Lolita Carter can’t recall who the 1967 Super Bowl I combatants were, but she does remember being mesmerized by the high-stepping Grambling State University Marching Band performing during halftime activities at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“It blew me away,” says Carter, who was 6 or 7 years old at the time. “That was the day that shaped me for the rest of my life.”
Carter is one of the “few and far between” female band directors in a male-dominated domain in high schools and colleges.
“We’re almost non-existent at that level,” says Carter, whose title at Dominguez High School in Compton is Director of Bands, a position she’s held since 2006. The only other local female directors she could bring to mind were in Norwalk and at Cabrillo High in Long Beach.
Carter oversees the Dominguez High marching, jazz and concert bands, as well as the majorettes and drum line. She admits that the work can be stressful, and she sometimes feels underappreciated.
“But I love what I do,” she says. “It’s not a job.” Maybe not, but Carter says she works about twelve hours a day, and more on Fridays. “Right now I’m doing six days a week, and when we have competition, that makes it a seven-day week,” she says. Last school term she brought on both a dance and a drum instructor to take on much of the load she had previously carried alone.
Among the band’s numerous invitations to perform are the 2008 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards and the ESPN/Boost Mobile Elite 24 Basketball Tournament.
Carter’s road to directing came almost unexpectedly. She was a teacher of instrumental and vocal instruction at Whaley Middle School in Compton, when the superintendent walked in one day and told her: “Today is your last day. Get someone to cover your class. You start tomorrow at Dominguez High School.”
The new position turned out to be choir director. She would leave Dominguez to become assistant band director at Compton High before returning as band director.
Carter stands 5 feet tall., and were it not for her age, she could easily be lost in a jumble of freshmen students, as she was one day recently. But the band director, whose roots are from Birmingham, Ala., loudly shooed the students out of the cluttered band room onto the practice field with playful nudges, demonstrating her easy rapport with the young people.
Carter says she has been a musician “all her life.” She plays several instruments, and teaches all the others, but her instrument of choice is drums. She holds a degree from Cal State Dominguez with a double major in music performance and recording engineering. She also holds a master’s in educational technology from Pepperdine University.
You’ve probably heard it said that some unfortunate frog-voiced people can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but Carter says that isn’t so. She believes anyone can carry a tune. It’s just a matter of what she calls audiation, being trained to be sensitive to sounds and the ability to reproduce them.