The Alexandria Senior High School Band of 1972 established a scholarship at Northwestern State University to honor the memory of a beloved and influential band director who touched the lives of many students over several decades.
The Dr. Jerry Payne Endowed Scholarship is a four-year scholarship that will be awarded to a student from freshman year through graduation as long as all requirements are met. Eligible recipients are students majoring in instrumental music education who aspire to become band directors or work in the field of instrumental performance. Students must maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or better.
Payne was born in Dodson in 1935. After graduating from Bolton High School, he earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at NSU and became a music educator and performer. As an undergraduate, Payne paid for his college expenses by playing saxophone in NSU’s big band ensemble, The Demonnaires.
Payne began his career at Alexandria Junior High and then Alexandria Senior High before returning to his alma mater to serve as director of bands at Northwestern. During this time, he also served his country in the U.S. Army National Guard and was called to active duty during the Berlin Crisis of 1961.
After over 20 years molding and mentoring young musicians in Louisiana, Payne accepted the band director position in Marshall, Texas, in 1977. He and his family of seven – including wife Marilyn, sons Mal and Ronnie and daughters Donnis, Melissa and Jeannie – moved to Marshall as he took over a band program that was low in numbers and historically struggling. Under Payne’s direction and with a growing, dedicated staff of music educators joining the team, the Marshall “Big Red Pride” Band began to grow and improve throughout the late 1970s and 1980s.
The Big Red Pride quickly became a staple of Marshall, performing crowd-pleasing music and routines at football games and contests all over the state. The band won multiple Sweepstakes honors and became one of the most respected and consistently high-performing bands in Texas. Payne led the Big Red Pride for over 25 years before announcing his retirement in May 2002. That gave him over 45 years of service as a music educator and band director in both Texas and Louisiana, a career that saw him build lasting relationships with a countless number of students shared a bond with “Doc” that was forged through his inspirational teaching, mentorship and shared experiences.
Upon his retirement, Payne’s family, friends and former students pulled off a weekend-long, secret retirement party known covertly as just SRP – “Surprise Retirement Party. The event was held at Marshall High School and included hundreds Payne’s students from Louisiana and Texas. As a retirement gift, he and Marilyn were treated to a return trip to Europe to relive memories they had experienced during his time teaching in Alexandria, when he led his band on a tour of Europe and participated in the first International Band Festival in Vienna, Austria.
Although he was retired as a full-time educator, Payne continued his passion for music with private lessons and performances with his legendary saxophone. He and other local musicians formed a jazz ensemble, “The Vintage Four,” and played gigs all over east Texas. He also performed at various events as a solo artist, billing himself simply as “Dr. J and the CDs.”
Payne was a member of the Louisiana Music Educators Hall of Fame and the Texas Music Educators Hall of Fame and was inducted as a distinguished alumnus in the field of music to the Northwestern State University Creative and Performing Arts Hall of Fame.
Payne devoted his later year to caring for his wife, Marilyn, as she battled the effects of Parkinson’s disease. She passed away in 2014 and Payne moved to Hallsville to be closer to his daughters and grandchildren. He continued to play and listen to his music and spend time and holidays with his children, grandchildren and friends. He lived with his son Mal and daughter-in-law Regina, who were his principal caregivers, from Sept. 22 until he passed away July 17, 2023.
Friends and former students who wish to contribute to the scholarship can do so by visiting http://northwesternstatealumni.com/payne.scholarship.