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Third time’s the charm: JSU director of bands to be inducted into national hall of fame

Dowell Taylor, interim director of bands and music technology at JSU, was overwhelmed to learn that he will be inducted into the 2018 class of the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame Foundation Inc., on Sept. 28 in Atlanta. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Dowell Taylor, interim director of bands and music technology at JSU, was overwhelmed to learn that he will be inducted into the 2018 class of the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame Foundation Inc., on Sept. 28 in Atlanta. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

RJT BYLINE

JSU Director of Bands Dowell Taylor will be inducted into the 2018 class of the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame Foundation Inc. during the 33rd Hall of Fame Ceremony in Atlanta on Sept. 28.

“I’m overwhelmed and steeped in humility.” He said, “I feel like it’s a great honor not just for me but for Jackson State University and those students who look up to me as a leader, teacher or role model.”

Taylor will be in “tall cotton” when he joins the distinguished list of over 300 notables enshrined in the hall of fame since 1986 such as Justice Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Walter Payton, Leontyne Price and Nancy Wilson.

The Jackson native further described the induction as a prestigious honor, adding that “as long as I can inspire others then I’m immensely satisfied.”

Hailing from a large musical family of 22 brothers and sisters, Taylor jokes that his father, a preacher, thought the Bible Scripture “be fruitful and multiply the earth” applied solely to him.

Like many Southern musicians, Taylor grew up singing in church and playing the piano along with his siblings, several of whom are musically inclined. “It was a whole lot of fun. There was always action, playing, fighting, love and competition. There was always that in our home,” he said.

A natural talent, the director could read music and play by ear. Periodically, he would take piano lessons but jokingly admits that he found them mundane. “I wanted to be creative. I wanted to create my own thing,” said Taylor, revealing that some of his most memorable music moments were as a sophomore in high school when he formed a rock band.

“We used to sneak into my bedroom at my home and practice. I was teaching everybody their parts.” He said, “I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was using my ear to direct the trombone. We had a trumpet. We had a sax, and I was giving them correct notes. It was a lot of fun.”

An alum of JSU, Taylor also counts his years marching in the tuba section with the illustrious Sonic Boom of the South as an extraordinary period in his life.

Dowell Taylor, JSU interim director of bands, has many musical influences but said Russell Thomas, director of JSU jazz studies, really impressed him and influenced Taylor to join the world of jazz. The two began playing as a duet named T&T connection. From there, they developed groups ranging from quartets to a 40-piece jazz ensemble that plays various events throughout the state. Recently, Taylor's quartet played during the JSU retiree ceremony.

Dowell Taylor, JSU director of bands, has many musical influences but credited Russell Thomas, director of JSU jazz studies, for turning him on to the world of jazz. The two began playing as a jazz duet named T&T connection. From there, they developed groups ranging from quartets to a 40-piece big band that plays various events throughout the state. Recently, Taylor’s quartet played during the JSU retiree ceremony. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

However, his foray into playing the tuba occurred nearly by happenstance. While a student at Powell Junior High School, Taylor longed to be a trumpeter in the band. But his hopes were momentarily dashed when his parents could not afford to purchase the instrument.

Improvising, he then chose the sousaphone, commonly known as a tuba, which was considered school property and he could use at no cost. Hence Taylor “fell in love” with the tuba, and his affair with music evolved.

Fate would again intervene and lead the musician to JSU after his graduation from Callaway High School in 1972. En route to Northwest Mississippi Junior College to begin his collegiate career on a piano scholarship, Taylor decided to stop by the Jackson Mall now known as the Jackson Medical Mall.

“By chance, I heard Jackson State’s band sitting in the parking lot in concert formation playing a tune called ‘Shaft.’” He said, “I was mesmerized. I changed from that point. I redirected my travels and joined the band at Jackson State and never looked back.”

As an undergraduate, Taylor arranged over 100 band selections including the renowned school theme song “Get Ready” originally arranged by John Paul Jones. He also received the “Best All Around Bandsman” award in 1975 – the apogee of honor for a JSU bandsman.

Dowell Taylor, interim director of the University's symphonic band, advises those who are on a similar path to "begin your career in an environment that will allow you to grow and make mistakes." (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Dowell Taylor, director of the University’s symphonic band, advises those who are on a similar path to “begin your career in an environment that will allow you to grow and make mistakes.” (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

After graduating with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music education, Taylor served as director of bands at Mary Holmes Junior College and Kentucky State University. He would then return to Jackson State as director of bands and music technology from 1984-1992.

Under his leadership, the Sonic Boom of the South received countless awards and citations including coverage in national publications like Jet and People magazine. The “Boom” was also special guests at Motown’s 30th Anniversary Celebration in Hollywood and the 1991 NBA All-star basketball game in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Taylor returned to JSU after a 21-year hiatus. Again taking the helm, as director of bands, assistant professor of music and director of music technology.

During his second stint at the HBCU, the Sonic Boom was featured in various media outlets including ESPN the Magazine, a CNN special with anchor Robin Meade and CNN production The American Journey, that chronicled the quest to become a member of the band’s noted drum majors — “J5.”  The “Boom” also performed twice at the Honda Battle of the Bands Showcase of the nation’s top eight marching bands and for a nationally televised New Orleans Saints football game.

The professor also developed the curriculum for the music technology undergraduate degree in 2006 out of a desire for students to stay abreast of current music trends in addition to their traditional music education. The program was subsequently accredited by the National Association for Schools of Music.

Dowell Taylor, interim director of the University's symphonic band, says that the biggest influences impacting bands are cultural, musical and stylistic changes noting that he and his directors have an obligation to educate their students, so they make sure to give them an equalized diet of old and new music. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Dowell Taylor, director of the University’s symphonic band, says that the biggest influences impacting bands are cultural, musical and stylistic changes noting that he and his directors have an obligation to educate their students, so they make sure to give them an equalized diet of old and new music. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

In 2015, Taylor retired from Jackson State University after over 30 years of service and with a list of achievements and honors that could span two football fields. But on Sept.18, 2017, Taylor returned to his alma mater for the third time to again serve as director of bands, assistant professor of music and director of music technology.

“I’m fulfilled. I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve had a lot of successes. I’ve had a lot of fun. But I’m in this unique mode now where I want to share what I have inside of me with up-and-coming directors,” he said, acknowledging his confidence in the music professionals currently in his charge.

He also expresses his appreciation for the support that JSU President Dr. William B. Bynum, the present administration, and the music department have shown the band program.

The seasoned music educator attributes his ability to balance a rigorous schedule and personal life to his understanding wife Vivian, also a JSU alum. Childhood sweethearts, the couple has been married for 42 years and “dating for 50,” said Taylor.

“I was fortunate that my wife was a member of the band from junior high, high school and at JSU, so she understood the band culture.” He explained, “She understood what it took as a student and as a director.”

The couple’s son, David, is a patent and trademark attorney with the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C.

Looking forward to permanently trading in his conductor’s wand for a rod and reel, Taylor said “I bought a boat, and I love to fish. As soon as this round of directing is over, my boat is pointed towards the lake.” He laughs, and it almost sounds like music.

To read Taylor’s full bio click here.