Home US High School Drum Major Vanilla Funk Heideman chose Alabama State University

High School Drum Major Vanilla Funk Heideman chose Alabama State University

By Andre Toran Montgomery Advertiser

High School Drum Major Vanilla Funk, Justin Heideman flicked through YouTube searching for more videos.

His search intensified, as each video he passed excited him. Every video he had flirted with before and he could recall the rhythms that were played, every count and beat of music, the videos’ highlights and, of course, every move, twist and contortion of the drum majors on screen.

The videos that he sought were performances of HBCU bands and the styles of their drum majors that he was so familiar with, being the lead drum major at Jeff Davis High School. Those clips were his never-ending study.

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This was the first week of December 2019, roughly two months since Heideman went viral on every major social media platform for being a white kid leading an all-black band. That video, posted as commentary by social media personality @PubbyLongway, has since amassed 4.5 million views on Twitter and over 600,000 on Instagram.

High School Drum Major ‘Vanilla Funk’ Heideman chose Alabama State University

The fame that Heideman gained from the video has taken him all over the country, his band has performed at venues both large and small, and the group was even expected to make an appearance on “America’s Got Talent” before the coronavirus outbreak.

However, none of that changed Heideman, he said — the true nature of a young man thrusted into the public spotlight was captured in his living room that evening in December: enamored, in love, obsessed with the craft, immersed mind, body and soul in music.

Now, Heideman and his story with be put on display for four to five years more in Montgomery, as he announced on May 25 via video that he will attend Alabama State University in the fall to play trumpet in the Mighty Marching Hornets band.

“It’s easy to go where they tell you to go,” Heideman said. “It would have been easy for me to go to Jackson State. Everybody was telling me to go to Jackson State … that I’m going to ‘fit in’ and I’ll just fulfill my destiny, I guess. But I say ‘Life is like Tetris. When Tetris pieces fit in, they disappear.’ I didn’t want to do anything like that, I wanted to make my own legacy.”

Heideman said that many in his circle and the surrounding band community expected him to choose Jackson State University: He’s attended several camps there, became close to some of the Jackson State drum majors and his high school band was based in Jackson style.

But he wanted to go completely off the beaten path and risk doing something unexpected. He said he welcomes the challenge and always looks forward to one and if he had to “shake up the world” in the process he would.

Jeff Davis High School lead drum major Justin Heideman leads the band during a performance at the annual Magic City Classic parade in downtown Birmingham on October 26.

Jefferson Davis High School band director Brandon Howard said, if you knew Heideman, then this decision to take on a challenge should not surprise anyone.

“Anything that is difficult, he accepts with open arms, just to prove that he can do it,” Howard said. “It speaks a lot about who he is.

“We actually had three or four schools that we were deciding back-and-forth about, and when the season ended and we kind of catapulted into fame, people started calling offering scholarships. But at the end of the day Justin is a home kid. He loves home.”

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He chose ASU over Jackson State, Troy, Auburn Montgomery and Alabama A&M, but anywhere Heideman goes, the fanfare and fame he’s amassed should follow.

Managing that is something any band director would have to consider, but Alabama State band director Dr. James Oliver says national recognition and fame is something that his band is accustomed to handling.

“He’s coming to a program where we’ve been on television several times,” Oliver said. “We’ve been all over social media and are still on social — we just finished 10 episodes on snapchat featuring my Honeybeez — so he’s coming to a program that has been established.”

Oliver said he is aware that Heideman will need some time to “settle in” to the Hornets’ marching style but the foundation for him to become a key piece of the band and possibly a drum major in the future are evident.

“I think this kid has all the ingredients from what I’ve seen,” Oliver said. “But he has to show me through playing his instrument and through his work ethic … because that is a very powerful position.”

Being a drum major on the college level is heightened degree of difficulty compared to that in high school, Oliver says. Leadership in all phases and gaining the respect from peers are key in Oliver’s selection process, and he encourages all of his band members to strive for the qualities that drum majors possess.

“You have to have the ability to play, the ability to conduct, the ability to lead,” Oliver said. “And most of all the ability to communicate, because that’s what being a leader is. You don’t always have to be out front. These are things that I would teach him and train him even as a regular trumpet player.”

However, Heideman said he is unsure if he wants to be a drum major at ASU. He just wants to simply play his trumpet.

Jeff Davis High School Drum Major Justin Heideman at the school in Montgomery, Ala., on Wednesday December 4, 2019.

“It might be nice,” Heideman said about the prospects of him being a drum major one day at ASU, “I might try it, but I’m not entirely sure.” That decision will come in time, he says, but for now he is just happy that the pressure of what’s next has now alleviated.

“I can definitely take a breath now,” Heideman said. “Now, I don’t have to worry about telling people where I’m going.”

Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Andre Toran at AToran@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndreToran.

Source: Montgomeryadvertiser

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