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Home > News > Darnella Davidson Retiring

Remarkable band director Darnella Davidson retiring

San Pedro H.S. director led students to 30 consecutive championships

By Daryl Strickland, Los Angeles Unified School District

LOS ANGELES (June 7, 2021) — In 1990, a gallon of gasoline cost $1.14 in Los Angeles. Light rail opened in the region, running between Los Angeles and Long Beach. And "The Simpsons," which became the longest-running animated series in history, finished its first season on television.

That same year, Darnella Davidson directed a high school marching band to a championship for the first time. Her students at Los Angeles and San Pedro high schools never stopped winning.

Darnella Davidson with her San Pedro High School Marching Band For 30 years in a row, her musicians competed in the Los Angeles Unified Band Championships. For 30 years in a row, her bands wore the champion's crown.

Davidson will lead San Pedro High School's marching band during Thursday's graduation for the last time. After 38 years of teaching in Los Angeles Unified, she is retiring. She ends her career in the nation's second-largest school district with a remarkable record that no one may be able to match.

"Mrs. Davidson's extraordinary commitment and dedication to her students, families and our school communities — especially our San Pedro community — is something that will be missed and celebrated for years to come," said Board Member Tanya Ortiz Franklin. "We wish her all the best during her well-deserved retirement and thank her for 38 years of exceptional service."

"She is a beloved educator, who made a difference in students' lives," said Michael Romero, superintendent, Local District South. "Her students realized, both individually and collectively they could be better, through her guidance, than before meeting her. She's special."

Her bands performed in film and television, at NFL games and opening ceremonies for the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. Hollywood celebrities, including creative artist Debbie Allen, comedian George Lopez, and singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams, singer Rosemary Clooney, performed with her bands.

Davidson's success across decades led her to accept the Honorary Life Member Award from the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association, representing more than 1,000 schools in the region. She became the first African American and female of color to receive the honor.

Davidson also reaped recognition from President Bill Clinton, civic leaders, and organizations, including the Country Music Association Foundation, the California Music Educators Association, the University of Chicago. She even advanced to the semifinal round for the Grammy Educator award. Davidson attributed her decades-long achievements to being a "student of my craft" and honing her teaching style through time and patience.

"I knew what I wanted to hear, but it takes time to understand the physics of making music," she said. "Plus, it takes time to develop a band culture within a school environment, and learning how to build the social-emotional learning habits, which creates a successful program."

Davidson discovered melodies at an early age. Music was a constant theme at home, in large part, because her mother played piano and trumpet.

Mrs. Davidson will remain an associate director for the LAUSD All-City Honor Marching Band, seen here in the 2017 Tournament of Roses Parade.
Mrs. Davidson will remain an associate director for the LAUSD All-City Honor Marching Band, seen here in the 2017 Tournament of Roses Parade.

After earning a bachelor's degree in Music Education from California State University, Northridge, Davidson, in 1983, began teaching. She earned a master's degree in Education Administration in 1991 from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Along with marching band, Davidson taught piano, beginning instruments, concert band, jazz band, color guard, and wind and percussion ensembles.

"She is one of the finest educators I've encountered, and she continues to inspire a lot of us," said Tony White, who directs the LAUSD All-City Honor Marching Band. He described her as a "treasure."

"She has exhibited a love for teaching children and has done a phenomenal job with sustaining a strong commitment toward our families and schools."

Davidson spent most of her career at Los Angeles High School. Under her leadership, the marching band earned 25 consecutive city championships in Los Angeles Unified, three from the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association, and three more from the Southern California Drum Line Circuit. Her pupils drew acclaim at music festivals and other high-profile public performances.

She carried her winning ways in 2015 to San Pedro High School. Upon her arrival, the marching band, known as the "Golden Pirate Regiment," sustained a streak of success.

They won five annual city championships in Los Angeles Unified and five more from the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association. They drew praise from playing on television, at music festivals, and every year at Disneyland.

"Her passion and dedication is unparalleled and it has been inspirational to watch the success of her marching bands," said Lou Mardesich, administrator, San Pedro Community of Schools. "The entire San Pedro Community is incredibly fortunate Mrs. Davidson brought her talent and expertise to San Pedro."

The regiment's crowning achievement would have been performing last month at the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C. Citing the coronavirus, organizers canceled the event.

But the outcome had no bearing on Davidson's decision to depart. She had been planning this year to be her last. "I accomplished what I wanted to do and decided it was time to retire," she said.

In stepping down, Davidson will remain an associate director for the LAUSD All-City Honor Band, which participates annually in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade.

Moreover, Davidson will continue in her appointed role with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, an advisory group to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. She also will keep her commitments with the Southern California Band and Orchestra Association.

Recently, she joined the faculty at the Conn-Selmer Institute, which holds music education conferences nationwide for teachers. Entering another stage of life, Davidson looks forward to accepting other challenges.

"I'm excited for new adventures and more opportunities to mentor young music directors," she said.

Darnella Davidson conducted the LAUSD All-City Honor Marching Band from the podium during the Tournament of Roses Bandfest on December 30, 2019.
Darnella Davidson conducted the LAUSD All-City Honor Marching Band from the podium during the Tournament of Roses Bandfest on December 30, 2019.

Text courtesy of Los Angeles Unified School District. San Pedro Band photo by Kiok McCarthy. Tournament of Roses photos by

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