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2023 "40 Under 40" Educator John Aguilar

John Aguilar

Director of Bands
Robert Eagle Staff Middle School
Seattle, Washington

Which of these is plausible for a middle school band?

a) Traveling across the country to perform at two battle of the bands.

b) Performing at a Seattle Storm halftime show, which has garnered more than 2 million views across social media platforms.

c) Recording a song with rapper Bruce Wayne (Marlon Wood).

d) All of the above.

If you know John Aguilar, the Director of Bands at Robert Eagle Staff Middle School in Seattle, then you would immediately pick d) all of the above — and you would be right.

Aguilar explains that Curtis Akeem, a social media comedian, personality and marching band advocate from Atlanta, reached out to him after seeing his middle school band on Instagram. Akeem wanted to support the band, so Aguilar asked him to come to Seattle to work with his students on a song that they planned to perform at a Seattle Storm halftime show. Akeem MC’d the show, which featured artists Bruce Wayne (Marlon Wood) and Alexandra Fresquez. Not only was the show a success — it was shared on social media and to date has more than 2 million views! This led to the Robert Eagle Staff band being invited to participate in two HBCU-inspired battle of the bands in Atlanta in the spring of 2023.

Aguilar and Bruce Wayne (Marlon Wood) both attended the University of Washington (UW), where Wood was a football player in the 2000s before becoming a rapper and educator, and Aguilar was the drum major in the 2010s. “Although we were a few years apart, we crossed paths when the UW Husky Band asked me to arrange one of Marlon’s songs for them to play,” Aguilar says.

Both men wanted to inspire the youth and the community through an original song. “SOAR” was created to uplift listeners through themes of hope, motivation, pride and perseverance. “After the struggles and educational effects of the pandemic years, it was just inspiring to see students not only return to their original musical form, but also evolve and try new things that were firsts for our program,” Aguilar says. “We became the first middle school marching band in our district to release an original song on streaming platforms, and during that journey, the song was nominated for a Hollywood Music in Media Award, and the “SOAR” music video has amassed over 1 million views on YouTube. What was more inspiring was to see and hear students singing the song whenever it came on the radio or played over the school speakers. It truly became THEIR song!”

By bringing in Black artists/educators like Akeem and Wood, students “learn Black music in a culturally authentic way,” Aguilar says. “It also gives them a chance to meet the artists/educators and hear their stories and journeys, making the education more than just about music, but holistically about life.”