Kosciusko’s own Jesse Yates knows first-hand the impact music can have on people’s lives. A former Big Red Band drum major and saxophonist, Yates returned to Kosciusko High School in 2010 to lead his alma mater as band director, a role he excelled in until his departure in 2017.
After graduating from KHS in 1988, Yates attended Mississippi State University, where he obtained his degree in music.
Yates said the opportunity to come back home and lead the Big Red Band was priceless, and the success the band had during his student years inspired him to bring competitiveness back to the program.
“It was actually incredible to come back and be the band director of the program that I had attended in high school. In high school, we were a very competitive marching band, so that was kind of instilled in me back then,” said Yates. “To bring that back to the program was really good. It was an honor to come back and be the band director of Kosciusko.”
In 2016, Yates led the KHS band to its first 4-A marching state championship, which he remembers as an amazing feat.
“That was a huge accomplishment,” he said. “To do that and bring that to the band program was really special.”
Yates said he has been a musician his whole life and has performed on many stages, including the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. Many times, Yates also performed with Class Reunion, a band that performed locally playing Motown hits and oldies classics, which he said was a fun experience.
From an early age, he knew that music was his calling, and in high school, he knew music was what he wanted to pursue as a career.
He said the amount of awards the Big Red Band won during his time as a student would take nearly all day to list, which he said was a testament to the leadership of his former band director Mickey Grove, whom Yates remains in close contact with today.
“As a student, he instilled in me to basically take responsibility for my own actions. I know it's cliche, but if you work hard, good things will happen,” said Yates. “Since I’ve been a director, he has always been a phone call away. He was a part of that staff in 2016 when we won the state championship, so that was a special moment to be able to put that gold medal around his neck.”
Yates said Mr. Grove’s legacy is something that can’t even be put into words because Grove not only elevated the Big Red Band but the band community as a whole.
“He's always a phone call away — not just for me, but for a ton of directors — always willing to give advice and critique,” said Yates. “The only person who probably loves the Big Red Band more than me is Mr. Grove.”
Yates said being part of a quality band program was life-changing and encouraged him to strive for greatness.
“It changed my life,” said Yates, “and it inspired me to want to be successful at everything I did.”
He added that it has been exciting to watch the progress of renovating the old auditorium to create the Skipworth Center for the Performing Arts, which includes the stage Yates performed on as a student, walked across for his high school graduation, and from which he later conducted Big Red performances as director.
“It's great for the community to have a place that can showcase (music, theatre, and the arts), and give people that opportunity with a wonderful facility to perform, whether it be music or plays,” said Yates. “Whatever it is used for, it will be fantastic. It’s got a lot of history and a lot of memories for me, so it has been a very special thing to be involved with.”
Yates now serves as band director at East Webster High School, where he led the school to back-to-back state championships in 2018 and 2019. His sons Joshua and Jace are band members under his leadership, and Joshua has served as drum major for the last three years.