Written by: 
Jessica DeLeón

Jermaine Stegall ('03 M.M.) first saw Coming to America, starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, at the movie theater when he was 12 years old.

Three decades later, he composed the music to its sequel, Coming 2 America.

The movie -- which begins streaming on Amazon Prime on March 5 -- fulfills a longtime goal for Stegall, who wanted to compose for film and television since his undergraduate days.

And the movie boasts other UNT connections -- Dan Lutz, who attended from 1993 to 1995, plays bass; Larry James Walker ('04) contributed solos and chants through the film; and faculty member Scott Tixier performs the violin. Rapper Bobby Sessions, who attended in the early 2010s, collaborated on the song "I'm a King" with Megan Thee Stallion.

Stegall faced two challenges -- making the music itself, which included adding African elements, and fitting the score for comedic timing, all while composing it during COVID.

"It was super exciting -- and seeming like it could be a daunting task to try to do the movie justice," he says. "It was just like an off-to-the-races adrenaline."

'Beautiful Distraction'

Stegall's plan was to perform the saxophone professionally.

But while earning his bachelor's degree at Northern Illinois University, he caught the movie Apollo 13 and was captivated by its cinematic and intentional use of music. He realized he wanted to compose film scores, and he intended to move to Hollywood after graduation.

But his mentors convinced him to hit Denton first.

His teachers touted UNT's strong composition program. His saxophone teacher, Steve Duke ('77, '81 M.M.), raved about Jim Riggs ('72), Regents Professor Emeritus of saxophone.

So Stegall came to UNT and found what he called a "beautiful distraction" -- its jazz program.

"The whole goal was to work on the craft of composition," he says. "For the first two years, I was sidetracked by working in the lab bands."

The One O'Clock Lab Band read his charts and the Three O'Clock Lab Band, where he played lead alto under Jay Saunders ('68), recorded some of his music. He took personal lessons from Riggs.

In his third year, he focused on writing and finishing his degree -- absorbing information from Paris Rutherford, Regents Professor Emeritus in jazz studies, and W. Alan Oldfield ('69 Ph.D.), a former adjunct instructor.

Stegall also met his wife, Karen Anderson Stegall ('03), a theatre major. After he and Karen graduated, they married and then moved to Hollywood -- and he was off to pursue his dream.

No Business Like Show Business

Stegall steadily built his way to Hollywood.

He joined the University of Southern California's film scoring program, where during one session, he saw another UNT alum play -- saxophonist Dan Higgins ('77). He also worked with saxophonist Zach Hexum ('00).

Stegall has taken part in Universal/Dreamworks Film Music Diversity Initiative, provided scoring for the Netflix movie The Christmas Chronicles, and composed the music for the Netflix short film Canvas and Our Star Wars, an original digital series from Lucasfilm and StarWars.com focusing on the movie franchise's devout fans.

Stegall connected with studio officials at Paramount, who had mentioned Coming 2 America needed music for specific scenes. Stegall wrote a few demos, and it turned out to be just what the movie needed. He was hired to compose the score.

The first film followed Prince Akeem of the fictional country of Zamunda as he came to New York City to find a queen. The sequel, in which the prince discovers he has a child, boasts new characters and old favorites. He wrote themes for specific characters and the romantic scenes.

In the original, the barbershop scenes didn't feature music, but Stegall decided to give a score to the crusty characters this time.

He also had to think about comedic timing.

"I think comedy is harder," he says. "First of all, I like to laugh when it's genuine. We didn't want the score to be cheesy. If it was a funny moment, maybe approach it in a light way."

He also added African elements, thinking about the sounds of Zamunda.

One musician played a Fula flute and contrabass flute -- both almost as tall as a human -- and sang into the flute at the same time. Stegall wrote vocal text chants in Yuroba and Swahili.

But he had to conduct the score with COVID restrictions. All woodwinds and several other instruments were recorded at home. The strings were recorded in the studio, but musicians had to be tested for COVID and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Stegall's next project is a supernatural thriller. He says his goal is to work on projects that "inspire and uplift."

For now, he's relishing the success of Coming 2 America.

"I was like, 'We made a movie!'" he says. "Look at that, it's really done!"

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