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The Voice of the Black Community


Greatest show on turf? It’s the bands
Music and showmanship spark HBCU competition
Published Wednesday, July 30, 2014 2:34 pm
by Herbert L. White


Black college bands add color, pageantry and showmanship to football Saturdays. The kickoff to their season is the Queen City Battle of the Bands Aug. 23 at Memorial Stadium.

Football is king in the South, but band is royalty at historically black colleges, too.

The first games are about a month away, but bands are conducting camps in preparation for the Queen City Battle of the Bands competition on Aug. 23 at Memorial Stadium. Seven HBCU bands will perform, including Johnson C. Smith, N.C. A&T State and N.C. Central universities. Local high school drumlines will also take the field.

Tickets are $20 online at www.queencitybattleofthebands.com or the stadium box office during the week of competition. Proceeds will go to scholarships for the participating schools.

Band performances are more than a staple at HBCU games; they’re often the reason fans go at all. When they take the field at halftime, lines at concession stands shorten as fans rush to their seats for a peek at the show. At the Battle of the Bands, it’ll be a high-stepping, hip-shaking spectacle that literally brings fans out of their seats.

“It’s all about showmanship,” says NCCU senior Yoni McKoy, who plays clarinet for the Marching Sound Machine. “You’ve got to get out there and give people a show, something for them to be excited about.”

That excitement starts during the summer with rigorous drills that build physical fitness for the discipline of a halftime show. Hours of choreography hone every step and the music is blended through rehearsal sessions. The result is a product that makes the black college experience unique for its entertainment value.

“If the football team is doing a great job on the field, it’s going to be a battle between the football team and the band, and some people are going to show up just for the band,” says JCSU band director Robert Edwards.

HBCU bands have always marched to a different beat. A&T, which formed its program in 1918 with 50 musicians, soon drew the attention of rivals looking to add halftime pageantry of their own. What set them apart from mainstream colleges was the introduction of intricate choreography and high-stepping cadence, a radical departure from traditional military corps-style performances.
That showmanship reached a wider audience with the 2002 movie “Drumline,” which spread HBCU pageantry across the country. McKoy’s inspiration was closer to home – her older sister was a member of Fayetteville State University’s band.

“I grew up going to her football games,” said McKoy, who grew up in Garland, N.C. “That was the whole reason I went and for a lot of people, that was the reason they went. The band is the way we show love to our communities.”

At the Battle of the Bands, Shaw’s “Platinum Sound,” WSSU’s “Red Sea of Sound” and S.C. State’s “Marching 101” will strut, toot and sashay to old-school tunes like SOS Band’s “Take Your Time (Do It Right),” the Temptations’ “Treat Her Like a Lady” or Paula Abdul “Cold Hearted.” The dancers will shake and shimmy. And no one will have to keep track of the halftime score.


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