A Brief History of the “Sonic Boom”
Although Dr. F.D. Hall served as director of the band, chorus, and orchestra in the 1920s, the marching band began in the 1940s consisting of college students and students from the Lanier High School. Through the years, it has become known for intricate, precision marching and the big band sound. The “Sonic Boom” has performed many halftime appearances for the Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, and Cincinnati Bengals; a television special for Motown 30th Anniversary and the 34th NAACP Image Awards, with a special guest performance by “Cedric the Entertainer.” The band is a favored entry in halftime performances during football season as well as for parades across Mississippi and in other states. Click image below to view Former and Current Assistant Directors.
Kermit Wells Holly, Sr., was a modest man; a man of high ideals and ethical principles; a source of unexcelled inspiration with remarkable accomplishments. The only child of Mrs. Abi Ellen Wells and Harvey Holly, he was born February 9, 1908, in Hinds County, Jackson, Mississippi. At age five he entered Jackson College Elementary School and continued through high school. His professor, Dr. Frederick D. Hall, recognized his exceptional talent for music and encouraged him to study all phases of instrumental and vocal music, as well as to use wisely his beautiful baritone voice. During the summer of his junior and senior high school years, he studied in Atlanta, Georgia with the famous and renowned violinist Kemper Harreld. He was a graduate of Clark College, Atlanta, Georgia and Chicago Musical College, Chicago, Illinois, with further study at Roosevelt University, Vander Cook, Peabody and Richmond Professional Institute of Music.
His professional career in music instruction began at Clark College in 1929 and was continued at Jackson College and Alcorn College. While teaching at Jackson College, he organized the Jackson College quartet that traveled through the North and Midwest raising funds to help support the college. He also performed as concert violinist throughout most of the United States. He organized the first citywide W. P. A. chorus and orchestra and performed locally and across the state. He chose to stay in his hometown, Jackson and used his talents in the development of Black youth in this state. In the words of Booker T. Washington, he “let down his bucket where he was.” For forty-three years he was employed by the Jackson Public School System where he was a composer/arranger of choral, string and instrumental music. Thirty of those years were spent at Lanier High School; the additional ten years were in string music in junior and senior high schools.
Charles Saulsburg 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. Davis was born in Ironton, Ohio on January 14, 1922. His early childhood was spent in Ironton where he received his elementary and secondary education. He earned the Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education from Alabama State University in 1948 and was awarded the Masters of Arts degree in Instrumental Pedagogy from the Ohio State University in 1955.
In 1943 he was inducted into the United States Army, Infantry Division, where he served until 1946. During his tour of duty in the United States Army, he played solo trumpet in the 164th and 372nd Army Bands. He also played with an Army band that toured the United States on a bond drive and later played with a traveling Army band in the Pacific Theater of Operations playing for dances and USO shows.
Also, before coming to Jackson State University, Mr. Davis participated in several other organizations, culminating these experiences by playing 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 Jackson State University Marching Band.
For twenty-three years, from 1948-1971, Mr. Davis, the man affectionately known as “Prof” and “Maestro” was the headband 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 Jackson State University’s Wind Ensemble and chief arranger for the Jackson State University Marching Band, “The Sonic Boom of the South.” He taught applied trumpet and french horn, instrumental conducting, brasswind classes, instrumental arranging and music theory. He is best remembered as a master conductor and an inimitable arranger.
Mr. Davis served on numerous boards and commissions. He was a consultant on visitation teams for the Mississippi Accreditation Commission and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. He held membership in many prestigious learned societies and organizations among which included: National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors; American Federation of Musicians – Local 579 (Member, Board of Directors); International Trumpeters Guild and Phi Delta Kappa Fraternity. He was a member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church where he sang in the choir and served on the board of directors of the Day Care Center and Men’s Club. He was a member of Alpha Epsilon Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. Among his special honors were:
- In 1965, under the baton of William W. Davis, the Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Band) reached its apex with a performance at the New York World’s Fair, becoming the first historically African-American college to perform at a world’s fair
- Commissioned by Braniff Airlines in 1972 to do an arrangement of Duke Ellington compositions for the Battle of the Bands in Dallas, Texas
- Commissioned by Dr. John A. Peoples, Jr., President of Jackson State University, to make an original arrangement of the Alma Mater, “Jackson Fair.” The arrangement “Symphonic Portrait of Jackson Fair” premiered October 22, 1978, commemorating the one hundred first anniversary of Jackson State University
- Received the Teacher of the Year Award in 1974 at the Mabel Corney Chapter of the Student National Education Association
- Was cited Man of the Year in 1977 by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Davis’s musical genius transcends the barriers of time and space. Through his leadership and teaching, Davis influenced several generations of African-American band directors, and former directors, Harold Haughton (Retired Director of Bands at Virginia State University), Dowell Taylor, Director of Music Technology at JSU and Lewis Liddell (Retired Director of Bands at Jackson State University). Other band directors influenced by Davis, just to name a few, included: Dr. Dolly M. E. Robinson, Dean College of Liberal Arts, Dr. Jimmie James, Chair Department of Music, Dr. Michael Magruder, Director of Bands at Winston-Salem State University, Samuel Griffin, Director of Bands at Alcorn State University, Louis Lee, retired Director of Bands at Utica Junior College, and Dr. Estus Smith, former Vice President of Academic Affairs. In fact, during Davis’s tenure, Jackson State University became known as somewhat of a Mecca for the development of African-American band directors.
Harold J. Haughton, Sr. was born in Canton, Mississippi and began his music studies in the public schools of New Orleans, Louisiana. He received the B. M. E. from Jackson State University and the M. M. E. degree from Louisiana State University. He pursued additional studies at Duquesne University, Jackson State University, Morehead State University, Vandercook College of Music and The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
For six years, he served as a high school band director and music teacher in the public schools of Alabama and Mississippi. From 1966 to 1969, he served as Assistant Band Director at Jackson State University. In 1970, he served as Assistant Director of the Marching Band and Director of the Symphonic Band at Prairie View A & M University.
In 1971 he returned to Jackson State University where he remained for thirteen years; serving as Director of the Marching Band, Assistant Director of the Symphonic Band, Director of the Concert Band and Director of the Woodwind Choir. Also during this tenure, he initiated several changes in the Marching Band program including:
- amending the primary band uniform color from royal
blue to light navy blue.
- replacing Majorettes with Featured Dancers (Shirley Blakely)
- creating the “Tiger Run-On”
- creating the “Tiger Strut” (Adagio Step)
- creating the “Floating JSU” during halftime
- adopting the name “The Sonic Boom of the South.”
(Evelia Jones/Charles Beard/Charles Smith)
- introducing the title “The Thrill of a Thousand Eyes.”
(Dr. Jimmie James, Jr.)
- increasing the size to 160 instrumentalists in Fall of 1983
- was the director when the band participated in the first
“Battle Of The Bands” at Texas Stadium, Irving Texas,
(Home of the Dallas Cowboys)
- was the director when the band performed for its first NFL halftime. NFL Performances were for the: New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals The half time show for the Cincinnati Bengals were nationally televised.
In 1984, Mr. Haughton assumed the position as Director of Bands at Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia. There he produced some of the finest marching band programs in the commonwealth of Virginia while gaining the same level of national notoriety achieved at Jackson State University.
Mr. Dowell Taylor, a native of Jackson, Mississippi, is a graduate of Callaway High School. He also attended Jackson State University receiving the B.M.E. and M.M.E. degrees, respectively. Mr. Taylor participated in the JSU “Sonic Boom of the South” Marching Band Tuba Section, and during his 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 award a JSU bandsman could receive, the “Best All Around Bandsman” award. Mr. Taylor did further study (90 quarter hours) while enrolled in the Doctor of Musical Arts program in Wind Conducting at the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music, Cincinnati, Ohio.
After graduating from JSU, Mr. Taylor served as Director of Bands at Mary Holmes, Jr. College, West Point, Mississippi, Kentucky State University, Frankfort, Kentucky (where he also served as Department Chair), and from 1984-1992, as Director of Bands and Director of Music Technology at Jackson State University conducting both the Symphonic and Marching Bands.
During this period, the famous JSU “Sonic Boom of the South” Marching Band received numerous awards and citations including national coverage in Jet Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor,and People Magazine. The Band was also featured as “Special Guest Band of Honor” at the St Petersburg, Florida Martin Luther King Battle of Bands, the 1991 NBA All-star basketball game, Charlotte, North Carolina and Motown’s 30th Anniversary Celebration in Hollywood, California, 1990. One of Mr. Taylor’s most notable performances with the JSU Symphonic Band was in 1987, featuring Dr. Karen Laubengayer, pianist and Professor of Music at JSU, performing George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” adapted for band by Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Taylor received the JSU outstanding Alumnus award in 1992. In 1998, 2000, and 2003, the Jackson Music Awards, incorporated, named him the “Local Musician of the Year”. In 2016, Mr. Taylor’s Jazz group, The Dowell Taylor Jazz Quartet, received the Jazz Group of the Year Award from the Jackson Music Awards, Incorporated. In 2008, The Dowell Taylor “Big Band”, a 40 piece jazz ensemble, performed for the annual Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children’s New Year’s Eve Fundraiser Gala at the Hilton Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi. On December 10, 2010, the Mississippi Jazz Foundation honored Mr. Taylor for his contributions to the field of music education and the Jazz music genre. In 2015, the Mississippi Humanities Council honored Mr. Taylor with a Humanities Teacher Award as a distinguished professor at Jackson State University.
On April 1, 2012, after a twenty-year hiatus from the band field, Mr. Taylor accepted the appointment to the position of Interim Director of Bands, Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Music Technology at Jackson State University. In December 2012 the position was made permanent. During this second stint as Director of Bands, the “Sonic Boom” was featured in numerous media outlets including a two-page coverage of the band’s pre-season camp in ESPN the Magazine, a CNN special on the Morning Show Featuring Robin Meade, twice at the Honda Battle of the Bands Showcase of eight of the top bands in the nation, The American Journey, a CNN production chronicling the journey of what it takes to become a member of the famed “J5” Drum Majors, and performed for the New Orleans Saints nationally televised football game. Mr. Taylor has served as adjudicator and clinician throughout the United States, as well as guest conductor for the HBCU National Consortium for Band Director’s Conference, Atlanta Georgia, the Miami, Florida Music Festival, the MEAC Music Conference in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, the Atlanta, Georgia Music Festival, the Memphis Tennessee Honors Band and the Jackson Public Schools All-City High School Music Festival.
Mr. Taylor has received certification in Music Technology from the Technology Institute for Music Educators (TIME) in Pasadena, California, served as a grant evaluator for the Department of Education, Washington D.C., Music Director for the Mississippi Diversity and Majesty Awards Ceremony, Computer Literacy Instructor for a federally funded “Prevention Intervention” After-School Program, a Web Designer, and Minister of Music/Organist at the Greater Mount Calvary Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi. Mr. Taylor has been featured as guest conductor with the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra presenting Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise” and regularly performs on keyboard with his Jazz Trio and Quartet. He has also performed at the National Black Caucus Reception in Washington, D.C., and his Gospel Choir has performed for the Governor Ray Mabus’ Inauguration Ceremony, Jackson, Mississippi. In 2009, he developed an undergraduate degree program in Music Technology at Jackson State, which received accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM).
Mr. Taylor is a Licensed Real Estate Broker who holds membership in TI:ME, CMEA, MENC, CBDNA, and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. He is also a recording engineer and certified Pro Tools Operator. He recently engineered four selections on the Jackson State Jazz Band’s 2010 recording project, and “Images of Isabella’s Dream” a composition commissioned by Belhaven University of Jackson, Mississippi. Jackson State Professor, Dr. Ivan Elezovic, composed “Images of Isabella’s Dream”. Both projects were recorded in Jackson State’s recording studio.
Mr. Taylor has presented at national conferences including the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE), Orlando, Florida, “Turning Teachers On To Technology for the Twenty-First Century” and the National Black Music Caucus, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, “Black College Bands, Where Do We Go From Here?” On January 8, 2012, he presented the topic, “Issues Involving the Integration of Technology into the Music Curriculum” at the International Conference on Education, Honolulu, Hawaii. In April of 2015, Mr. Taylor served on a “Hazing in HBCU Marching Bands” discussion panel at the HBCU National Band Director’s Consortium in Atlanta, Georgia.
On June 30, 2015, Mr. Dowell Taylor retired from Jackson State University after 31 years of service. Post retirement, Mr. Taylor has been honored by the nationally acclaimed Honda Battle of the Bands in Atlanta, Georgia, the Jackson, Mississippi City Council, the Mississippi House of Representatives, the Mississippi Senate, the Sonic Boom National Alumni Association, and Mr. Andre Delano, a national recording artist who has performed with, Baby Face, Lionel Richie, Maxwell, Johnny Taylor, Dorothy Moore, and Stevie Wonder. On April 15, 2016, Mr. Taylor was honored by the HBCU National Band Director’s Consortium, for his many years of service to Jackson State and the “Sonic Boom of the South Marching Band.” The National Conference was held in Atlanta, Georgia on April 13-16, 2016.
On September 18, 2017, Mr. Taylor, out of a profound, deep and abiding love for his alma mater, for a third time, accepted the appointment of the position of Director of Bands, Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Music Technology at Jackson State University. He is anxious to assist with preparing the Jackson State University “Sonic Boom of the South” for its next generation of spectacular leadership.
Mr. Taylor is married to Dr. Vivian Taylor, and they have one son, David, a Patent and Trademark attorney with the Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C.
Lewis Liddell, Sr. is a native of Jackson, Mississippi where he attended Jim Hill, Lanier, and Brinkley High Schools, graduating from the latter in 1963. He received the Bachelor of Music Education degree from Jackson State University, Jackson, Mississippi, Master of Music Education degree from the University of Louisiana-Monroe, Monroe, Louisiana, and the Doctorate from Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, Mississippi. He pursued additional studies at Louisiana Tech University, Jackson State University, the University of Louisiana-Monroe, Southeastern Louisiana University, and the University of Southern Mississippi. Dr. Liddell 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.
Dr. Lewis Liddell, Sr. is former (retired) Associate Professor of Music, Director of Bands, and coordinator of the instrumental division at Jackson State University. In addition to directing the Jackson State University Marching Band, “The Sonic Boom of the South” and conducting the Symphonic Band, he supervised a staff of six directors and was responsible for the administration of the total band program: Symphonic Band, Concert Band, Woodwind Ensemble, Brass Ensemble, Percussion Ensemble, Pep Band, and the Prancing J-Settes (Dance Line).
His teaching career began in 1967, as band director at Wesley Ray High School, Angie, Louisiana. In 1970, Dr. Liddell assumed the band director’s position at his high school alma mater, Brinkley High School, Jackson, Mississippi. After 14 years of teaching and directing award-winning bands in Jackson Public Schools, including the national renowned Provine High School band, the 1982 Mid-America National Champion (sponsored by “Six Flags over St. Louis”), Dr. Liddell moved to higher education. Serving as Director of Bands at Jackson State University since July 1992, his diverse university teaching and administrative experiences include:
- Director of Bands and Assistant Professor of Fine Arts, Kentucky State University, Frankfort, Kentucky
- Chairperson Division of Fine Arts and Assistant Professor of Fine Arts, Kentucky State University, Frankfort, Kentucky
- Assistant to the President and Assistant Professor of Education, Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky
- Affirmative Action Officer and Assistant Professor of Education, Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky
- Director of Institutional Research and Assistant Professor of Education, Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky
- Affirmative Action Officer and Adjunct Professor of Sociology, Winona State University, Winona, Minnesota
- Assistant to the Dean, College of Arts and Science and Associate Professor of Music, North Carolina A&T University, Greensboro, North Carolina
As noted, the Sonic Boom has a history of many stellar performances; however, recently, the marching band has received unprecedented national recognition as listed below:
- March 2003–The marching band was featured on the 34th NAACP Image Awards, with a special guest performance by “Cedric the Entertainer.” The program was aired nationwide on FOX Television
- August 2003–Drum major, Tamara Myles was featured on the cover of Black Voices Quarterly (BVQ) magazine. Also, the marching band was featured in an article on college bands.
- October 2003–The marching band was enshrined in the NCAA Hall of Champions. Dr. Liddell and drum major Tamara Myles were panelists on the NCAA Hall of Champions education program “The Drumline–The Student Performer.”
- October 2003–Dr. Liddell narrated a video entitled “War & Thunder BEHIND THE DRUMLINE,” produced by Donna Lawrence Productions for the NCAA
- October 2003–The marching band was filmed by Electronic Art Sports (EA Sports) for the 2005 vision of the video game “EA Sports NCAA Football 2005.”
- October 2003–Promotional video of “The Sonic Boom of the South,” produced by EA Sports for the Jackson State University band
- January 2004–The marching band performed at the 2004 Senior Bowl
- April 2004–The band played at the NBA Grizzle basketball game in Memphis, Tennessee
Dr. Liddell’s numerous honors and awards include the 1996 Atlanta Metropolitan Battle of the Bands Award, the “Ambassadors of SWAC” Award (Louisiana/Mississippi BEO)–2002, Jackson Music Award, 2005 Martin Luther King Music Education Award, North Mississippi Band Festival Service to State of Mississippi Award, and the Jackson State University National Alumni Association’s Achievement Award. Recently, he was inducted into the Mississippi Magnolia Band Director’s Hall of Fame. His affiliations include the Music Educators National Conference (MENC), the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA), Phi Delta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, and Kappa Kappa Psi Band Fraternity. Dr. Liddell’s biography is listed in Personalities of the South, Notable Americans, and several other publications.
Since the Symphonic Band’s 1965 historical performance at the New York World’s Fair (one of the first historically black college to perform at a world’s fair), under Dr. Liddell’s direction, the Symphonic Band has received continued recognition for its long legacy of outstanding musical accomplishments. As the band program’s premiere performing ensemble, in 1995, the Symphonic Band was featured at the National Black Music Caucus Professional Conference held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. More recently, the Symphonic Band was featured at the National Black Music Caucus Professional Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
Dr. Liddell has served as an adjudicator, consultant, clinician, speaker and conductor throughout the nation. He has also served as guest conductor for the All-West Tennessee Honors Band, the All-City Senior High Symphonic Band, Jackson Public School Music Festival All-City Band, and Northwestern High School, Miami, Florida, to name a few.
O’Neill Sanford, served as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music, Principal Recruiter for the Department of Music and Director of Bands at Jackson State University.
Since becoming a music educator in 1965, he had held a number of positions to include the following. Director of Bands, Sevier High School, Ferriday, LA; Director of Bands, Marching Band Arranger, and Trombone Instructor, Mississippi Valley State University, Itta Bena, MS; Director of Bands, Virginia State University, Petersburg, VA; Symphonic Band and Marching Band Director, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN; Director of Bands, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA; and Director of Bands at Norfolk State University, Norfolk, VA. While at Norfolk State, Sanford also served as the Chairman of the Department of Music.
Mr. Sanford earned his Bachelor of Science in Music Education from Southern University, Baton Rouge, LA; Master of Music Education, Vandercook College of Music, Chicago, IL; and Studied Jazz Composition with Composer and Arranger Thad Jones, Conservatory of Music, Copenhagen, Denmark. He received an Honorary Doctorate from the Conservatory of Music, Mexico City, Mexico; has served as Conductor of “The Youth All-American Band” in Spain, England and Greece as well as serving as a guest conductor, Clinician and has performed on tours throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe.
Sanford’s works for the marching band, jazz ensemble and concert band are performed throughout the United States and Europe. The St. Paul Civic Orchestra commissioned his work for orchestra and choir, Lift Every Voice. He wrote The Bicentennial Fanfare for the University of Pittsburgh’s Bicentennial; Pitt is It!- a spirit song; The Chancellors March and his 1991 composition, “The President’s March,” which was performed by the United States Navy Band, and is currently performed throughout the United States.
He currently serves as President of the HBCU National Band Directors’ Consortium and is founder and Chief Organizer of the HBCU “Battle Fest” Battle of the Bands