Long before the introduction of marching band at Jackson College (now Jackson State University), leaders of the school placed emphasis on its music program. One of the first and strongest consortiums for music at a black college, Jackson's music program was widely celebrated and was a point of pride for the community. After the start of Jackson State's marching band program in the mid-1940s, the ensemble underwent several pivotal changes in creating its own unique style and flare fueled by a tradition of innovation and musical excellence.
William "Prof" Davis became the first full-time marching band director at Jackson in 1948. The Ohio native, and former arranger for the famous Cab Calloway Band, quickly implement a similar "Big Band" sound and flare for showmanship within Jackson College's new band. In 1963, he recruited a Brinkley High School (Jackson, Mississippi) graduate to join the music program at Jackson. The young student, Lewis Liddell, was a talented clarinetist and eventually became a section leader and music education major.
After graduation from Jackson College in 1967, Liddell was offered a teaching job at Wesley Ray High School in Angie, Louisiana. Among his first students at Wesley Ray was Aaron J Thompson, Jr., an enthusiastic snare drummer from neighboring Bogalusa, Louisiana.
Thompson, whose father coached football and basketball (and served as the guidance counselor) at Wesley Ray, was drawn to the band program over sports. He spent two years under the tutelage of band director Leon Dickerson, (a Grambling College graduate) and spent his summers sharpening his rudimental skills in Baton Rouge with then Southern University Lab High School band director Isaac Greggs. But it was ultimately the influence of first-year band director Lewis Liddell that changed Thompson's educational path.
In 1968, during their senior year, Liddell took Thompson and 9 other Wesley Ray bandsmen on a road trip to a Jackson College game. In his first visit to Jackson and after his first time seeing Jackson's band, Thompson knew he would break rank with a family lineage filled with Grambling and Southern graduates. In the spring on 1969, he returned to Jackson to audition for a spot in the band at Jackson College with, then, assistant director of bands Harold Haughton, Jr. Haughton offered Thompson a scholarship on the spot, but told him he would have to play bass drum: news Thompson was not pleased with. It was with this chip on his shoulder, that Thompson returned to band camp at Jackson that fall. Thompson felt he could handle snare drum and decided he would work hard to convince Haughton to reconsider upon his arrival.
However, by the time Thompson made it to Jackson that fall, Haughton had left Jackson State. He'd been hired by Prairie View A&M. So, Thompson was stuck in Jackson, on bass drum.
He had no shortage of encouragement to just "go to Southern, where they'd do him right," but Thompson was dedicated to making his own mark in Jackson. He was committed to stop at nothing until he made the snare line. He stayed after practices and arrived early in the office of assistant band director Edward Duplessis to recite snare drum music better than those who played the part. Just before the start of the season, his persistence paid off. He was added to the snare line and never looked back.
In the Spring of 1970, Thompson became increasingly vocal about the direction of the section. He wanted to do away with "knee" tenors, grow the size of the section to eliminate reserves, and create an expansive parade cadence for the band. He was able to make small changes here and there but everything changed when Harold Haughton returned to campus in the Spring of 1971 as the new director of bands. Haughton immediately named Thompson drum section leader, and the rest is history. That spring, Thompson began to write a "series" of cadences for the section and named the group "War & Thunder". The section's new name was so popular and spread around the campus so quickly, that the entire group was called into a meeting with the university's president, Dr. John A. Peoples.
To their surprise, the drummers were not in any kind of trouble. Instead, Peoples presented the 15 members of the section with royal blue hooded sweatshirts with the words "War & Thunder" emblazed across the chest. Later that week, Haughton allowed band members to nominate and vote on a new nickname for the marching band as well. The nickname "Sonic Boom of the South" beat out "Roaring Tiger Band" by 45 votes.
Since 1971, War & Thunder has continued to exist as an HBCU marching band style standard for drum lines. WT's unique playing and marching style, tuning and unmatched "funk" are part of what makes the Sonic Boom of the South's sound unmistakeable. The section continues to play Thompson's series of cadences (now under the title "The Series") and has carefully selected additional entries to it over the years.