by Billy Watkins
From the Clarionledger.com
Evan and Devan Lewis, identical twins who entered the world only two minutes apart, decided to part ways for the first time when they graduated from Madison Central High School in 2009.
Evan went to Mississippi State. Devan enrolled at Ole Miss.
“Devan couldn’t stand cowbells,” Evan says, “and I couldn’t stand the ‘Hotty Toddy’ cheer.”
But their separation didn’t last long.
“State opened the football season that year with Jackson State,” Evan recalls, “and I can still picture JSU’s Sonic Boom entering the stadium. It was mind-blowing. People in the crowd started cheering and going crazy. I called Devan immediately after the game and said, ‘Man, we’re transferring to JSU and joining that band.’ I had never heard or felt anything like that.”
And now they are right at home in the legendary Sonic Boom, with Devan on trumpet and Evan on saxophone.
They are joined by three other sets of identical twins: Charlotte and Charlene Johnson of Clinton; Labreia and Lakeia Thurman of Greenwood; and Brandon and Bralin Scott of Little Rock, Ark.
“I’ve never seen four sets of twins in the same place, let alone in the same band,” says Lowell Hollinger, JSU’s assistant band director who is with the Sonic Boom this weekend at the Honda Battle of the Bands in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. “It’s pretty unique, I’d say.
“And sometimes it’s quite humorous. One of them will be walking across The Plaza on campus and somebody will say ‘I spoke to you yesterday and you completely ignored me. What’s up with that?’ And, of course, they’ll respond ‘I have a twin … are you sure it was me?’ “
Hollinger says he has no problem distinguishing between any of the twins.
“We have approximately 280 band members, and I take pride in knowing every one of their first and last names,” he says. “Students buy into the program better if they realize they’re not just a number.
“Now I’m not going to say it’s been easy being able to tell the twins apart. It took a little bit of time. And it’s still difficult sometimes when it comes to Brandon and Bralin. But give me a few seconds, and I can figure it out. Even twins have something different about them. You just have to pay attention.”
Charlotte and Charlene Johnson, 20, are members of the J-Settes dance team. Both are majoring in health care administration.
“They didn’t have a dance team (at Clinton High), just flag girls,” says Charlotte, captain of the J-Settes. “So I wound up becoming a cheerleader my senior year. But dancing is where our hearts have always been.”
Both traveled with the Jackson Community Dance Team since age 12. “It taught us a mixture of hip-hop, lyrical, majorette style … sort of what we do here at JSU.”
Unlike band members who play instruments, the J-Settes are not on scholarship and must try out each year.
“We wondered what would happen if one of us made it and the other didn’t. We’ve had to face that every year,” Charlotte says. “And last year we actually had that happen with twins. But we agreed ahead of time, if one of us made it, then the other would offer her full support. Luckily, it hasn’t come to that.”
Both have endured the rigorous training required and maintained the minimum 2.75 GPA required to remain with the band. “It’s Monday through Friday, five hours minimum,” Charlotte says. “We stretch for an hour, run and exercise for 30 minutes, do 15 minutes of crunches, and then we go through our dances.
“But our job doesn’t stop there. Our peers look up to us, so I’m always emphasizing to be classy – dress tastefully, walk and talk correctly. We may stand out on campus, but in a good way.”
Despite the same majors, the two have different plans when it comes to dancing.
“I want to dance for an NBA team,” Charlotte says. “Charlene says when she graduates JSU, she’s done with dancing.”
The Scotts, 21, visited JSU on a football weekend their senior year of high school. “The band’s presentation and the reception they received from the fans sold us,” Brandon says. “You don’t normally see that kind of pride in a band.”
They have managed to find individuality – to a degree – the past four years.
“We still think alike, and we’ll finish each other’s sentences,” Brandon says. “But I major in business administration and Bralin is into biology. He plays video games that I don’t play … stuff like Call of Duty. And we have different tastes when it comes to clothing. He’s very casual, and I look for any excuse to dress up.”
And Brandon plays baritone while Bralin plays trumpet.
“That’s one of the things I wish we’d done different,” Brandon says. “I wish we both played the same instrument … because that way we could compete against one another. I don’t think you ever lose that competitive spirit as a twin.”
Labreia and Lakeia Thurman, 21, have been band members together since sixth grade at Greenwood’s Threadgill Elementary.
“We had never even seen instruments before,” Labreia says. “When the band director brought some in, he let us pick which ones we were drawn to. I grabbed the saxophone, and Lakeia said she wanted to play sax, too. But the band director was smart … he told her ‘You have the perfect hands for French horn.’ She has loved it ever since.”
At JSU, Labreia put aside the sax and works as the band manager. “That means I do all the behind-the-scenes stuff like making sure everything runs smoothly, whether it’s running errands or making sure the coolers are full.”
Because the band is so large, the four sets of twins haven’t been able to bond.
“If you don’t play the same instrument, it’s really hard to form a relationship,” Brandon says. “I mean, when we perform, we’re all on the same team. But it’s not like we see everybody in the band every day.
“But it is pretty cool to know there are that many twins in the Sonic Boom. We already get looked at pretty closely when we perform somewhere. This is just something else to cause a double take.”