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FAMU Appoints New Band Director, Sylvester Young

After an incredibly difficult 18 months, Florida A&M is turning a new page by announcing the appointment of a new marching band director, Sylvester Young. Young is a 1969 FAMU graduate and former marching band member, who was also a music professor and previous band director at Ohio University, where he worked for nearly 25 years.

Though Young, 66, is scheduled to start work on June 14, the band will not be able to to perform again until  the FAMU interim president, Larry Robinson, grants clearance.

The school has been reeling since the November 2011 death of drum major Robert Champion. In the wake of his death, a dozen students who played in the school’s famed marching band with Champion face up to 15 years in prison.

In addition, a report from Florida state officials released in December claims that the school did not abide by state hazing laws for years prior to Champion’s death.

The Florida Board of Governors’ 32-page report detailed the school’s inability to prevent or counter-attack hazing, specifically making note of a lack of communication between university officials and the area police department.

The scandal led to the resignation of the president James H. Ammons.

Champion’s family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the school, claiming that the university failed to act against hazing. The family also turned down a reported $300,000 settlement from FAMU.

At a news conference announcing the appointment of Young, Robinson indicated that with the selection of a new band director, he is a step closer to reaching a decision on when the band can return to the field.

Robinson called Young a “talented and experienced administrator, musician and scholar who I believe will provide strong discipline, leadership and vision for the Marching ‘100.’”

“Dr. Young has had a stellar career as director of bands at several universities and I am looking forward to Young continuing the great traditions of the Marching “100,” when we deem it ready to return to the field,” he said in a prepared statement.

FAMU officials will decide, in consultation with Young, who will be eligible to play with the band and which types of events the band will participate in initially. Robinson also indicated that the band could be smaller than in previous years.

Young also cautioned that “we just can’t put them back on the field,” even if they are ready performance-wise.

“We’ve got to change the culture of the band,” Young said. “Other schools are watching us very closely. We can actually come out of this being an icon for all other universities.”

Young has a doctorate degree in music education from the University of Missouri-Columbia. From 1990 to 2011, he was an associate professor of music at Ohio University —teaching courses in marching band techniques, jazz ensemble methods, computer skills for musicians and instrumentation — and he directed the school’s marching band  from 1990 to 1996, according to the Ohio University marching band’s website. 

He also served as director of bands at Hampton University from 1982 to 1990 and Lincoln University from 1979 to 1982.

Young said he actually was preparing for retirement when colleagues around the country began calling, urging him to apply for the band-director position at FAMU.

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