Often Celebrated Never Compensated:  What it takes to be a JUKE

Southern University’s Human Jukebox is not just your regular band, it is a band that transcends all time. Within its 75 years of existence, the Human Jukebox has not missed a beat. They have been recognized across the nation by USA Today, Time Magazine, ESPN, and the NCAA as one the best marching bands in the country. Just to think even amidst all the notoriety, the Human Jukebox prides itself on prioritizing events on the Bluff. The band students work tirelessly daily to perfect their craft, sacrificing their college experience so that their peers can have memories that will last them a lifetime.

Although that sacrifice is a warming sentiment, it seems some of the Student Government Association members don’t think that Southern’s band does enough.

On Thursday, October 13, during the public business portion of a Senate meeting, an inquiry arose as to why the Human Jukebox was not able to perform at every pep rally scheduled by the Student Government Association (SGA). That inquiry led to a senator contacting the Human Jukebox to gain some more insight on that very matter.

To follow up, on Thursday, November 3, the students found themselves in another senate meeting. However, this time the band members were ready. Kobe Kelson, sophomore and president of SU’s Department of Bands Academic Program, gave just a glimpse into why the band can’t be at every event. He simply stated they don’t have the time or the resources to make that happen. Gregory Johnson, a sophomore tuba player, emphasizes how finding a balance is difficult at times, “I have struggled while being a student and a bandmember; I also have a job, so working on top of that [is difficult].”

Student Journalist Ashley Lovelace was able to sit down with the Director of Bands, Kedric Taylor. They had an eye-opening interview that was able to give some poignant insight as to what onlookers may not see in the preparation of a performance from the mighty Human Jukebox. Taylor began by stating, “For every student, there’s a cost. I think one of the things we miss a lot of times, is we don’t realize how much it costs per student.” Taylor was adamant by stating that “When we recruit, we recruit the best.” The disheartening thing about that is, although Taylor and his staff recruited over 500 students to join the band, students get lost in the recruitment process due to finances.

“Our entire budget for band expenses is Pine Bluff’s budget for scholarships alone. They have a million-dollar scholarship budget, we’re not talking about travel--nothing else it’s just their scholarships. We can’t compete with that.” Taylor expressed after revealing that he only has $120,000 to give in scholarships to his students for the year.

Outside of financial woes, Mr. Taylor emphasized the importance of the mental health of his students. With juggling classes, practices that don’t end until 11:00 pm, and showing up for events, students barely have time for themselves. But Taylor said, “That’s what you get when you are in high demand.” He continued, “the band was elated when they didn’t have to go to FAMU to play. They never get a break.”

Taylor often finds himself wearing hats other than a director such as a big brother, father, pastor, therapist, you name it. Even though it doesn’t bother him, Taylor is always ready to fill in the gaps for his students when they need it, even if that means helping raise funds for students that can’t satisfy their balances for the semester. He doesn’t do it to keep the students in the band but to allow the students to continue their education and ultimately graduate.

Senior tuba player, Edward Smith, echoed this thought by saying, “He’s always giving us words of encouragement and doing good stuff for the band, making sure our grades are straight. Mr. Taylor is always going great stuff for the band.”

To Kedric Taylor’s point, there most certainly is a cost, and it’s high. A suggestion from the SGA senators to have a bandmate join the senate may help bridge gaps where misunderstanding due to ignorance may fall. Taylor is all for that notion. “I think it is a great idea...” Taylor noted, “Maybe we can all sit down at a table and work together instead of everyone having their own working agendas.”

Mr. Taylor says, “I am not one to complain, I just want what’s best for my students.”

The Human Jukebox is currently preparing for the Bayou Classic which historically the band has received all proceeds of the Battle of the Bands. Currently, any proceeds made from the battle of the bands in New Orleans, go to the school and the participating bands receive zero dollars.

Taylor expressed, “I think it is a slap in the face to Dr. Greggs, who started the Battle of the Bands. But when we are called upon, we have to make things happen.” There’s no denying the hard work the Human Jukebox puts in consistently. However, how much is too much regarding expectations? Are the expectations of the university too much? Can real balance be found?

With all this newfound insight into the life of the Human Jukebox, maybe questions of their whereabouts will dwindle knowing, for Southern to have the band of bands, the Jukebox’s sacrifice is incessant, so the rest of Jaguar Nation can enjoy a finite moment.

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