AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s the start of a new chapter for the University of Texas at Austin’s Longhorn Band. Dr. Cliff Croomes will take the helm as the band’s first Black director on June 1.
This comes after a year of controversy surrounding “The Eyes of Texas” school song which was historically performed at campus minstrel shows. While no photographic evidence exists, it’s widely believed that the song was performed by white students in blackface.
The journey back to the Forty Acres is a 20-year dream now becoming reality for Dr. Croomes.
“In the back of my mind I always hoped it would, but sometimes you doubt yourself and think that is such a lofty position, I don’t know if I’ll ever get there.,” said Croomes. “As Darrell Royal would say, ‘luck is when preparation meets opportunity’ and I think I have been prepared for this position and now the opportunity has presented itself, so we are moving forward.”
Croomes is a 2001 graduate of the Butler School of Music and an alumnus of the Longhorn Band, on the drumline. He most recently served as the assistant director of bands at Louisiana State University and as the music director and principal conductor of the Civic Orchestra of Baton Rouge. Prior to that, the Houston native taught at public schools, including Georgetown, Pflugerville and Bastrop.
“Coming back to Georgetown to be the band director there was also an honor, teaching in the shadow of the tower, just a great tradition of the Georgetown Eagle Band,” Croomes said.
He’s taking over after debates over the university’s alma mater that deeply divided students and alumni. Band members had refused to play “The Eyes of Texas” because of its history. Croomes says his first order of business is hearing from students.
“My vision for ‘The Eyes of Texas’ really is to do a lot of listening to all perspectives. But when it comes to the ball games, we will be playing ‘The Eyes of Texas’ as a Longhorn Band and as is customary, I’ll be on the ladder leading in those efforts,” Croomes explained.
Croomes holds both his Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees from LSU. He is an alumnus of the Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps from Rosemont, Illinois. He has performed with ensembles throughout the United States, London, Paris, Switzerland, Germany and Italy and has served as an international consultant throughout Japan. He has also served as an adjudicator and clinician for marching and concert bands throughout Texas and Louisiana.
As the first Black Longhorn band director, he hopes to uphold a century-plus tradition on the Forty Acres that is reflective of UT Austin, past and present.
“I stand on the shoulders of all of the African-American alumni that came before that put me in the position to be able to be here. I also represent all of the alumni of the Longhorn alumni band. It’s a huge honor but with that comes a huge responsibility,” Croomes said.
Croomes will be the 15th director of the Longhorn Band and succeeds Scott Hanna in the role.