Hardin-Simmons University Announces Jay Lester as Cowboy Band Director

September 8, 2023 Mary Burke

Hardin-Simmons University is excited to announce Jay Lester as the new Director of Bands and Assistant Professor of Music, pending his retirement from Abilene Independent School District (AISD) at the end of December. Lester is a 1994 graduate of HSU and former Cowboy Band member who has served the university as Chairman of the Cowboy Band Foundation, Vice President of the Board of Young Associates, and as a member of the Board of Development for many years. He has worked with AISD since 2012 and currently serves as the district’s Executive Director of Fine Arts.

Jay Lester smiling in front of a blue backdrop

Jay Lester

Dr. Chris McNair, Provost and Chief Academic Officer at HSU, shared the university’s excitement, saying, “Jay has a wealth of experience leading fine arts in AISD. That, along with his knowledge of the history and experience having been a member of the Cowboy Band himself, while a student at HSU, makes him a shoo-in for this role.”

Dr. David Young, Abilene ISD Superintendent of Schools, expressed his gratitude for Lester’s service to AISD, saying, “Jay Lester has served Abilene ISD Fine Arts students and instructors with excellence for more than a decade. Our award-winning fine arts programs have experienced tremendous growth under his leadership. I wish Jay nothing but the best as he takes on this new opportunity at HSU and look forward to his continued success as a fine arts leader in Abilene.”

During his tenure as an arts director in Victoria and Abilene, Lester worked to develop a well-balanced fine arts curriculum, created opportunities for professional learning, facilitated innovative field trip experiences for students, aided in over 25 construction and renovation projects, and encouraged students to excel in the arts. During the 2019-20 school year, Lester served as the President of the Texas Fine Arts Administrators, where he was instrumental in moving the organization to a non-profit corporation and in hiring their first Executive Secretary.

Members of the Cowboy Band in Ireland, 2022

Members of the Cowboy Band in Ireland, 2022

Prior to his work as a school district administrator, Lester worked as a band and orchestra director in Odessa, Abilene, and Allen. At HSU, Lester will teach courses in music education, conducting, music business, and will lead the University Concert Band as well as the World-Famous Cowboy Band. Recently, he performed with the World-Famous Cowboy Band in Ireland at the 2022 St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Until Lester joins the campus in spring 2024, HSU is blessed to have Carroll “Smiley” Rhodes as the interim Director of Bands. “Smiley” was a member of the Cowboy Band and graduated from HSU in 1971. Prior to stepping into this role, he served as band director for Tahoka ISD for over 20 years. Additionally, Rhodes was named to the Texas Band Directors Hall of Fame in 2023 and the Cowboy Band Hall of Fame in 2018.