Delaware State University band director putting down baton

Retiring Delaware State University Director of Bands Randolph J. Johnson has worked a total of 40 years as a music educator and has had two separate tenures at Delaware State University. He was first hired as director of bands in 1990 and worked in that position until 2001. He returned to the university in 2007 and will retire from his career as director of bands and a music educator at DSU. (Submitted photo)

Retiring Delaware State University Director of Bands Randolph J. Johnson has worked a total of 40 years as a music educator and has had two separate tenures at Delaware State University. He was first hired as director of bands in 1990 and worked in that position until 2001. He returned to the university in 2007 and will retire from his career as director of bands and a music educator at DSU. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — Randolph Johnson says there are three things a school’s band must do for a student.

“First, it has to make you a better person,” he said. “Next, it has to make you a better student. Last, and very low on the totem pole, it has to make you a better performer.”

Mr. Johnson, Delaware State University’s director of bands, is retiring after 20 years of directing music at DSU.

Mrs. Johnson has worked a total of 40 years as a music educator and has had two separate tenures at Delaware State University.

He was first hired as director of bands in 1990 and worked in that position until 2001. He returned to the university in 2007.

The Delaware State University Approaching Storm Marching Band is a fixture at area events. (Delaware State News file photo)

The Delaware State University Approaching Storm Marching Band is a fixture at area events. (Delaware State News file photo)

More than 60 of his former students went on to direct their own bands throughout the country. One of those students is 1995 graduate Dr. Carlton Cannon, band director at Cab Calloway School of Arts in Wilmington, and a gospel and jazz artist.

Dr. Cannon said Mr. Johnson influenced him greatly.

“A lot of times, I found myself doing a lot of the things he did,” he said. “He was born being a director. Whoever comes after him has big shoes to fill.”

Mr. Johnson keeps Dr. Cannon’s gospel CD in his office desk. An old picture of Dr. Cannon hangs on Mr. Johnson’s wall next to other former band members.

Like Dr. Cannon, Mr. Johnson’s band director at Southern University influenced him to become a director. His director was his older brother, Roy, who also directed at DSU.

Mr. Johnson said his brother, mother and also his idol, Stevie Wonder, sparked his interest in music.

Mr. Johnson said his past directors used band to make him a better person and he wanted to do the same for students of his own.

“I think our students and band deserve more credit for the positive things they do,” he said.

Mr. Johnson is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and a graduate of Southern University.

He began his professional career as a graduate assistant with the world-famous Southern University Band in 1976.

Prior to his arrival at Delaware State University, he was a high school band director for 11 years in Kansas, Mississippi and his home state of Louisiana.

In 1988, Mr. Johnson received his first appointment as a university director of bands at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina. He was also employed by Winston-Salem State University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, as marching band director and jazz band director before his first tenure at DSU.

After his departure from DSU in 2001, Mr. Johnson was appointed supervisor of music for a school district in the state of New York.

Prior to his return to the university in 2007, Mr. Johnson was employed by Alcorn State University as the Jazz Band director and the coordinator of Music Education for the Music Department.

During his years at Alcorn State University, all 12 of the Music Education majors who took the Praxis exam passed and received certification as music teachers in the state of Mississippi.

Throughout his 20-year career at DSU, the band has had a graduation rate of more than 70 percent.

While Mr. Johnson praised the success of all of his students, he reached for a plaque that sat at the top of his bookshelf. It pictures him standing next to Leah Williams, a former section leader in the school’s Approaching Storm Marching Band, who graduated in 2015 with a 4.0 grade-point average.

The plaque was a gift from Ms. Williams to show her appreciation.

“He teaches us lessons we can use for the rest of our lives,” she said.

She said he taught the men how to be gentlemen, and told the women to accept nothing less.

“He’s definitely like a father figure away from home,” she said.

Mr. Johnson said he shows tough love to his students.

“I’ve had so many students come back and tell me, ‘Mr. Johnson I thought you were the meanest cat on the planet,’” he said.

LaQuita Williams, former drum major and 2016 graduate, described Mr. Johnson as “headstrong.”

“He knows what he wants and he pushes you towards your limit,” she said.

Mr. Johnson has a video of The Approaching Storm performing at an away football game in Philadelphia. The band formed different shapes on the field while they played Maze and Frankie Beverly’s “Before I Let Go.”

Pointed to the drum and tuba players, Mr. Johnson said “I brought them forward to feature them dancing, In most bands, the drums and tubas stand still while the band dances — I wanted to do just the opposite.”

During his tenure, The Approaching Storm performed in Europe, for NFL and NBA games and NASCAR races.

“The most memorable performance for me is when the band participated in the 2009 inaugural parade for President Barack Obama,” Mr. Johnson said.

He said it was memorable because his mother passed away a few months before she could witness Barack Obama becoming the first black president.

“My mother saw him through my eyes,” Mr. Johnson said. “Her child was able to participate in [the inaugural parade] so she was able to participate.”

Mr. Johnson, in retirement, he wants to do whatever his wife Diana wants to do, and spend time with the rest of his family.

“As you get older, you realize how important family is,” he said.

He said he does not know what he’s going to miss most when he retires.

“I think because I gave 100 percent of everything I had throughout my career, that I’ll have no regrets,” he said.

Mr. Johnson said he would be satisfied with his 40-year career if he helped at least one person.

“I believe I’ve truly been blessed to have the career I have,” he said. “I know the students have made me a better band director and a better person.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kristen Griffith is a Dover freelance writer.

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