Butterflies turn to bumblebees in Darrin Bedell’s stomach.
It happened the first time he narrated a Human Jukebox show, and it’s still happening two decades later. Nerves get the best of him, but they’ve never kept him away. Neither does lack of pay.
Bedell entered his 20th year as Southern University’s “Voice of the Human Jukebox” at the beginning of the 2015 football season. He volunteers his time and his mileage commuting from New Orleans to Baton Rouge and back.
But he’s not complaining.
“I love it, and it’s definitely a labor of love for me,” Bedell says. “I’m going to keep being the voice until I can’t do it anymore.”
Bedell never aspired to be the “Voice.” He even at first refused the job after being appointed by late SU Director of Bands Isaac “Doc” Greggs.
He was a tuba player in the band from 1988-92, majoring in broadcast journalism. Former Jukebox voice Henry Lee resigned during this time, and Greggs opened a search for someone new.
Then Assistant Directors Lawrence Jackson and Carnell Knighten recommended Bedell. “I never wanted to do it,” Bedell says, laughing. “They had to wrestle me into Doc’s office.
He knew I was majoring in broadcast journalism, but he was so busy with the band that he didn’t think about it at the time. I started working as a graduate assistant. They said I had the voice for it.”
And they’re still saying it.
Jackson was named director of bands after Greggs’ retirement in 2005. The transition was easy for Bedell, as was the transition to Nathan Haymer’s directorship after Jackson’s 2014 retirement.
“Tradition is strong here, because the staff is chosen from the band’s family,” Bedell says. “Tradition is important, and it’s why the Human Jukebox stays strong.”
Those familiar with this tradition know that the “Voice” is as much a part of the band’s performance as the marching, music and showmanship. Bedell is a narrator who draws the crowd into the performance.
Sometimes Bedell narrates from the press box, sometimes from the sidelines, always in his staff uniform.
“Either way works for me,” he says. “I can get a good view from the press box, but the sideline is more personal, because I’m there with the band.”
And while Bedell earned his bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, then his master’s degree in mass media, he worked as a substitute teacher in East Baton Rouge Parish Schools to earn extra money.
That changed everything. He loved teaching.
Bedell earned his teaching certificate and never looked back. He’s now the disciplinarian at Landry-Walker High School in New Orleans, where he also coaches baseball.
The only time he uses his broadcasting skills is the job he never wanted — the job he says he will never give up.
“I’m 45, and I’ve been here so long that I’m now the oldest on staff,” Bedell says. “I knew the current staff here when they were freshmen, including Nathan Haymer. Now they’re running the band, and I’m still here.”
He’s there at the band’s Friday night rehearsal before a Saturday game. He’s there when the band boards buses to travel to an away game. And he’s there when the band performs at New Orleans Saints games, Battle of the Bands competitions and even Super Bowls.
“The years go by, but the kids don’t change,” Bedell says. “It’s funny to watch them. The freshmen come in and act like freshmen, and it’s fun to watch them grow over the years from freshmen who don’t know anything to seniors who know everything.
“That never changes.”