It was a rainy night in Lafayette, Louisiana and the Southern University football team faced off against University of Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL) on August 30, 2014. The score at halftime was 24-0 in favor of ULL, but despite the rain and the lopsided score no one left the stands for concessions at halftime. The anticipation was building on exactly how would the Human Jukebox appear under Nathan Haymer’s leadership.
And then it happened. The Human Jukebox took the field like a storm! The crowd let out a simultaneous thunderous roar and Nathan gave the signal to his drum major to start the show! Both Southern and ULL fans remained on their feet the whole performance. The Human Jukebox put on a memorable show, performing dance moves to the hit song “Happy” which led to a post-game tweet of approval from Pharrell himself.
I’ve been a witness for the last 40 years to a man who has constructed an insurmountable musical legacy that will one day be compared to great musicians in this nation. As Nathan’s fraternal twin brother, I would like to shed some light on the dedication it takes to become The Maestro.
I remember being 7 years old and seated in the stands with Nathan at a very crowded Southern University football game in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1985. We were like two small flowers in a crowded forest of trees, trying to maneuver our line of sight just to see the field. People surrounded us with their flasks of whiskey, dressed from head to toe in Southern’s “blue and gold” all while standing to their feet every thirty seconds with each throw of the ball. My mother was so into the game yelling at the “cheating referees” as I watched with intensity at every first down made.
Nathan was staring in the opposite direction of the football field. His eyes were focused like laser beams on the producers of the soundtrack of Southern’s football prowess…the Southern University Human Jukebox. With every swing of the Director’s arms, clash of the cymbals, telescoping of the trombones and rhythmical sway of the Fabulous Dancing Dolls, Nathan was officially hypnotized.
In 1991, his first instrument was a beat-up French horn with a used mouthpiece. Nathan worked hours to repair the horn and once he started playing, he was immediately exiled to the backyard for the sake of our mental and eardrum health. Nathan put in hours, days, weeks and months of repetitive exercising on that raggedy French horn. While all of our friends were out playing basketball in the street, we could hear Nathan in the backyard blaring away ignoring the fluttering birds, the howling dogs and the shouts of disapproval from the neighbors.
By high school, Nathan mastered many of the instruments in his marching band and became obsessed with marching formations. In our neighborhood, being in the band wasn’t cool at all, friends would call him the “Urkel of Musicians” which Nathan oddly took as a compliment as he marched his way to becoming the drum major of the Gulfport High Marching Band his senior year in high school. When he met his idol, the legendary Dr. Isaac Greggs, Director of Bands at Southern, that within ten seconds of sitting down with him he became duty-bound to his first love the Southern University Human Jukebox for life.
After graduating from Southern, Nathan wanted to fulfill his goal of becoming a band director. He wanted to focus on kids who grew up like him, whose parents didn’t have much money or access to formal music training. He believed that playing in the band should be placed on a pedestal just like playing on the football field. Although the marching band is an art form and football is athletics, Nathan would often say that they both took years of training, dedication and a skill that could help pay your way through college. In 2001, Nathan became the band director at Washington Marion High School in Lake Charles, Louisiana and I swear his band could put many college bands to shame. In 2006, he returned to Southern as an assistant band director to Mr. Lawrence Jackson where he further refined his skills as a composer, an arranger, and a teacher becoming an instant student favorite for his quote worthy advice.
In the summer of 2014, Mr. Lawrence Jackson suddenly retired leaving Southern University scrambling to figure out who would lead the world famous Human Jukebox. Officials were uncertain if the 36-year-old assistant director had the wherewithal to lead their prized possession. Being that there was no time to open a full search for a band director prior to the football season, Nathan was named the Interim Director of Bands of Southern University fulfilling a lifelong dream since that night in the stands in 1985.
Nathan helped bring the Human Jukebox into the new millennium by leading the effort to develop a Human Jukebox logo and merchandising, a Human Jukebox app and even lobbying Louisiana State Legislature for its approval of a Human Jukebox license plate.
This band’s halftime show remains a must-see in person but now a whole new generation of Human Jukebox lovers have been created through Nathan’s social media platforms on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. The use of social media to reach out to alumni and the next generation of students is powerful because the young Nathan for years couldn’t view his beloved Human Jukebox during his childhood, following the divorce of our parents and our family’s relocation.
Today the Human Jukebox has millions of followers and viewership more than any other HBCU band in the nation. It was the Human Jukebox that was named the #2 band in the nation only second to Ohio State University, with Nathan this year being named National Band Director of the Year. Today, there are hundreds of kids scrambling to Southern from New Jersey, Texas, Ohio, Michigan and other states across this nation just attend a high school summer band camp in June which started off years ago as a camp just for the locals. These kids will become future students, which makes the Human Jukebox the best recruitment tool for Southern University.
Recently, Southern University terminated my brother from his band director position and as leader of the world famous Human Jukebox, after a series of inaccurate stories about how he allegedly handled the band’s finances. He is appealing the university’s decision. Despite the recent unfair treatment, people like Nathan Haymer deserve our admiration and respect for the mountains that he climbed to achieve the success that was far from effortless and never guaranteed.
Nathan Haymer’s success story is what Southern University and other HBCUs are all about. You don’t just wake up one morning and have others call you The Maestro. You have to earn it. And from the football field to the red carpet at the Grammy’s, my brother has used the power of music to connect with the heart and souls of people across this nation.
Niles Haymer is a Southern University alumnus, the fraternal twin brother of Nathan Haymer and practices law in Baton Rouge.