.”
For Miles, those seemed to be the easy part. She was averaging almost a 3.0, had been playing instruments since middle school, and she knew she could lead. She applied and made the final cut as the only female along with four males to compete for the two spots.
Miles was ready for what laid ahead – the auditions and conditioning. In fact, according to Acting Band Director, Dr. Reginald McDonald, Miles was a formidable competitor in the tryout. She asked for no favors, and wanted no special treatment because she was a female.
“Actually what helped Devyn during the try-out process was that she did not look different from the men,” McDonald said. “She went out of her way to make sure that she was able to keep up with the men and that no one in our audience was able to distinguish the one female from the three males until they took off their hats.”
In the long history of the marching band, Miles’ team of applicants was the first group to go through a tryout to become drum majors. Prior to spring 2013, McDonald said drum majors were selected by the band director.
“First I was scared and felt some intimidation about the amount of work involved in the tryout, including a lot of practice,” Miles said. But she was used to hard work. Playing the French horn, arguably the most difficult brass instrument to master, one must practice a lot. And, that she did in the tryout, to master every move, step, detail, and definitely, throwing and catching the mace.
“You can’t let your mace fall; it’s sacred,” Miles said, adding, “I set my mind to it with a lot of practice until I found a comfortable way to do it.”
Miles was selected along with another male. Today, she is a key part of the “Fantastic 4” – standing tall, moving in unison with the others and gracefully tossing and catching her mace – as she and the other three drum majors whistle and signal commands to their fellow marchers.
“Devyn is a very capable part of our team and I am glad to have her as a member of the Fantastic 4,” said Semaj Wansley, head drum major and a senior Music major from Moss Point, Miss. “I admire her work ethic. She overcomes those difficult obstacles placed before her, and I am sure that’s going to take her far in life.”
While Miles is thankful to her fellow band members and directors for their support, she can only imagine the difficulty her earlier compatriots faced more than 30 years ago (when the band allowed its first female) to make it possible for her to even dream of becoming a drum major.
“A lot of people supported me and there was no resentment toward me, and I thank them for that because if it was not for that support I probably wouldn’t be here,” Miles said. “I feel very fortunate and blessed because I heard it was not so smooth for the other females who were here before me. Their struggle and perseverance helped to pave the way for me.”
Felicia Carter Johnson was one of those females. As the first woman band member to become a drum major at TSU, Johnson, a Birmingham, Ala., native, had a bumpy start.
“I was teaching a dance routine when Prof. (Edward) Graves asked me if I was interested in becoming a drum major,” said Johnson, a 1983 graduate (Biology), then a sophomore with a dual role of playing the tenor saxophone in the marching band and the baritone saxophone in the Jazz Band.
She agreed but little did she know the amount of resentment she would receive from her fellow band members.
“I was resented mainly by the men and some even quit because I was asked to join, and that really hurt me,” Johnson said. “But I realized that I was a musician first, and I didn’t think it (drum major) was handed to me. I felt I earned it because I was just as qualified and good as any of them. There were many others who supported me and some of those who quit started coming back when they saw how well the band was doing. Some apologized to me later.”
Johnson’s perseverance, talent and leadership showed that women were just as capable as men, and paved the way for other women such as Quanda Watkins (’92 – Sociology, trombone) of Atlanta, who would later become only the second female TSU drum major, and now Miles. These women, together, prove that anything is possible. You just have to have the courage to steer ahead.
“I am glad I didn’t just think about wanting to be a drum major. I saw the opportunity and I went for it,” said Miles, whose dream is to become a music producer or arranger.
For now, Miles is making sure her mace never falls, and staying in step with the “Fantastic 4.”
Don’t forget to come out on Saturday, Oct. 26, when the “Fantastic 4” and the Aristocrat of Bands lead the TSU Homecoming parade down historic Jefferson Street.
Tennessee State University
3500 John A. Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209
About Tennessee State University
With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university and is a comprehensive, urban, coeducational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top Universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912 Tennessee State University celebrates 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu