Sometimes Roy King thinks about how he landed here — at LSU, directing the Golden Band from Tigerland.
“It’s one of those situations where you can say you were in the right place at the right time,” he says, laughing. “I’d never planned on directing a college band. I came back here to get my master’s degree because I wanted to be a great high school band director. I never dreamed I would one day be the Tiger Band’s director.”
But now, the office once occupied by former Director of Bands Frank Wickes belongs to King, who captained the LSU band’s drumline under Wickes in the early 1980s. In 1996, King came back to LSU as a graduate assistant.
Now, he’s in his fifth year as the marching band’s director, a job that became his after a series of staffing shifts. Wickes retired in 2011, and then Associate Director Linda Moorhouse left for a directing job in Illinois. King was the assistant director at the time.
King entered his 20th year in the band’s administration with the Tigers’ kickoff of the 2015 football season, and he has no regrets.
“The band is the reason I get out of bed every morning,” he says. “I tell the kids that every day.”
A lot has happened in King’s short tenure in his official position as director of athletic bands. The new Tiger Band Hall became a reality — the old one was too small for the band when it was built in 1959, and was an ever tighter fit for today’s 325-piece ensemble.
The band also has made two international appearances — performing in Hong Kong in 2011 with the Golden Girls, and in Ireland in 2014 when the full band traveled to march in Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The Huffington Post named the Tiger Band to its top 10 list of “The Best Marching Bands for 2011-12,” and King received a surprise when the Phi Beta Mu International Bandmasters Fraternity named him Band Director of the Year in 2013.
“I was nominated without my knowledge, so I knew nothing about it until they called me,” King says.
Not bad for a guy who didn’t plan on a life in music. His dad was a commercial fisherman, and King was ready to pack for maritime college in Baltimore after graduation from Abramsom High School in New Orleans.
But his plans to be an engineer on a ship were deflected by his love for music, which came by way of his maternal grandmother, a gifted pianist.
She couldn’t read music, but she could play any song after hearing it once, sometimes better than the original version, he recalled.
“I remember our family going to a Mardi Gras ball with her in the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans at a time when there was a musicians’ strike,” King says. “They didn’t have a group to play for them. Someone knew my grandmother was a pianist and asked her to play, and she played the entire night. I was so impressed. I thought it was a big deal.”
King spent a lot of his childhood days with his grandmother, and she taught him to play songs by writing numbers on the piano keys. His parents bought his first clarinet from the Sears catalog — an instrument he considered as good as gold at the time and played in his junior high and high school bands. King switched to drums after changing his maritime plans for LSU.
“All of my college roommates were percussionists, and they help me learn to play drums,” he says. “I eventually became the captain of the drumline. I was the one who did the count for the drums at ‘pregame.’”
King met his wife, Monya, in the Tiger Band. She was a member of the Colorguard, as their daughter, Olivia, is today. The Kings have made a tradition of marching at halftime with the LSU Alumni Band each season so they can be on the field as a family.
“I’m the first LSU band director who has marched with the band,” King says. “And this will be the final year Monya and I march, because it’s Olivia’s fourth year in the band. Last year, the Colorguard captains put Olivia in the spot where her mom marched in pregame. That means a lot.”
Before coming to LSU, King taught at high schools in Kentucky, Georgia and Florida, finally settling at Pine Forest High School in Pensacola for 10 years. His Pine Forest band performed at a band festival at Loyola University in New Orleans. It was the only time his dad heard any of his bands.
“My sister brought him to the performance, and his eyesight wasn’t good, but he knew I was directing,” King says. “She said she looked over and saw tears coming out of his eyes. See, I was the first person in my family to go to college. I’m not sure if Dad related to musical things, but there was something in that performance that touched him.”
King’s dad died the year before he was picked to lead the Golden Band from Tigerland.
Now, King is looking to a future of possibilities for the band, which, he says, keeps getting better.
“I don’t know of any program that can say it got stronger after losing 50 percent of its scholarship money to state budget cuts, but this band did,” King says. “The Athletic Department picked up the stipends. This band remains strong, and it’s definitely true when I tell them that they’re the reason I get out of bed everyday.”