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When the Grambling State University (GSU) World Famed Tiger Marching Band takes to the field on Saturday for the State Fair Classic in Dallas, many will see something they’ve never seen before — a female band director!
Dr. Nikole Roebuck knows she is in an elite club, especially on the collegiate level and she goes about her business with a smile and a resolve that comes with the knowledge that she is directing one of the premier marching bands in the world.
Roebuck has the distinction of being one of only four to serve as band director at an Historically Black College and University (HBCU).
Tomisha Brock of Clark Atlanta University and Dr. Kerry Anne Simon of Mississippi Valley State University who were appointed in 2017 and in early 2019 welcomed Roebuck later in 2019.
In November 2019, Roebuck and Simon made Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) history as two female-led HBCU bands performed for the first time. Roebuck and Simon are two of four active HBCU female band directors — Juliet Boykins of Elizabeth City State and Fayesha Cousins of Virginia Union are the other two.
Roebuck chairs the University’s Music Department, in addition to directing the band and under her leadership, in 2021 Grambling also named its first female drum major in more than 70 years. According to GSU historians, Velma Patricia Patterson served through 1952.
A graduate of Grambling State University, Roebuck still remembers her days in the band and participating in band camps. There were long nights and intense sessions that helped with developing work ethic and building character; while also gaining friendships that last a lifetime.
Roebuck also says she realizes that the students today are somewhat “different” with “different” ways of processing information and taking instruction.
Her focus, she said during a recent interview with Texas Metro News, has been on adapting and pivoting to ensure that the band experience is just as rewarding for students today as it was for her when she stepped into formation with the Marching Tigers.
Coming from the small Louisiana town, Minden, which is located 28 miles east of Shreveport and about 37 miles west of Grambling, Roebuck has traveled extensively and welcomed the opportunity to represent her alma mater and assume the director position.
Grambling State University is a place where not only did she meet her future husband and pledged her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta; but it is also where she marched in the band and then returned to teach and serve as assistant band director.
A graduate of GSU’s Music Education program, she received her Master of Music from the University of Louisiana-Monroe in 2005 and her Doctor of Philosophy in Music Education from the University of Memphis in 2009. And as someone who has achieved academic excellence, Roebuck shares her journey with students as she encourages them to take advantage of any and all opportunities to better themselves and help others.
GSU is known for pouring as much into those students who are not athletes and those student-athletes because, she said, “Grambling is a school where everybody is somebody.”
Realizing that the band members must feel that they are valued, she explained that when they step out to perform anywhere, it is because they are students first, and they have to perform in the classroom in order to keep their scholarships and play in the band.
The motto for the band is “Always on time, in the right frame of mind and ready to go to work,” said Roebuck, adding that being in the band helps separate the “strong from the weak.”
She has also established lifelong relationships and being in the band taught her time management. “I have friends now, 26 years later, and it’s like we are sisters.”
According to Roebuck, in addition to each band member being assigned a tutor, other measures are taken to ensure student success.
When they are traveling, a nurse practitioner, a trainer and a sports psychologist are part of the group.
“I want to have a positive impact on every student,” she explained, noting that as she instills those traits into students that were instilled into her, she does have to realize there are clear distinctions. I think the teaching methods our band directors had will not work for this new generation,” she said.
But as a parent of a teenager, she uses some of the same principles and techniques that she uses at home. “My ultimate goal is for them to come to school and graduate. Whatever they need, if I don’t have what they need, we get it. That’s my job!”
And as the “World Famed” prepare for this battle of the Bands, that balance of “fluffy love and tough love” will have them marching on the field full of confidence and pride.
Proud of their school, proud of their band members and proud of their band director!
Cheryl Smith is the Publisher of I Messenger Media, which includes the publications: Texas Metro News, Garland Journal and I Messenger. She also hosts a radio talk show, Cheryl’s World, on Blog Talk Radio and is the current Secretary of the National Association of Black Journalists and Regional President of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Smith has more than 40 years in the industry, and before founding I Messenger Media in 2011, she worked as a show host of PAX-TV’s “The Ester Davis Show.”