This Mississippi Marching Band is Famous for Its Electrifying Performances

Jackson State University’s Sonic Boom of the South marching band has delighting football fans—and beyond—since 1971.

Sonic Boom of the South
Photo: Cedric Angeles

Around these parts, college football is king, but in Jackson, Mississippi, another contender competes for the public's attention when fall rolls around each year. The Sonic Boom of the South, Jackson State University's marching band, is an award-winning program with a longstanding legacy of excellence. Last fall, the near-300-student marching band and Prancing J-Sette dance line celebrated 50 years under the name Sonic Boom with a rousing homecoming performance that brought back dozens of school alumni to take the field once again.

Led by five drum majors, who strutted onto the field with tasseled hats flying, the band gave one of its most electrifying performances yet. There was plenty of high stepping, jumping, and dancing—and of course the signature booming sound for which the group was named. The performance was particularly special for band director Dr. Roderick Little, a former Sonic Boom drum major who has helmed the program since the summer of 2020 and is now the youngest director in school history.

"This is something I take very seriously not just for the sake of the Sonic Boom of the South being on par with other band programs and being the best program in the nation, but more importantly in making sure that our students are successful."

Though the band performed for nearly 54,000 attendees at homecoming, it was far from their largest audience to date. In 2021 alone, they performed at the presidential inauguration and in a Pepsi commercial. Over the years, they've also made appearances at the NAACP Image Awards, played for Motown, and performed during NFL halftime shows.

Though they prepare and perform as professionals—with daily practices and rehearsals often lasting until 10 p.m. or later—the highly talented musicians and athletes that make up the Sonic Boom are between 18 and 22 years old. They're fulltime students, many on band scholarships, juggling classes, social lives, and being away from the families for the first time. Most agree that being a part of Sonic Boom has felt like having a home away from home.

Sonic Boom of the South
Cedric Angeles

"They're my family," junior trumpet player Marice Graham says. "People say, 'Band is not your life,' but for the Sonic Boom of the South, you will look back on this as a huge part of your life. Being part of this band makes me feel like I have a place to belong."

Senior Marvin Garcia Meda, who made history this year as the band's first Hispanic head drum major, agrees that it's the familial atmosphere that sets Sonic Boom apart from other collegiate marching band programs.

"What the Sonic Boom means to me is family," he explains. "All my people are here from different states and different cultures, but at the end of the day, all those differences make us stronger and better through everything."

Sonic Boom of the South
Cedric Angeles

The Sonic Boom of the South is far from your typical college extracurricular. It's proven to be an integral part of the Jackson community and will continue to create legacies and traditions for years to come. For Little, the experience of being the Boom's band director is a full-circle moment that started when he was just a pre-teen.

"My middle school band director was a Jackson State graduate and he used to show us tapes of the Sonic Boom," he remembers. "Of course, I didn't know who the band was, but I knew the blue looked good and they had nice straight lines."

Roderick Little
Cederic Angeles

A few years later, Little would be donning the same powder blue. A couple years after that, he'd lead the band as a drum major. And several more later, he'd return home to give back to the program that had such a resounding impact on his life.

"Going to JSU was absolutely one of the best experiences of my life because it catapulted me and molded me into the educator that I am today," he says. "Taking a program that's already been revered on a high level and taking it to a higher level has been a challenge, but it's an opportunity that I don't take for granted."

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