SU’s ‘Human Jukebox’ named 2nd best in USA

It has performed at Super Bowls and inaugurations and appeared in pop music videos.

Now Southern University’s marching band, known for its musicality, its high degree of precision and, most of all, its entertainment value, has the distinction of being named the second-best college marching band in the country.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association released a video Monday on its website listing the “Best Bands in the Land.” Southern’s band, known as the Human Jukebox, was listed below only Ohio State University.

Stanford University, Ohio University and the University of Tennessee took home third, fourth and fifth places on the list.

“Sometimes playing musical instruments just isn’t enough; sometimes you just want to dance. And no band combines those two art forms like the Human Jukebox,” the NCAA video says.

Lawrence Jackson, Southern’s director of bands for the past nine years, called the announcement “an amazing honor” comparable to a college football team being named the second-best in the country.

“I’m very humbled that with all of the outstanding bands across the country, we were included in the top five,” Jackson said.

Some people would argue that Southern’s marching band is more popular than the football team.

The Human Jukebox is surely one of the main attractions during Saturday night Jaguar football games with much of the crowd waiting until after the band has finished its halftime performance before leaving for the concessions.

Southern’s marching band has performed at five Super Bowls, during presidential inaugurations and was featured prominently in the Jonas Brothers single and video “Pom Poms” released earlier this year.

It’s a midsized marching band with a small budget. Southern’s band operates off roughly $500,000 per year, with the band having to raise much of its own money for travel, food and lodging when it goes on the road. Southern’s student body pitched in recently, voting to increase student fees by $5 to support the band.

Jackson, who has experience as a band director stretching nearly four decades, said many of the more prominent bands in the country, including the other four bands on the NCAA list, have multimillion-dollar budgets.

Southern operates with half the staff and a fraction of the money of larger programs, he said.

He said the band has been able to captivate audiences because of its high-energy and attention to detail.

“I always say there’s no business like show business,” Jackson said. “We want to put on a show. We strive for a high level of performance etiquette.”

Putting on one show is an exercise in coordination stretching from a typical Monday when the band practices basic drills accompanied by a single snare drum to a Friday practice where band staff fine-tunes the entire 210-person ensemble, making sure band members’ knees come up to a 90-degree angle and their toes are pointed while marching.

Jackson said there can be as many as 176 individual assignments for band members to master for every drill, such as when the band coordinates to form interlocking parallelograms or to spell out “Jags” before “floating across the field” keeping the same formation.

Another reason for the band’s popularity is the music. Every week, the band debuts new selections, switching from the Temptations to Justin Timberlake to Michael Jackson within a seven-minute performance.

“I believe all of our shows should be rated G for general audiences, but we definitely try to do things that will get the audience excited,” Jackson said. “We try to hit everyone from the teenagers to the people who are 40-plus. For the older groups, they always want to hear some Teddy Pendergrass and the Chi-Lites and maybe some Al Green. And we always keep some Diana Ross on hand.”

Jackson said the band learns as many as 40 songs before the first game of every season. By the end of the year, band members will have mastered around 85 selections.

“We never want anybody to leave the stadium saying, ‘Y’all didn’t play this, or y’all didn’t play that,’ ” Jackson said. “That wouldn’t be the jukebox. We are the Human Jukebox for a reason. You put your quarter in and let us play.”