“I am what’s necessary to improve the life of the students I encounter." - Kenyatte Hughes
SOYYO: What is your current role in Soul Tigers?
KH: I’m the founder and executive director of the Soul Tigers marching band. As the executive director I oversee day to day operation of Soul Tigers Marching Band, Inc., Monitor music and performance skills, set up shows and performances, interview impending candidates for employment and relieve those who don’t work out, maintain program’s budget, Assist in the writing of grants, Cultivate strong relationships with parents, Attend all relevant school and community meetings, and teach the band. Amongst other things.
S: Why did you come back to Soul Tigers?
KH: I came back to the Soul Tigers because it was the foundation of my marching band experience. Band changed my life forever, and I’ve been directing the Soul Tigers for 16 years now. I changed a few things as it pertains to the colors of the band, made it into a non – profit, trademarked the logo, and name.
The Soul Tigers Originally started at P.S. 137 in Brownsville, Brooklyn in 1970, under the direction of Connie McMillian. I started with the Soul Tigers when I was in third grade, it was my first experience with a marching band. When I returned from the Marines and I decided I wanted to start a marching band. I couldn’t decide on a name, but I knew the band that I came from did not exist. I called Connie to ask if I could use the name, and she gave me her blessing. She said she was waiting for someone to pick up the mantle, and she was very happy it was me. Connie comes around every now and then, she stopped directing the band because of health issues.
S: Did your time with Soul Tigers change the way you thought about everyday life?
KH: My time in the Soul Tigers did change what I thought about everyday life. It showed me what hard work was and changed the “I can’t” to “I can do anything, I put my mind to”.
The Soul Tigers was only the beginning of my marching band career. After graduating P.S. 137, I went to the Jackie Robinson Steppers and learned more about marching band from its director John Walker an Alumnus of Grambling State University’s Tigers Marching Band. I learned even more about the southern style of marching and HBCU’s (Historically Black College’s and Universities) and what they had to offer Black Americans. I still take Soul Tigers on College tours, it’s the main reason we do what we do. To see students, graduate and attend college. Music is only one aspect of what we do at the Soul Tigers.
S: How has it influenced you in your career?
KH: I wanted to be a lot of things when I was growing up. My love for music period pushed me into marching band. I wound up turning the Soul Tigers into a non-profit and this is how I make my living.
S: How many members are in your band?
KH: Right now, we have about thirty members, but it grows every year. Marching band is not as big here as it is down south. Even in the South, marching bands on the High School level and the College level have been taking huge hits to it’s funding. Many directors like myself use our own paychecks to keep the programs running.
S: What's a day to day routine like?
KH: Well, Monday thru Friday band practice is from 2:30pm – 7:00pm, and Wednesday we have our conversation circle where we talk about issues that affect us as a people or just personal issues that the kids might want to vent about. Some days we go to sections where the students work on things that were taught the day before and some days we have full band practice where all the sections come together and work on new and old material.
S: How are new routines inspired?
Our Percussion Instructor Osei smith is the heart of the percussion section, the music and the arrangements come from him, it’s either original or inspired by band on the college level that he and I enjoy listening to.
S: How many hours a day do you guys practice a day? A week?
KH: Band practice is life, so our students give up a lot to be in band. We practice 6 days a week 2:30 -7:00pm during the school year and 9:00am – 6:00 during the summer. The summer is also when we get new students, either incoming freshmen or Students who enter our summer program.
S: Tell me more about what your mission is.
KH: Our Mission objectives and attendant outcomes are comprehensive and use music education as the conduit to develop these young people on the cusp of adulthood so that they may reach their personal potential and be assets to the community at large.
We also plan to bring our type of musical performance overseas, to other countries, schools, and students that might me interested in learning how to play an instrument and perform around the world. We want this program to be able to take students from where ever they come from and allow them to see the rest of the world through music. As they travel the world we would like them to do so while keeping in mind that we want them to earn a degree, and use the band as a catalyst to escape whatever they may be going through at home.