From band hall to Vegas: Natchez grad part of ‘breathtaking’ Super Bowl halftime experience

Published 12:28 pm Wednesday, February 14, 2024

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NATCHEZ — Kaylyn Stampley, a 2020 Natchez High School graduate, never thought that being in a marching band would take her as far as it did last Sunday.

As a member of Jackson State University’s Sonic Boom of The South, Stampley performed in the Super Bowl LVIII halftime show.

It was an experience she will never forget.

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“I never thought band would’ve taken me that far,” she said. “In high school, I used to tap on the desk all day and my teachers would get so annoyed with me and tell me, ‘Leave band in the band hall. Don’t take it everywhere with you.’ Now it has taken me to Vegas.”

Kaylyn Stampley dressed in uniform for her performance with Usher in the Super Bowl LVIII. (Submitted)

Stampley described herself as an introvert, shy, and someone who gets homesick easily.

In fact, Stampley said she did get homesick while in Las Vegas for 10 straight days rehearsing the halftime show alongside the R&B and pop music icon Usher, Alicia Keys, Jermaine Dupri and Ludacris.

“I never would have thought that my first time going to a Super Bowl that I would be in it instead of in the crowd,” Stampley said.

“I mean, it was really a nice experience, but to somebody that doesn’t go out or do very much in their spare time, I got kind of homesick within like the first four days. But for the experience itself, I was within 15 feet of people that I watched on TV since I was a kid; people that I just never really thought that I would face in life. It was breathtaking. It’s something that I can’t put into words, genuinely.”

Attending Super Bowl LVIII were 61,629 fans and celebrities. Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Taylor Swift rooting for her boyfriend Travis Kelce — a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs — were seen in the stands.

Over 60,000 fans, including celebrities, attended Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium. (web image)

“We walked through the tunnel and my first reaction was looking around Allegiant Stadium, seeing tens of thousands of people and not one seat empty from the bottom to the top,” Stampley said. “There were celebrities, people from Vegas, people from everywhere. I was starstruck. I didn’t know what to think. It was an ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this’ moment.”

Looking back, Stampley said she never thought that playing a drum would become the highlight of her 20s. Stampley’s walk into the spotlight began in high school.

She got her first taste when Natchez Democrat reporter Nicole Hester interviewed her about being a woman on the drums.

“Now I can tell you that being a woman on drums got me further than what I thought it would have,” she said. “A lot of people, when they think of drums, they think of men. But I’m a woman and I make it look good.”

She never touched a drumstick until she was a high school freshman. She bought her own drum to practice at home, she said.

“I was standing in that backyard for three or four hours straight. It got so bad to the point that my neighbors would tell me, ‘You gotta put that drum down because we don’t want to hear that all day.’”

During her senior year of high school, She auditioned for Sonic Boom on a Zoom call.

Kaylyn Stampley, a Natchez High School graduate, is dressed in her band uniform after she made it into the Sonic Boom of The South as an incoming freshman at Jackson State University in 2020. (Submitted)

“With the world being shut down for as long as it was and with how strict everything was, I really thought that I wasn’t going to get a chance to even play for the Sonic Boom. I didn’t know if I was going to make it. I didn’t know if I was going to get the chance to come to college. I thought with the way that COVID was going, it was going to take the world over for God knows how long. I didn’t know what the outcome would be. I just had it in my mind that I wanted to play in the Boom and I just made it happen.”

Now Stampley is a senior at Jackson State University studying industrial technology with a strenuous schedule. Besides taking a lot of classes and the hours spent doing homework each day, Stampley’s band practices during the season often last until 11 p.m. or midnight.

Over  Christmas break, Stampley was told to rest a foot injury she had because “There was something big coming up.”

Then she got a message on the band app to join another life-changing Zoom call.

“It was like 93 or 94 people in the group chat,” out of over 300 band members, she said.

Roderick Little, Director of Bands, had invited the members to join the meeting.

“He tells us, ‘Surprise, you’re gonna perform Super Bowl LVIII with Usher,’” she said. “I’m like, how do you just drop something like that on someone? My jaw was on the ground.”

Jackson State University’s Sonic Boom of The South band members performed with Usher in the Super Bowl LVIII Apple Music halftime show. (Courtesy of Sonic Boom of The South)

She and the other performers had to sign a non-disclosure agreement promising not to breathe a word about being in the performance until the Super Bowl.

“The rest of the band was surprised when they saw us on the field,” she said. “The only part that was hard was holding back from certain people. I have family members who are really proud of me and it was hard to keep it secret. It all finally paid off because, in the end, I got to do something amazing. I got to perform at the Super Bowl and got paid to do it. It’s still surreal to me and I can’t thank anyone but God.”

How was Usher? Stampley said he was nice.

“I actually shook his hand,” she said. “While we were practicing, I was within 5 to 10 feet of this man every day for 10 straight days. The first few days I was kinda like, ‘Oh God, that’s Usher. OK, he’s just a regular person. … This is Usher Raymond in front of me. There’s no way.’ Everything about it was so exciting. I couldn’t do anything but smile. They eventually had to tell me if you don’t stop smiling, you can get stuck like that.”

Stampley said she couldn’t take pictures, per the NDA, but she got the experience of a lifetime being complemented by a superstar. They practiced the same dance moves but under the added weight of heavy instruments. That impressed him, Stampley said.

“He was shocked by the amount of work ethic that we all had for just being band members,” she said. “I recall him saying, ‘Y’all are practicing just like how I practice’ … All the movement like he is doing but with extra weight on you, it’s a lot harder to do. We played for him in person and he danced to us playing. It was unbelievable.”

Click here to watch the full performance.