Former Southern University Band Director Isaac Greggs died at the age of 85, Southern University Spokesperson Ed Pratt said Monday afternoon.
Greggs led Southern’s marching band for 36 years before retiring in 2005.
Under his tenure, Southern’s marching band became known as the “Human Jukebox.”
The Human Jukebox, under Greggs’ leadership, played at six Super Bowls, four Sugar Bowls and three presidential inaugurations.
Greggs died on the afternoon that Southern University was celebrating its 100th anniversary in Baton Rouge during ceremonies and resolutions by the Louisiana Legislature.
State Rep. Dalton Honoré was Greggs’ representative and longtime friend. Greggs had been ill for sometime.
“It’s not unexpected, but it’s sad. He was good guy,” Honoré said.
As word spread of his death during the session, both the Louisiana House and state Senate took a few minutes of silence to remember Greggs.
“It’s very ironic that Dr. Greggs passed on Southern University’s day at the Capitol. It was because of his efforts and abilities that led many people in this country to know of Southern University,” said state Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe and chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus.
“Dr. Greggs has been a catalyst for leadership for Southern and this state for many years.”
State. Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, recalled hearing the band practice from his dorm room when he attended Southern University.
Greggs pushed students to study and taught hard work and discipline. “I watched young boys mature into men,” James said.
“When I was a freshman, he knew I didn’t have much money,” said Lawrence Jackson, Southern University’s current band director and who was a member of Greggs’ band from 1971 to 1974. “He knew no one in the band had much money, and he didn’t have much money to work with. So, he went around campus and asked administrators in different areas what kind of money they might have that could help his students out in the band. He wasn’t the kind of band director who would sit behind the desk and prop his feet up. He worked hard.”
Greggs, who was a better classical director than band music director, took Southern to national notoriety, Jackson said. “He had the ability to mesmerise and captivate audiences, and this was all done through his ability to create and entertain.”
“The true testament of his leadership is reflected not only in the number of his students who have become band directors and musicians of note around the country, but the multitude of former band members who, through the dedication and commitment instilled in them by Dr. Greggs, became leaders in their respective chosen careers outside of music,” said James L. Llorens, chancellor of Southern’s Baton Rouge campus. “What he created with our marching band drew thousands of students to Southern University and left fans of the band in cities from Los Angeles to Houston to New York City.”
A Legislative auditor’s formal report in 2005 uncovered $17,000 in false meal receipts for the band. Greggs denied anything to do with it but accepted responsibility saying the loss happened under his management. He personally paid the university $16,781 to cover the loss.
Greggs was inducted into the Louisiana Black History Hall of Fame last year.
The music building on Southern’s Baton Rouge campus was formerly known as The Dubose Music Hall, has now been renamed the Isaac Gregg’s Band Hall.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Robin Miller and Pam Bordelon of The Advocate contributed to this report.