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Bolivar Bullet: Alphonso Sanders – Musical Notes of Joy

Dr. Alphonso Sanders has long been a music student himself. For years, Sanders has played his saxophone around the Delta.
Dr. Alphonso Sanders has long been a music student himself. For years, Sanders has played his saxophone around the Delta.

Georgia native Alphonso Sanders fell in love with music, but not just any music. In 10th grade, Sanders picked up a trumpet and never put it back down. Little did Sanders know, he was about to become a Mississippian, a Blues-singin’, jazz-playin’ Mississippian.

“I had a baseball teammate who was in the band. He accidentally left his trumpet, and I took it home and curiosity got the best of me,” Sanders said. “After failed attempts, the next day, I asked him to show me how to play, and I have been chasing music ever since.”

After stumbling upon music, Sanders quickly developed a desire to study and pursue a degree in music, a desire so strong that he kept going until he earned his doctorate degree. Sanders earned degrees from Mississippi Valley State University, Valdosta State University and the University of Mississippi.

In fact, Sanders’ eagerness to study and learn music ultimately led him to practice genres such as blues and jazz.

“I gravitated toward jazz and blues music because the two styles offered me the most challenges and fun,” Sanders said. “Blues is the soul of jazz. I was told by older jazz musicians that, ‘If you can’t play blues, you can’t play jazz.’ They simply meant that you’ve got to feel something. I feel good when I play jazz. It takes a lot of practice and study to play it well.”

Even though he received his doctorate, Sanders continues learning about music every day through teaching.

Sanders taught at Delta State University from 2000 to 2004. During that time, he was also the first executive director of the Delta Music Institute (DMI).

“Teaching at DSU was a very rewarding experience,” Sanders said. “I enjoy teaching and have always learned a lot from my students. It seems the more I learn, the more I realize there is so much more that I don’t know.”

As a teacher at Delta State, Sanders was an assistant band director and a director of jazz studies. His tasks included writing marching band show drills, arranging music, directing the pep bad, teaching jazz history and jazz improvisation and directing two jazz ensembles and concert bands, among many more things. Although teaching at Delta State was a reward in and of itself, Sanders is much more pleased with the reward of the DMI.

“My long-range mission was to develop a sensible curriculum that students could be trained by, to advance their musical understanding and technical skills with a foundation in business, which would better prepare them for success in a job market,” Sanders said. “In the short time that I directed the development of the DMI, I feel that the groundwork was laid to continue developing an icon that will attract young, creative, music minds.”

Today, Sanders is a professor, the chairman of fine arts, and the director of the B.B. King Recording Studio at Mississippi Valley State University. He performs at festivals and other music venues every chance he gets.

“I usually play every weekend, and seasonally, I play four times a week,” Sanders said. “I enjoy entertaining people through music. Music is powerful in many ways. It bridges generation gaps, cultures, races and often heals the soul.”

Sanders has won many awards for his musical talent. He won the 2010 MAC Folk Arts Fellowship, the 2011 Mississippi Humanities Award, and he was the winner of the 2009 and 2010 International Blues Challenge. Also, the Delta Blues Society selected Sanders as the 2013 Blues Musician of the Year. Even with all of his accomplishments, Sanders cherishes a different type of award.

“I have received a lot of physical awards as an educator and musician,” Sanders said. “But, the award I cherish the most is when I’m told, ‘Thanks.’”

As chairman of the fine arts department at MSVU, Sanders appreciates being able to help faculty and staff better educate students on how to succeed. He also loves that he is able to keep the legacy of B.B. King alive as director of the B.B. King Recording Studio.

“My biggest musical achievement is becoming a music teacher and local performer. Good teachers make a better world,” Sanders said. “I have come to realize that music is the best way for me to express life. I don’t miss a day without playing music.”

Article by Randall Haley, courtesy of The Bolivar Bullet

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