Woman of color leads Longhorn Band for second time in history

Nicole Stuessy

Standing in front of the Longhorn Band during the first home game of the season, drum major Jessica Martinez couldn’t help but sing along as she conducted.

The show, ‘Viva!’, was a mix of songs from Latin American artists Shakira, Santana and Selena — someone who Martinez, a music education senior, has grown up listening to.

“I love her music, and it’s always been a part of my life,” Martinez said of Selena. “To get to perform a show of such a powerful Hispanic leader and to get to perform that show for a huge audience was amazing.”

Martinez is the fourth female and second woman of color drum major to lead the Longhorn Band since it was founded in 1900. Women were not allowed to join the band until 1956 and could not serve as section leaders until the early 1970’s, which helps explain the absence of women in that role, band director Scott Hanna said. 

Martinez said she was aware of the lack of women who previously held the role when trying out but has always seen herself as a leader since she joined band in middle school.

“It just kind of felt like a natural thing to me to want to be up there leading the group, and getting to lead something as big and as famous as Longhorn Band,” Martinez said. “Although it was scary, it still feels sort of natural.”

Hanna said the drum major tryout process is competitive. The process started with 12 candidates and was narrowed down to five finalists. Three of the five finalists were women, Hanna said.

“Jessica distinguished herself in a large field of candidates during the audition,” Hanna said in an email. “Her combination of skills and personal attributes made her an outstanding choice.”

When Martinez learned she was chosen as drum major, Hanna said she thought he was playing a joke on her.

“For like five minutes I was just like, ‘Nah, you’re lying,’” Martinez said. “I was in shock, and he let me sit in silence for a few minutes so I could process it.”

Although she was initially scared to tell people she was trying out for drum major, Martinez said her family and friends have been extremely supportive of her. Her parents have been in the crowd at every game so far.

“They drive down from Arlington for all of the home games,” Martinez said. “They even took a plane to Maryland and drove to Kansas State.”

Megan Darlington, a music studies junior and band member, said she has known Martinez for the three years she has been in band and was ecstatic when she learned she would be drum major.

“She was definitely the most qualified candidate, and it was great that the directors recognized that,” Darlington said. “It doesn’t matter what race or gender you are to be a great musician.”

Martinez said she hopes she can inspire other women to tryout for drum major.

“Just being able to be the person up on the podium or the person up in the front leading the band, it helps encourage others to not be scared to audition or tryout for these kinds of roles,” Martinez said.