HBCU band director of the year award is ‘badge of honor’ for Jackson State maestro
Sonic Boom of the South leader Roderick Little credits musicians for his win
When Jackson State University director of bands Roderick Little signaled the first downbeat of the Sonic Boom of the South’s 2022 season at last year’s Orange Blossom Classic, he also began laying the foundation for what would become an award-winning year.
Best American Craftsman (B.A.C.) Musical Instruments, a custom instrument manufacturer in Kansas City, Missouri, named Little the 2022 HBCU band director of the year during the company’s inaugural Greatest of All Times (G.O.A.T.) award ceremony in December. Jackson State announced the honor publicly in late January.
“It was a humbling experience to know I was in [the] running to be recognized as the HBCU band director of the year,” Little said. “I take it as a badge of honor to be the first representative of HBCU band directors, as we share a common goal to enrich our students with education.”
B.A.C. Musical Instruments founder and president Michael Corrigan created the award after attending the National Battle of the Bands in Houston in August and witnessing the crowds that packed NRG Stadium. The energy of the participating marching band programs – and the excitement of those watching – drove the B.A.C. staff to create an award of significance focused on historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and their band directors.
“HBCU band directors do so much more than just being a band director, which inspired this award,” Corrigan said. “It’s beyond music education in so many ways but is about music education at the same time, and Dr. Little did a great job of practicing just that.”
Ten head band directors from HBCUs across the country, including notables such as Brian Simmons of The Ocean of Soul at Texas Southern and James Oliver of Alabama State’s Mighty Marching Hornets, submitted nominations for the award based on showmanship, musicianship and service to students inside and outside the band room.
Increased attention on Jackson State during the 2022 football season due to then-head coach Deion Sanders raised expectations for the band to introduce new content weekly. Little worked to keep the Sonic Boom of the South brand polished, implementing new tunes for the Zero Quarter pregame shows, and the 5th Quarter postgame performances, and new halftime shows to keep performances fresh.
Besides performing signature selections such as Doug E. Fresh’s “The Show” and Portrait’s “Here We Go Again,” the band showcased hits such as Xavier Omär’s “Blind Man,” Lil Durk’s “What Happened to Virgil” and a rendition of the popular TikTok hit “The King’s Affirmation” by Iniko.
Little began his relationship with the Sonic Boom of the South as a member from 2003-2006, serving as a percussionist in the War and Thunder drumline and eventually becoming a part of the Jackson Five drum major squad. Several years later, Little decided to give back to his alma mater and returned in 2012 as assistant band director. He was promoted to associate director of bands in 2013 and to marching band director in 2015.
Dowell Taylor, Little’s predecessor as director of bands, saw Little’s potential early in his career.
“I had Rod do an arrangement of ‘Georgia on My Mind’ for the 2015 Honda Battle of the Bands for one of the biggest shows of my career, and he arranged the hell out of it,” Taylor said. “At that point, I knew the program was in for a bright, successful future.”
Little continued to build momentum with the program, and Jackson State named him director of bands in 2020 following Taylor’s retirement.
Little’s confidence has grown while directing on the podium, inspiring him to adopt a self-described “alter ego.” Once Little drops the downbeat to a tune, he turns to face the opposing band and pump himself up as the Sonic Boom grooves in unison.
“It’s a perfect reaction of my students putting forth their best effort and me presenting to the world what we’ve been working on while enjoying ourselves,” Little said.
Little credits the Sonic Boom with helping him earn the HBCU band director of the year award – he believes in the phrase “one band, one sound” and maintains an academic standard for the student musicians.
“Dr. Little came to us [students] with open arms and offered his help and mentorship in any way he possibly can, because he just wants us to be great,” said head drum major Marvin Garcia Meda. “His greatness reflects on us, which reflects in our performances as bandsmen.”
Little’s overall goal is to find ways to leave his imprint on the band while keeping its rich traditions such as the “Tiger Run-On,” a 1,000-step-per-minute shuffle to bring the band on the field.
“I’m charged with keeping everything intact while putting my spin on the program,” Little said. “Our template moving forward to maintain future success is quality, musicality, great showmanship and student success in every aspect.”