Stephen Pender has been a lover of music all his life as he was playing melodies and a variety of instruments since the age of two years old.

It was something that was passed down to him through his family with his pastor grandfather, who played guitar in his younger days, as well as his father, who also was admittedly a “huge influence,” in the younger Pender’s own words.

There was a similar passion for music Pender recognized when he first watched the Thunderin’ Hawks Pep Band in action.

The mighty but small group of musicians that was initially established in 2010, was in a state of flux as it held itself together without a band leader. The group continued soldiering on with performances at home basketball games in addition to other events.

Thunderin’ Hawks Pep Band director Stephen Pender.

“What really intrigued me (about the band) was the fact they ran the program as if there was a director present,” Pender said. “The discipline of the students and the determination of wanting things to be quality and just good. To not handicap the rest of our campus from having the HBCU band experience.”

It was also that same dedication that led to Pender ultimately deciding to become the band’s new director.

“That was a pivotal thing that kind of made me fall in love with these students because you don’t see that in today’s times. If there’s a lack of leadership, you see the program dwindle to nothing, or just no one’s interested or engaged in the program. So, to see them determined to keep this phenomenal program running is mind-blowing.”

What was the reason that the remaining band members decided to keep going instead of easily calling it quits? It was simple.

“We just loved music,” said senior Abdul-Hakeem Kargbo, a jack-of-all-trades on a number of instruments such as the euphonium, clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone, trumpet, and tenor saxophone. “Honestly, we were always not that big of a band, but we still had a great sound.

“Even with our troubles during the pandemic and (while) we were having that period where we were leaderless, it took all of the student leaders to work together to try and hold the band together as long as we could until we got that new leader. I think we did a bang-up job.”

Sophomore trumpeter Lahela Hall said the arrival of Pender was “a relief.”

“We were in need of that (leadership) while trying to do it ourselves, but having someone there just to give us that extra step does give us motivation and pushes our dedication,” she said.

Thunderin’ Hawks Pep Band members Adbul-Hakeem Kargbo (left) and Lahela Hall (right) practice their instruments at the Ella Fitzgerald Performing Arts Center.

In taking over leadership of the band, Pender has set several goals including growing the size of musicians to at least 50 members, and ultimately to triple-digits, while also having the band record with established artists. But one thing not on his agenda is the need to establish a culture.

“When I arrived, I expected to have pushback, but these students are so different in that they actually welcomed me to the hawk family, which makes them so special because you don’t typically see that,” he said. “So, to be welcomed and to be able to learn about the culture of this band is phenomenal and I’m appreciative that they have kept the culture here intact.”

As for expectations by the band members, Kargbo said he and his bandmates are hoping to make a splash in what will be their first performances of the year, which will be centered around homecoming festivities.

“The biggest thing I’m looking forward to is seeing all the new people and showing up and showing out because this year I really have a great feeling it’s going to be one of our best years,” he said. “It’s going to be our comeback year and we’re going to show these people.”

Scroll to Top