The Story of the Rawlins Brothers: Part of the Human Jukebox Legacy

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NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA--This weekend is the 45th Annual Bayou Classic for the two rivals of Southern University and Grambling State University.  It's more than the might of the two football teams; its a showoff against two of the most famous musical traditions in the Country.  It is the age old rival of the "Human Jukebox Marching Band" vs. the "World Famed Tiger Marching Band."

This is the story of two men who went to Southern University's A&M College.  They also happen to be brothers and directors of two of the best high school bands in the city of New Orleans.   They were once members of Southern University's illustrious band, the Human Jukebox.

Every Monday, Wilbert Rawlins Jr. and Lawrence Rawlins engage in a battle of dominos.  Their sibling rivalry gleams in their eyes and in their sharp comments towards each other.   It's a rivalry that goes both on and off the field.  They are both their brother's keeper; both the protectors and archnemesis' of each other.

Lawrence is the director of bands for Mcdonogh 35, the first public high school  designated for African Americans in Louisiana.

Wilbert is the director of bands for Landry Walker High School, the largest high school band in the city.

Both bands are legendary in their own right and known across the country.

"Little brother can never win. Big brother can never win, you know how that goes," says Lawrence.

"The big brother is always going to be the better domino player. I haven't taught him everything yet. I don't want to teach him everything because he might get it right on me," says Wilbert.

One is short in stature, the other towers over his competition.  It is a real case of the Bible's David vs. Goliath.

"A lot of people don't even know we're brothers," says Wilbert.

"He's a totally different person. We are like night and day," says Lawrence.

Wilbert was always the bigger guy and growing up, he protected his little brother.  They grew up without much in the Bywater and Lower 9th Ward neighborhoods in New Orleans.  Their father was an adept locally renowned percussionist.

"He practiced playing his drums a lot. Me and my brother laughed at him. Oh he's out there beating on his drums. Every piece was mismatched. Then one day the opportunity presented himself. That was probably the first day to the rest our lives, when i was about 12 to 13 years old," says Wilbert.

Their father, Wilbert Rawlins Sr. became the drummer for the living legend Irma Thomas and stayed with her for close to 30 years.  He bestowed her nickname, the soul queen of New Orleans.

The brothers both attended high school at  John f. Kennedy High School, which has another stellar high school band in New Orleans.

They had plans for something greater.  Their future would soon come marching down the horizon.

Lawrence recalls seeing Southern University's band for the first time, saying, "All of a sudden, I see this big old massive band coming down the street for Mardi Gras sounding like woah!  You think you the stuff in high school. Even in jr. High school. But then you are like oh lord, alright!"

They now would join Southern University's band.

The legend of Southern University's Human Jukebox was, just as you put a quarter in a jukebox, you could hear all of radio's biggest hits at the press of a button or at the direction of the legendary Dr. Isaac Greggs.

When Greggs would walk in a room smoothly, with his black clove cigarettes, full of charisma.  Everyone wanted to be him.

Wilbert played the sousaphone.  Lawrence played mellophone.  Marching in college were the best days of their lives.

They left Southern after being a part of the best band in the land.  Now they would join the number of highly coveted Southern University band alumni.  They were ready to inspire the next generation of high school band students.

Perpetually locked in fierce competition, they sharpen one another.

The Bayou Classic's battle of the bands is Friday at seven.  The 2018 Bayou Classic game is Saturday at four.




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