Legend, icon, pioneer are perhaps three of the most appropriate words one can use to describe Conrad Hutchinson Jr.
“Hutch”, as he was affectionately known, became Grambling College’s band director in 1952, a position he held for more than 37 years. Through his knowledge and love for music, he transformed Grambling’s band from a simple college band to the world-renowned Tiger Marching Band.
Under Hutchinson, the Tiger Marching Band accomplished many firsts, including performances at Super Bowl I; at Liberia’s 1972 presidential inauguration; in Tokyo, Japan in 1976; and in a 1981 Coca-Cola commercial.
Many credit Hutchinson with cementing Grambling in the minds of many across the globe. Among them is Dr. Edwin Thomas, GSU assistant band director.
Hutchinson was “one of the pioneers that brought notoriety to the university, to the town and to the band,” Thomas said.
Thomas believed that Hutchinson’s background as a graduate of Tuskegee Institute, as well as his time in the military, was what motivated this legendary band director.
Dr. Thomas admired Hutchinson for his discipline and organizational skills, which Thomas thinks made it a privilege to work with Hutchinson.
“The man was highly organized,” Dr. Thomas said. Thomas joked that the piles of paper on Hutchinson’s desk were overwhelming to everyone except Hutchinson, who knew where everything on the desk was.
Dr. Thomas also credits Hutchinson for instilling discipline into those who worked with him. He noted that if Hutchinson scheduled a meeting for 8 o’clock, one was expected to arrive by 7:45 because the meeting was going to start on time no matter what.
Thomas also fondly remembers how even when others did not know Hutchinson’s reasons for doing things a certain way, the result was always good.
“He always knew exactly what he was doing and how things would turn out. The outcome was always good and later on, if he wanted, he’d tell you why he did what he did,” said Thomas with a smile. “He was a genius.”
Dr. Thomas also remembers Hutchinson as a humble man who was never concerned with being a legend. He noted that Hutchinson accepted not only major invitations, but also invitations from small communities.
“He knew that some of Grambling’s biggest fans came from some of the smallest communities, and he made sure that was not forgotten,” Dr. Thomas said.
Thomas also admired Hutchinson for the educational values he instilled in band members. “For him, being in the band was educational,” Thomas said.
He went on to note no matter what the occasion, Hutchinson was always sure to remind and encourage the band members to observe the educational and cultural aspects.
What would Hutchinson say about the band performing in President Obama’s inaugurations? “He would have said to them this is history- something you can be proud of- understand the educational aspect.”
Hutchinson received his bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Tuskegee. He subsequently taught band at Alabama’s Mobile County School. He then served as band director for seven years at Lincoln Grant High School in Covington, Ky., before making his incredible and permanent mark at GSU.
Although it has been almost 13 years since his death, Hutchinson’s legacy continues to affect lives. As Dr. Thomas said, “He may not be in the history books with Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, but he is etched into Grambling’s history.”
Hutchinson was born to Helen and Conrad Hutchinson, on Oct. 25, 1919, in Bloomsburg, Pa. He died on March 5, 1996. He is survived by his wife Jeanette, four children, and four grandchildren.
This Black History Month let us celebrate Conrad Hutchinson, Jr. – legend, icon, pioneer.