From humble beginnings in the Grady Homes Project of Atlanta to becoming a band consultant in a Hollywood film, Don Roberts has made himself into a musical force.

“Good ol’ peer pressure” is how he describes his success. “I had a cousin that played trumpet in the band and I idolized him.  So, because he played, I played.”

At the time, Roberts was a middle school student who was not very good at playing his new trumpet.  A turning point came when he got to high school and was taught by Alfred Watkins, then fresh out of Florida A&M University.  Watkins is the respected band director of the Lassiter High School marching band in Marietta, Ga.

“I had no idea my first year in high school the bond that we would have over the years.  He’s outstanding.  So we grew together.  And, under him, I became very good on trumpet,” Roberts, a 1986 music education graduate from FAMU, said in an interview.

Roberts, most notable as band consultant on the 2002 feature length film DRUMLine, is the creator and director of DRUMLine Live, which will make a stop at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami on Jan. 16.

According to the Arsht Center website, DRUMLine Live features “a large cast of vivid and exciting performers from America’s top Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  The production presents the rousing and rhythmic sounds of the great brass past.”

In 2005, Roberts’ first show, Half-time Live, was the theatrical version of a Drumline 2 script which did not become a movie. After being given pointers by theater experts on how to make his show more a stage production, he and his team learned the various aspects of theater and tailored the show to be more a stage play and re-named it DRUMLine Live.

According to Roberts, audiences will be treated to the sounds of jazz, gospel, Motown of the 1960s and ’70s and early hip-hop.  The sounds will be akin to experiencing the background of black college bands from inception to today.

“It’s an all-star band,” said Roberts, who received a master’s in Music Education from Jacksonville State University in Alabama in 1995.  “If you’re going to come to see a marching band show, you’re going to be totally surprised.”

Since its premiere in 2008, DRUMLine Live has been performed in several cities in the U.S. and abroad.  The show sold more than 20,000 seats in the U.S. in its first tour and 20,000 seats each in Japan and Korea, Roberts said.

That didn’t happen by chance.

“You can’t be in DRUMLine Live if you’re not a good musician and your dance skills are not up to par,” Roberts said. “We look for extremely good musicians in our auditions and they have to have extremely good coordination.”

Half the cast are South Florida natives who are also FAMU graduates.

Despite such success, Roberts tries to stay true to his music education roots.

“I’m a high school band director by trade,” he said.  “I’ve worked on a Super Bowl commercial, recorded for Missy Elliott and done music for black college experience football games.  All of that came from a trumpet player and drum major at FAMU and high school band director.  I put in great work on a movie and from that work came various opportunities.”

At the start of Roberts’ music career, he was band director of the South West Dekalb High School band.  That band and the Miami Central High School band were the first black bands to be invited to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, in 1997.

Roberts has also served as associate producer on the ESPNU series The Battle, which featured the FAMU and Bethune Cookman University bands.  And his most important job remains music supervisor of the Dekalb County School System.

But DRUMLine Live is his creation and one of the things he is most excited about for the show’s second tour is being able to have his band perform for Watkins, his mentor, for the first time, in Atlanta.

He is confident the show will go over well.

“We will touch every emotion in your body,” he said. “We’re going to make you laugh, sing, cry, and applaud. If you’re not feeling good before you get to our show, you’re going to be feeling better.”

Photo: Performers go through their paces in a sequence from Drumline Live which will be staged at the Arsht Center in Miami on Jan. 16. PHOTO COURTESY OF ARTIST MANAGEMENT
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WHEN: 7 p.m. Jan. 16

WHERE: The Adrienne Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

COST:  $40-$65

CONTACT: 305-949-6722 or visit