NCAA Tournament: Southern's band wins over fans

NCAA Tournament • The Southern band awards scholarships.
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The Human Jukebox played at the Super Bowl a few months ago. It has played in Africa, the Virgin Islands and Germany, among other places, in the past two years. The invites are pouring in for other marquee performances.

Playing in Salt Lake City? That never was a thought.

The nationally known Southern University band — nicknamed the Human Jukebox — made a big splash Thursday afternoon at EnergySolutions Arena, treating the crowd to its rare blend of cheerleading and entertainment.

While Southern's basketball team fought its way to a 64-58 defeat by top-seeded Gonzaga in a West Region second-round matchup, the band more than lived up to its reputation in the stands.

"We're called the Human Jukebox because we play it all," band director Nathan Haymer said. "We play R&B, country, rock, reggae, jazz. We never thought we would be playing in Salt Lake City. The hospitality has been second to none. We feel that if the crowd can't get into it, then we shouldn't be playing it."

The 12,621 in attendance more than got into it Thursday, repeatedly showering Haymer's band with standing ovations. Haymer estimates that about 50 percent of the band made the trip from Louisiana.

The football version is much bigger. But the mixture of hip-hop and old-school hits played by Southern made its mark.

"I think people are curious, and they want to know who we are," Haymer said. "They want to know how we get our sound and what we do."

The Human Jukebox is a competitive outfit that holds tryouts. They hand out scholarships. They wake up at 6 a.m. and work on conditioning. That's important because many of the routines require singing and dancing while they play.

"We treat it like a real sport," Haymer said. "We want to make our mark wherever we go and whatever we do." —