University of Tennessee drum major sets new precedent

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The first sound of a tuba or bass drum can get a vol fan's heart beating a little faster. When the Pride of the Southland Band marches into Neyland, there's no doubt football season's here.

While the pride focuses on tradition, the woman leading the way is creating her path, breaking the glass ceiling.

Before she steps in, it's just some noise, chaos, and all around dysfunction.

But once Jessica Henderson takes the stand -- the pride becomes one, giving us the sights and sounds Vol fans live for.

"You're always thinking. Never a down moment," said Jessica Henderson.

"She's very strong. She had to earn it. It's kind of like the starting quarterback job. You can't take it for granted," said band director Donald Ryder.

But not only is she strong, Jessica's making history as the first female drum major to lead a second year.

"Just drum major. I've heard drum majorette, drum all kinds of things. It's just drum major," said Henderson.

A drum major who's long pony tail might turn some heads.

"In history not that many females have gone out for the position," said Ryder.

12:11:38 "i never see the position as a sexist thing or anything, and honestly the band doesn't either."

As a freshman, Jessica took orders from the band's first female leader, Kelly Bradshaw.

"Actually it's kind of neat because i was here when we had the first one so knowing both of them is historical," said Ryder.

Now she's the one in a position of power.

"The way we do it is the band directors tell me the instructions, and i tell the band. They won't move until i say go which is kind of cool," said Henderson.

And although she downplays her gender's significance, she's not oblivious to the footprint she's leaving behind.

"It is powerful. I've had a lot of female high school drum majors come up to me, and say seeing you, seeing you at such a high level just means you can do it. And that's why i love it," said Henderson.

Hoping to leave an impression on all of the pride's 300 members.

"Not even breaking a ceiling. Just showing that anyone can do it and if you love it, work for it," said Henderson.

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