Jay Watkins: Spirit of Gainesville nominee

Published: Sunday, September 1, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 11:23 a.m.

John (“Jay”) Watkins serves Gainesville and the Gator Nation as the Associate Director of Bands, Director of Athletic Bands, Assistant Professor in the School of Music and as the Director of the “Pride of the Sunshine” - The Gator Marching Band. As the leader of the Gator Marching Band, Jay Watkins provides support and entertainment for University of Florida-related events, for Gainesville civic events, fundraisers, corporate ground-breakings, and travels with the Gator Marching Band as ambassadors of Gainesville.


Category: Arts

About Jay Watkins

Occupation: Director of Gator Marching Bands

Years in Gainesville: 7

Spouse Natalie Kay Watkins

Children Jacob Watkins (14)

The Gator Marching Band not only performs for 90,000 spectators at every home game in the Swamp, but also performs throughout the city of Gainesville for events and charitable fundraisers, including performances for the March of Dimes, the American Heart Association, Stop Children's Cancer, and the Cystic Fybrosis Foundation. In addition, the Gator Marching Band, under Jay Watkins direction, elevates the city of Gainesville to new heights as they interact and perform at events sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, including the grand opening ceremony for Mindtree, Innovation Square, and Visit Gainesville events. Jay Watkins also leads the Gator Marching Band in performances at the VA Hospital and retirement communities, raising the spirits of residents and staff alike.

Jay Watkins has served in his role as Associate Director of Bands at the University of Florida for 7 years. Prior to coming to Gainesville, he spent 4 years directing bands at the University of Texas, 8 years at Charleston Southern University, and 5 years at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.

The benefits of Jay Watkins service to the Gator Marching Band program extends from Gainesville, to the nation, and internationally. Working with the 365 members of the Gator Marching Band, Jay Watkins acts as teacher, musical director, mentor, and life coach. Teachingband members (who represent over 100 different majors and academic disciplines) skills for success extends further than musical performances and marching routines. Jay Watkins focuses on teamwork, individual responsibility, mutual respect, determination, time management, leadership, nutrition and health, and working toward excellence in everything the students do. Jay Watkins also serves public school students throughout North Central Florida through his involvement with middle and high school band programs, including Gainesville High School, Buchholz High School, and Ft. Clarke Middle School. Through his work with bands, Jay Watkins has touched the lives of thousands of young people in Gainesville, and his influence continues to grow as these students graduate and pursue leadership roles in a myriad of careers, taking the lessons learned in band with them.

Jay Watkins devotes all of his time outside of his family life to pursuing excellence for the Gator Marching Band. Jay and his wife Natalie Kay Watkins open their home and routinely host family-style dinners for Marching Band members. A typical Thanksgiving at the Watkins household will include 30-40 students who are not able to travel home to spend the holiday with their families.

Last year, Jay Watkins and the Gator Marching Band were chosen to represent the United States at the Summer Olympic Games in London as official representatives of the United States. The Gator Marching Band performed at the US Ambassador's residence, Buckingham Palace, and performed for Michelle Obama as she hosted an official event for her “Let's Move” campaign for 1,200 children of British military personnel. This opportunity to represent the United States on an international stage elevated the city of Gainesville to thousands of appreciative audience members, athletes, world leaders and international media. A highlight of the trip included performing to 50,000 spectators outside of the Olympic park prior to the opening ceremony. Jay Watkins led 240 students on this 9-day trip toLondon, and in doing so created memories of a lifetime for his students, aswell as for everyone who had the opportunity to enjoy the Gator Marching Band in London.

Returning from the Olympic games, Jay Watkins had another honor in store for Gainesville, as the University of Florida Marching Band was the 2013 recipient of the Sudler Trophy from the John Philip Sousa Foundation. The Sudler Trophy is awarded “to a university marching band which has demonstrated the highest of musical standards and innovative marching routines and ideas, and which has made important contributions to the advancement of the performance standards of college marching bands.” Called the “Heisman for marching bands,” this award is for outstanding contributions to American culture.

Jay Watkins was named the Teacher of the Year by the University of Florida College of Fine Arts in 2013, and is Chair of the Southern Division Athletic Band Committee of the College Band Directors National Association, Chair of the Athletic Bands Committee of the SEC Band Directors Association, member of the Florida Bandmasters Association, and Southern Division chair for Band Education of the National Association for Music Education among many other professional affiliations.

Jay Watkins exemplifies the Spirit of Gainesville in the Arts by elevating our entire community one student at a time, and by increasing the visibility of Gainesville on the state, national, and international stage. His exemplary service with the Gator Marching Band and work with area band students supports Gainesville's charitable, business, and growing innovation economy, as well as educates and enriches hundreds of students every year.

Nominated by Jessica Hurov

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