Music has taken Mendenhall High School’s band director Mark Hudson around the country and landed him in Mendenhall.
Hudson has been a band director for over 28 years and has performed music for the last 48 years. He can play every brass instrument and some piano. However he describes himself as “a terrible wood wind player.”
His biggest musical influences, he says, are mostly jazz trumpeters such as Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and the great Louis Armstrong.
He was born in North Dakota into a musically talented and professionally performing family that included his maternal grandparents. Hudson’s grandfather played the trumpet and his grandmother played piano and sang in a jazz band that performed around the country. His father was the saxophone player in his grandparents’ band.
His grandparents and his parents traveled all over the country playing music and performing for others. Hudson was born in North Dakota while the band was on the road.
He laughed and said, “I have no ties or family in North Dakota, it just happened to be where we were.”
The road was exciting, but Hudson was too young to remember much of it. He said the band played a lot in Las Vegas. Hudson’s mother has a picture of famous musician Louis Armstrong holding him in the pool while he was a baby.
He said his grandparents had a chance to make it big. The pair turned down a booking on The Tonight Show as their goals began to change. As time passed and Hudson became older they decided it was time to settle down and get away from the traveling musician lifestyle.
When Hudson became school aged, the family settled down in Wisconsin and took a house band position. With so many musical influences introduced to him early, Hudson naturally gravitated towards the band.
He began in the school band in the sixth grade, as most band students do, at the age of 11. He initially wanted to be a drummer, but the decision was out of his hands. He said, “Nope. My mom said, ‘Your grandfather has several trumpets laying around,’ so the decision was pretty much made for me.”
He joined the brass ranks like his grandfather, and worked hard to become a great player. He began developing his ear for music at an early age with some natural ability, and continued to improve with age and experience.
He joined the drum and bugle corps at the age of 11 and participated for ten years, when he aged out. When asked what he enjoyed the most about being a member of the corps, he replied, “Traveling during the summer hands down had to be my favorite part.”
After completing his time in the drum corps, he wanted to further his education and his love for music in college. He began at Fullerton Community College in Fullerton, Calif., where he remained for a year. During the 1980’s, the cost of tuition for California residents, which Hudson was at that time, was $5 plus the price of books. But Hudson admitted that he was not taking school seriously and was more focused on his music.
“I did the starving musician thing, and was playing the clubs. I was more into the music.” His opportunities as a musician were plenty. He was able to make more money in one weekend playing with bands than he made in two weeks working his regular job.
Hudson eventually left California, though, and moved to Texas, where his parents were. He attended Southwest Texas State University for the following year. In the summer of 1985 following his year at SWT, he applied for a job in the music department. This application would play a pivotal role in shaping Hudson’s future.
At this point in life Hudson was refocused and prioritizing school, especially since he was paying for his education himself.
He submitted a written application along with a recording of his trumpet playing. While he was being considered for the job his audition tape was passed along to a recruiter from Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss. Delta State’s faculty shared it with their band director, Gary Cook, who immediately called Hudson, recruiting him to attend DSU the following school year on a full scholarship.
Hudson said, “I got the call in early June saying they wanted me to come to Delta State, and once I got there I understood it was a serious opportunity and I took it.”
Hudson packed up all of his things and moved to Mississippi to attend Delta State. Little did he know, but he was in for a culture shock. “In my first year I was thinking like, it can’t be that different from Texas, it’s still the South.” He laughed and said, “I was wrong. I came to Mississippi in 1986 and made one turn and I was in the Delta, and the Delta was a different world.” He quickly adjusted, and though the Mississippi Delta was different, Hudson thrived there.
At Delta State, he learned to play the piano along with every brass instrument, with trumpet and French horn being his favorites. But he joked that while in college, his director begged him not to play the flute because he was “a terrible woodwind player.”
Hudson credited his time under Delta State Band Director Gary Cook as a big inspiration for his pursuit of a career as a band director.
He also met his wife and joined a seven piece band called “The Kracker Jacks Party Band of the South” based out of Greenville, Miss., while at Delta State. Hudson became a member upon recommendation of a professor at DSU, and has been a member for the past 30 years.
The Kracker Jacks had been around for seven years before he joined. He explained they were looking for a horn player, and the rest is history. He joined the band when he was 28 years old. It gave him an opportunity to play professionally but also remain flexible to pursue his career as a band director.
During this time The Kracker Jacks traveled all over the south playing in states like Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, and Arkansas. As a member of the Kracker Jacks, Hudson has opened for performers such as Percy Sledge, BB King and the Doobie Brothers. In their heyday the band would perform 46 out of the 52 weekends in the year, every Friday and Saturday.
However, he said, they do not play nearly as often now as they used to. They play gigs specifically at weddings and private parties, but they do play at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tenn., every February.
After graduating from DSU, Hudson pursued his dream of being a band director. His high school band director at David Crockett High School, Paula Crider, was very influential in his decision. Crider was another accomplished musician who impacted Hudson’s life. She is Professor Emeritus of Conducting at the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas.
He began his career at Florence High School as assistant director for three years under Joe Welch of Mendenhall. Hudson said he learned a lot under Welch before moving into the head director’s role for seven more years at Florence High School.
Since beginning his career, Hudson has been the band director at several small schools. He spent three years at Forest Hill High School, five years at Scott Central, and four years at Siwell Middle School. Hudson explained that his favorite part of being a director is the showmanship and unpredictable nature of the job. He said, “I love putting together marching band shows, and I love that something different happens every day.”
From a personal standpoint he explained the gratification he receives from coming to small programs and seeing how good he can make them. He said, “I like the challenge of working at the type of schools that I’ve worked at, smaller schools, that don’t have access to a lot of resources. It’s more satisfying to take a group that may be unknown and help them get notoriety in the band world.”
Hudson has found his niche in making small bands competitive. He said he has never put a marching band on the field that did not score all “1’s” at band contest. He smiled and said, “Yeah, I’ve had a pretty good run at that.”
Hudson has been at Mendenhall High School for the last six years, and the band program has excelled tremendously, growing and gaining the respect and attention of other bands around the state. Last year the Tiger Pride Marching Band competed at the State Championship and finished third.
Music has been a part of Mark Hudson’s life since the day he was born. It has been the driving force behind many of his life lessons. It has taught him the value of hard work, the importance of setting goals, and how to make the most of every opportunity. Music has given him an avenue to touch young lives, and share his passion with others.
“If you would have told me in 1985 that I’d be in Mississippi for the next 30 years I would have called you crazy. But I can’t imagine myself doing anything else professionally.”