Taniesa L. Sullivan | The Weekly Ledger News
Gadsden, Ala. — Desmond Mitchell is bringing his experience and talent as a conductor, instructor, and musician to Gadsden State Community College, where he was recently announced as the new director of the popular Gadsden State Show Band and Singers. He replaces Dr. Matt Leder, who was named band director at Calhoun Community College in August.
“The Gadsden State Show Band has a very rich tradition of musical excellence that spans 56 years,” said Mario Gallardo, chair of Gadsden State’s Division of Fine Arts. “It started under the direction of Dewey Countryman in 1966 followed by Rip Reagan, who achieved national recognition and produced generations of musicians and educators. Dr. Leder continued that legacy and cultivated a vibrant music scene with the creation of the GSCC Jazz Festival. We look forward to seeing the Show Band continue to grow under the direction of Mr. Mitchell.”
Mitchell fell in love with jazz music when he was 14 years old. As a student at Etowah High School, he excelled as a saxophone and tuba player. After high school graduation in 1999, he enrolled at Alabama State University, where he was a member of the ASU Mighty Marching Hornets Band, and he earned a bachelor’s degree in music education in 2003. Mitchell landed the position of band director for the Anniston High School Marching Band right after college. Under his direction, the band won over 200 superior ratings, performed in the Citrus Bowl Parade and the Magic City Classic Parade, and performed for ambassadors from the Netherlands.
“I’m proud of what we accomplished at Anniston High School,” he said. “I always had a group of hard workers who loved music and loved the marching band. It’s hard for me to pinpoint some of our highlights because we did so much.”
While working as a band director, Mitchell continued his education. He earned a master’s degree in music education in 2007 from Jacksonville State University and a second master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Alabama in 2016. In addition to working full-time and tackling challenging college coursework, he formed TAD of Jazz, a local band that entertains at festivals, wedding receptions, sorority and fraternity galas, and other private events. He also stayed busy raising his children, Adarius, 23, and Layla, 10, with his wife, Dr. Janekia Mitchell, the dean of Student Services at Gadsden State.
“We have led a very busy life, but I wouldn’t change it for the world,” he said. “It’s time to slow down a little bit but I’m still going to work hard.”
After working in secondary education for 19 years, Mitchell decided it was time for a change.
“I find the job at Gadsden State to be interesting; to be an opportunity for me to push along the musical careers of talented student-musicians,” he said. “This College and this Show Band serve as a pipeline to greater things. I want to see my students go on to music programs at four-year universities or pursue a career as full-time musicians. I want to aid in their process of getting into music; to be that link to a really cool career.”
Mitchell started his new role at Gadsden State on Sept. 12 and said he has thoroughly enjoyed it so far.
“It’s very different but in a good way,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy working with people who are so talented. We have a great group of players and singers. They have a really great foundation already. I just have to put things together and provide them with new material and challenges.”
Mitchell couples his role as a band director with the instructor of Music Appreciation classes. He also teaches applied classes to students on the saxophone, trumpet, and trombone. He said he’s in the process of setting personal goals as well as goals for the music program, including providing students with professional-level performance opportunities.
“I’d like to take them to perform at music educator conferences, like the Alabama Music Educators Association Conference,” he said. “I’d like to take them to the Midwest Clinic in Chicago. It’s the largest conference for music educators. People come from all over the world to attend. It will be so cool to have Gadsden State represented there.”
Mitchell said he intends for the Show Band’s popularity to continue and for it to be an important part of Gadsden State.
“We want to be embedded deeply in the college experience for our students and in our communities,” he said. “I want people to immediately think of the Gadsden State Show Band when they hear Gadsden, Alabama. I want us to be a big deal for not only our college but for our entire service area.”
Mitchell said he’s glad to be a part of the Gadsden State family.
“I’m so comfortable here already,” he said. “It feels like home.”
For more information about the Gadsden State Show Band and other fine arts programs, visit gadsdenstate.edu/finearts.
Gadsden State Community College