David B. Hooten ('87) knew he wanted to play the trumpet when he was 2 years old.
He didn't get his own instrument until he was 9 -- which he purchased himself at a pawn shop. He took to it instantly.
"It was always something I could do very well," he says.
The trumpet has taken him around the world. He has performed at the White House and for Pope John Paul II. He received rousing standing ovations from audiences at the Crystal Cathedral (now Christ Cathedral) in California and played for the king of Thailand.
His rendition of "Amazing Grace," recorded when he was a UNT student, earned him worldwide recognition -- he later played it at a ceremony honoring victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. And he's recorded with a number of artists, including Pat Boone.
On April 29, he received the UNT Presidential Medal of Honor, alongside Pat Boone, for his outstanding musical talents and impact on the entertainment industry.
"It's unbelievable," he says. "I'm terribly humbled."
Hooten, who grew up in Duncan, Oklahoma, seemed destined to play the trumpet.
He was named after an uncle, a trumpet player and violinist who attended UNT -- a fact he didn't know until he saw his uncle's name on an old UNT recital program.
While he originally intended to attend the Eastman School of Music in New York, the school lost his tape.
He met Leonard Candelaria, then professor of trumpet at UNT, at an event. Candelaria noticed Hooten had talent and suggested he attend UNT. He took his suggestion to heart and became one of the few freshmen Candelaria taught.
"I left many lessons crying because it was challenging," he says. "The music prepared me for life."
Hooten, a music education student, practiced up to 13 hours a day. He played in UNT's Two and Three O'Clock Lab Bands, as well as the orchestra and other ensembles. His favorite memory is playing Mussorgsky's Pictures in an Exhibition with the orchestra, where his trumpet solo won great reaction from the audience.
He also made friends for life. When he first roomed at Bruce Hall, the roommates were already selected, and one of the students didn't want to room with a Black student.
"I heard it happening, walked over and said, 'I'll room with you. I'm happy to room with you,'" Hooten says.
That student was Frank Greene, who went on to have his own successful career, including playing with the Late Show with David Letterman band. Another friend was David Matthews, oboist and English horn chair for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
"That's what this school does. We were all very dedicated. We did the work," Hooten says.
During his time at UNT, Hooten recorded the album The Trumpet Shall Sound -- but learned that half the album was erased and he had to re-record it in one day.
"It was just around midnight when I got to 'Amazing Grace,'" Hooten says. "I was totally tired and I said a prayer. And I said, 'God you're going to have to help me because I don't have anything left.' And that was the entire version that was on the album."
KVIL disc jockey Ron Chapman played "Amazing Grace." Listeners were stunned by Hooten's rendition. Major labels called him. He even took a call in the Music Building from Motown head Barry Gordy Jr. and another from Capitol Records.
"I was excited," he says. "That song led to so many open doors."
But Hooten wanted to make music on his own terms, so he released his recordings on his own. He is a multi-Grammy and Emmy nominated musician and has released 22 albums and produced or played on over 100 albums from jazz to gospel and classical.
"You can do all of it," he says. "That's what North Texas gave to me. It taught me how to be a professional player where you can play whatever you're hired to do and I did. I was a professional trumpet player who would play in a symphony in the evening and play in a jazz club after we got done and then did whatever I had to in the recording studio."
Hooten met Pat Boone at a radio station and the two hit it off. They recorded Footprints of God, but held off releasing until 2020, around the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We thought it was really very, very special and we wanted to release it when the world needed it most," Hooten says.
With a lifetime of hard work leading him to many places, what advice does Hooten give to aspiring musicians?
"Don't stop," he says. "If you keep going, you'll get there."