Professor Johnny Lee Lane has distinguished himself as a leader in percussion education and as an astute businessman in the percussion industry. Known by many of his students as “Prof Lane” or by many of his colleagues as “JL,” Lane has impacted many lives. He has served in many roles that include musician, professor, private teacher, consultant, sales representative, motivational speaker, clinician, adjudicator, mentor, and board member. Regardless of which role Lane has operated in, he always lives by these two mantras: “The Groove” and “Life.”
“Johnny Lee Lane is a singularity in the world of percussion,” says marimbist and composer Julie Spencer. “There is simply no one like him — a luminary personality as well as an in-demand creative artist and clinician, legendary motivational speaker, powerful presence in the industry, with a lifetime of work in education and a remarkable agent of inspiration for thousands of people in percussion. His development of the United States Percussion Camp, in the face of biased systemic opposition to his being the first “non-white” leader and organizer of a major national percussion event in the U.S., as well as being a well-known judge in percussion competitions and creating the network of many hundreds of leading percussionists and virtuoso players and recording artists coast to coast that creates accessibility cutting through all kinds of age, professional, social, gendered, and biased hierarchies, opened the way for many hundreds of career opportunities that have multiplied that network of artistic influence incalculably.
“Without his taking note of me and my musicianship when I was a teenager, and without his mentoring and introducing me to an enormous network of likeminded artists, I would not have had access to the kinds of life-changing professional opportunities that guided my direction during all of my adult professional career,” Spencer states. “He simply has no equal, in my experience, when it comes to tapping people’s potential, creating opportunity, fostering personal and musical growth, and leading the way with his own unbelievable energetic and optimistic and foundational precepts of what it means to be an artist, to be professional, to be the best possible version of yourself, and to never give up on improving day after day, with a focus on community building for all percussionists.”
Johnny Lee Lane was born on December 19, 1949, in Vero Beach, Florida. He developed his musical talent early on by taking piano lessons at the age of eight. He was influenced by his cousin Johnny “Jaimoe” Johnson of the Allman Brothers Band. During his high school years, he studied total percussion with Lawrence E. Trapp. In the summers of 1965 and 1966, he attended the University of Kansas Midwestern Music and Arts camp to study total percussion with James Tamer and Leonard Cuddy.
Upon graduating from Gifford High School in 1967, Lane enrolled at Texas Southern University and studied total percussion with G. David Peters. During a percussion clinic at TSU, Lane met rudimental snare drum champion Frank Arsenault and decided to take lessons with him after seeing his presentation. As a result of his lessons with Arsenault, Lane developed a unique rudimental playing style that distinguished him from his peers.
In the fall of 1968, Lane transferred to Southern University, and studied total percussion with Don Dillon. Being focused and committed to refining his musical skill sets, Lane practiced in the music building daily from 4:00 a.m. until 7:00 a.m. Lane was a member of the SU Percussion Ensemble, and they traveled throughout Louisiana presenting concerts. As section leader of the Southern University Marching Drumline, Lane began to compose drum cadences for the marching drumline. The ideas and rhythms for these cadences were based on unique sounds that he heard from buildings being constructed on campus as he walked to and from classes daily. The characteristic “funk groove” heard in these drum cadences written by Lane have influenced many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and high school drumlines, particularly in the South.
After graduation from Southern University in 1971, Lane enrolled as a graduate student at Southern Illinois University in 1971, studying with Michael Haynes. During his time at SIU, Lane developed his own vision for a total percussion program that would be second to none. He intended to implement this concept after completing the graduate program and obtaining a full-time music faculty position as Professor of Percussion.
In 1972, at age 22, Lane began his teaching career at Tennessee State University, serving on the music faculty as Assistant Director of Bands/Director of Percussion Studies. After teaching at Tennessee State University for two years, Lane was hired in 1974 at Eastern Illinois University as Director of Percussion Studies. During his tenure at Eastern Illinois University, he implemented his vision of developing a competitive total percussion program. He taught undergraduate and graduate percussion majors, and conducted the percussion ensemble, marimba orchestras, marimba rag bands, and the world percussion ensemble.
Regardless of his students’ career paths, Lane demanded excellence and taught his students “life skills” that would not only be beneficial in the professional world but also their personal lives. His students would graduate and become music educators and professional musicians throughout the world.
Always seeking to be innovative and creative to promote percussion education beyond the traditional classroom, Lane founded the United States Percussion Camp, which was held for 13 years during the summers at Eastern Illinois University. This summer total percussion camp was amazing, influential, and impactful to so many students as well as the faculty and staff members. This camp included 37 faculty members with an enrollment of 300+ students every year. It was so impressive that in 1996, the camp was featured on ABC’s Good Morning America show.
Even while serving on the music faculty at Eastern Illinois, Lane continued to enrich himself by taking lessons with Samuel A. Floyd, Alan Dawson, Geraldo de Oliveira, Thomas Siwe, Bobby Christian, and Sam Denov. These lessons were part of his quest for continuing education for the purpose of being excellent as a musician and pedagogue. As part of a study abroad outreach initiative, Lane toured Germany four times, presenting percussion clinics in 1980, 1983, 1986, and 1988.
Due to his diligence and passion for teaching, Lane received Faculty Excellence Awards in 1989, 1994, and 1996. Lane served as Professor of Music and Director of Percussion Studies at Eastern Illinois University for 28 years, retiring in 2002. However, even though he retired from Eastern Illinois, he didn’t retire from his love for teaching percussion and being a consultant. He taught music and percussion at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) from 2002–05, and currently teaches at Butler University as an Adjunct Professor of Music (percussion).
In addition to his academic career, Lane has been fortunate to have professional experiences within the music industry. He served as Director of Education and Senior Educational Advisor at Remo (2005–20). During his tenure in this role, Lane led the 2004 Tournament of Roses Parade playing the world’s tallest drum. Currently, Lane serves as Traditional Product Manager at Dynasty USA, and recently has become the Percussion Consultant for Parsons Music Corporation in Hong Kong.
Lane has co-authored three books that are used throughout various university and high school percussion programs across the United States. They are Four-Mallet Independence for Marimba by Johnny Lee Lane and Samuel A. Floyd (Hal Leonard), Rudimental Snare Drum Grooves by Johnny Lee Lane and Richard Walker (Hal Leonard), and Hand Drum Trios by Johnny Lee Lane and Terence Mayhue (Row-Loff Productions). Furthermore, Lane collaborated with Vic Firth to design and promote the Corpsmaster Groove Series Johnny Lee Lane Signature snare drum stick, tenor drum mallet, and bass drum mallet. These sticks and mallets are the result of Lane’s vision to help meet the percussion performance needs of HBCU traditional-style marching bands.
Lane’s dedication to percussion education and commitment to excellence has allowed him to be very influential in the percussion world. In 1979, Lane was elected to the PAS Board of Directors, serving in this capacity for ten years. Lane was re-elected to serve again in 2012–18. During his initial service on the Board of Directors, Lane started what was known as the PAS 100% Club, with the responsibility of recruiting new members. Lane is one of the founding members of the Alliance of Black Orchestral Percussionists (ABOP). Furthermore, Lane received the PAS Lifetime Achievement in Education Award at PASIC 2007 in Columbus, Ohio, and in 2019, Lane was inducted into the Conn-Selmer Institute Hall of Fame.
Lane continues to present percussion clinics throughout the United States through corporate sponsorship from Zildjian, Remo, Vic Firth Sticks and Mallets, and Dynasty Percussion. Audience members at these clinics include professional musicians, amateur musicians, music educators, and student musicians. He always receives positive feedback from audience members for encouraging them to pursue excellence in life and achieve their desired goals in music (percussion). He also offers private lessons to students of all ages in-person at his home, and virtual masterclasses to colleges and universities, as well as being accessible through his social media page (Professor Johnny Lee Lane Groove Network on Facebook).
He is very active in the community and enjoys serving as a member of the music ministry at his church in Indianapolis. In his previous role as Director of Education at Remo and his current role as Traditional Product Manager at Dynasty, Lane is present at major professional conferences including PASIC, College Band Directors National Association Athletic Band Symposium, Midwest Band Directors and Orchestra Clinic, NAMM, and the HBCU National Band Directors Consortium, serving as a consultant to advise band directors, music teachers, music students, and professional musicians.
Whether teaching in the classroom or serving in a corporate role in the music industry, Lane strives to offer excellence in education, customer service, and musicianship. Raynor Carroll, as well as some of Lane’s students, have provided testimonials about his impact and influence on their careers:
“Professor Lane’s continued legacy is evident with the success of his students — many of whom teach at leading universities and colleges. His significant influence on percussion in Historically Black Colleges and Universities throughout the country is undeniable. He taught music, but more importantly, he taught his students how to be professional, responsible citizens, and contributors to the community.” —Raynor Carroll, Retired Principal Percussionist, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Founder and CEO of the Alliance of Black Orchestral Percussionists (ABOP)
“My professional career is strongly connected to Prof. Johnny Lee Lane. My first percussion teacher was Jeff Pellaton (Mississippi Valley State University), who was a student of Prof. Lane. I studied with Prof. Lane at Eastern Illinois University for my master’s degree in performance. His dedication and pursuit of being excellent in percussion and life is infectious. He is demanding as a teacher and a great role model. I don’t know of anyone with more relationships in the music industry or who is more widely known. He never forgets a name and is the master of creating nicknames for his students and friends. Once you meet him, you will never forget him. My first teaching position was at Mississippi Valley State University, and my present position is at the University of Mississippi, where I have been for 30 years. I owe him for urging me to apply for the job. It’s the best professional decision I’ve made.” —Rickey Burkhead, Professor of Music and Percussion, University of Mississippi
“Prof. Lane is the most inspirational teacher with whom I’ve had the pleasure of studying. While acknowledging life’s obstacles, he has always modeled the undeniable perseverance to not only see past those obstacles, but to actually use them as stepping stones in the achievement of one’s goals. As he has done for so many others, he has connected me through the years with leaders of our field who, in turn, have also had a tremendous influence on my personal and professional path. Johnny Lee Lane has markedly advanced the field — one relationship at a time — teaching life through the art of music.” —Kurt Gartner, Professor of Music/Associate Director, School of Music, Theatre, and Dance, Kansas State University
“As so many have said, and will say, Prof doesn’t just teach percussion, he teaches LIFE! In turn, his life has impacted (and continues to impact) so many lives, so many careers, so many families, so many institutions. I am forever grateful for Johnny Lee Lane.” —Peter Alan Hussey, Associate Professor of Music/Percussion Studies, Lewis and Clark Community College
“Johnny influenced me in many ways. Certainly, he influenced how I approach teaching and playing, but maybe even more importantly he instilled a love and excitement about music education and performance. His dedication to excellence, teaching, and his students can’t be overstated. It’s infectious and to this day continues to inspire me to be the best teacher and performer I can be.” —Leonard Scott Ney, Professor of Music/Director of Percussion, The University of New Mexico
In closing, I want to express gratitude to Professor Johnny Lee Lane for his personal influence on my life, particularly by adopting me as his “grand student” due to the fact that I attended the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) to study percussion with Professor Ricky Burkhead, who is a former graduate student of Lane at Eastern Illinois University. The topic of the final document for completion of my master’s program at Ole Miss was written on the life and accomplishments of Professor Lane. He, along with Ndugu Chancler, presented clinics for my students during my tenure teaching on the music faculty at Hampton University and Tennessee State University respectively. It was amazing watching both of them in action. It was as if they were two preachers who tag-teamed during a revival service at a church, pouring their hearts out to share their gifts. In this instance, though, the setting was on a college campus that included audience members from the student body, faculty, staff, and even the community. Both Lane and Chancler endeavored to stir up everyone’s interest in drum set and percussion performance as well as to challenge everyone to go after their dreams with conviction. They both received standing ovations at the end of the clinics as a token of appreciation.
It is my pleasure and honor to congratulate you, Prof, on this momentous occasion of being inducted into the PAS Hall of Fame and to let you know that “your labor has not been in vain.”