***This is a feature when I champion a topic that I believe is in need of ethnomusicological investigation. And no, I’m not gonna do it. I already have a dissertation to write!***
Disclaimer: I’m going to attempt to not make this blog all about the Florida A&M University Marching 100…but I’m not making any promises.
**back to the lecture at hand**
I LOVE HBCU marching bands (specifically the FAMU Marching 100). I don’t know a person who attended a HBCU who doesn’t. The importance of the performance of these bands has transcended the realm of HBCU fall football seasons and asserted itself as an uniquely African American art form that is firmly rooted in American popular culture. You can find HBCU bands at the Super Bowl (the FAMU Marching 100 that is), feature films, commercials, the Super Bowl, and Presidential Inaugurations. And I was STUNNED during this past bowl season when I heard bands like Florida, West Virginia, and others taking cues from the way HBCU’s rock the crowd!
The immense popularity of HBCU bands hasn’t gone unnoticed by corporate sponsorship and the off-campus world. This past Saturday the seventh annual Honda Battle of the Bands (HBOB) was held at the Georgia Dome here in Atlanta. HBOB is a showcase of the top vote-getting Historically Black College/University (HBCU) bands in the country. The bands show up and perform their best 15 minute show.
I wasn’t able to attend this year’s battle, but I’ve attended many times in the past. And let me just say that those bands and the 71,000+ attendees have that place rocking! People absolutely LOVE these bands. Folks come out bring their kids, represent for their alma mater, and cheer like someone is going to score a touchdown!
HBOB is a capstone event for a tradition that occurs every fall on the campuses of HBCUs across the country. Every person who attended, grew up around, taught at a HBCU understands the centrality of the marching band to that institution. We extol them for how they break down the latest pop tunes, and love them for inspiring pride in our alma mater, but I’m grateful them because they may be one of the best feeder systems for attracting and developing musical talent among African American kids.
Too often the highly developed musicianship of most of the students in these bands is overlooked. Students in these bands are not merely dancers who play instruments, but they are true musicians on par with any non-gyrating band in this country. So they can just as easily get their John Phillip Sousa music off as they can Soulja Boi. They know the marching band canon as well as the repertoire to compel black folx to stay in the stands during halftime and get crunk as hell. What better entity than the HBCU marching band showcases Mantle Hood’s theory of bi-musicality?
As an ethnomusicologist, one of my interests is the role of institutions in codifying and perpetuating musical practices. So I have a particular interest in studying churches, clubs, record labels, & such. In my mind, HBCU marching bands fit squarely within the pantheon of those institutions. HBCU bands are often one of the most prevalent symbol and best ambassadors for their university. The whole idea of a marching band that is the keeper of many of its school spirit traditions, the chants, the songs, the fanfares, the touchdown salutes, is incredibly important to the formation and maintenance of the group identity of “Rattler,” “Wildcat,” “Bison,” “Jaguar.”
Let’s just be all the way real with this.
NONE OF Y’ALL would be getting down if it weren’t for the venerated Dr. William P. Foster who revolutionized the whole art of marching bands. Now, it’s not my fault that Dr. Foster *happened* to teach at the best school in the history of the world, Florida A&M University. Nor can I help the fact that the Marching 100 is the largest, most celebrated, most recognized, marching band in the country? Or the only HBCU to win the prestigious Sudler trophy? No I cannot.
And before any of y’all non-Rattlers start talking that trash, watch these two videos and fall all the way back!
You didn’t really think I was going to make it all the way through this blog without talking my shit, did you?