If you’re a bandhead, you watch band footage…period. It’s just like breathing or getting up in the morning. It just comes naturally to anybody that was immersed in the culture. The steady advance of technology over time hasn’t changed that instinct, either. Instead of VHS, there’s the instant gratification of Youtube, media teams, and social media exposure. Even with that, there are just some very public and mainstream performances that programs participate in that simply become…Iconic.
These aren’t simply clips of folks cranking or footage of your section putting in some work; We’re talking about appearances in mainstream culture where the craft took center stage, whether on its own or in support of another part of the diaspora, or even something else. In recent history, our visibility in the mainstream consciousness has increased by leaps and bounds. Parades are normally the main vehicle for it (i.e. Macy’s Day, The Tourney Of Roses, and every pop artist that needs some backup, etc.), but there have been some truly legendary appearances by band programs that have done the following:
1) Shown HBCU Bandom in the best possible light…
2) Shown the culture and legacy of HBCU’s in general, in the best possible light.
Needless to say, this edition of VFTS was pretty hard for yours truly. The reality is that there are just SO MANY moments like that out there that it was almost impossible for me to come to a consensus on my favorites. That didn’t stop me from trying though, so without further adieu, here’s my top 5:
1) Jackson State’s Motown 30th Anniversary Performance – 1990
I remember being in my junior year of high school and turning on CBS at home expecting to see some regular show. Instead, I received one of the first exposures to “the craft”. I didn’t know what the heck I was looking at initially, but I knew I saw US doing things with band instruments nobody else could do. To this day, it’s the most enjoyable HBCU band cameo I’ve ever seen and it does nothing but get better with time. Of course, I would later come to competitively ‘hate’ the Boom, as would anybody else associated with band rivalries in the SWAC, but in terms of a full-blooded, model representation of HBCU culture and the craft, this is second to none. A legendary performance from a legendary year in a storied band program.
2) FAMU “Marching 100” – Bastille Day Parade, 1989
IJS, The Marching 100 won a Sudler Trophy in 1985 and followed it up by being the ONLY band program in American history to receive an invite to perform in France’s Bastille Day celebrations. The 100 has done a ton of commercials and the like over the years, but nothing really comes close to the prestige of being asked to be a central part of the independence celebration in another country. That’s a pretty hard act to follow, particularly when you have a captive national audience watching the 100 point & drive under the Arc’ D Triumphe.
3) The Bayou Classic – The Human Jukebox Of Southern Univ. and The World Famed of Grambling State (Any Year)
Lemme put this in perspective; The National Broadcasting Company (NBC for the cliff notes folks) has had this spectacle front and center for public consumption for DECADES. The Jukebox and The World Famed ain’t new to commercials or media appearances with artists (Lizzo, Coca-Cola, and Beyonce say hello!), but it’s the rivalry between these two storied band programs that shine the brightest whenever the classic is on. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list event for HBCU and culture enthusiasts for a reason. I got the chance to experience my first one this year up close and in person, so I can relate to how cool it is to actually BE there. That being said, the media visibility that this post-thanksgiving weekend spectacle generates has become maybe the most visible representation of the HBCU experience in pop culture. Grambling and the Jukes are at the center of it all…Enough said…
4) Dr. Issac Greggs ABC Nightline Interview – 2005
I’ll preface this selection by stating that EVERY HBCU program, storied or small, has a figure like this behind it. Whether it’s Dowell Taylor, Conrad Hutchinson, William P. Foster, Paul Adams, Johnny Hodge, Thomas Lyle, etc. You get the gist. There were and are a LOT of special people whose efforts made our performance art what it is today, so I don’t want folks to get the wrong idea here. That being said, the impact of watching Nightline, a TV program that’s about as far removed from HBCU culture as you can get, showcase one of the craft’s true legends was a moment worthy enough to make this list. I’m not a Juke, but I can appreciate the type of guy Dr. Greggs was because we ALL experienced our own versions of that kind of greatness in our own programs. It was also an affirmation of the work and dedication that sets OUR version of the craft apart from everybody else.
“If you on time, you late!!!” – Dr. Issac Greggs
5) Bama State Style – Bama State/Marching Orders – Bethune Cookman – 2015 and 2018
Of course, there’s a myriad of examples that didn’t make this humble bloggers’ list (this time). I’m sure many of you out there have your own media moments that signify the craft being shown in the best collective light. I just hope some of my thoughts keep the discussion going. We’re all part of a tremendous cultural legacy. It’s on us to keep it at the forefront for all of our future best and brightest to see.
Until Next Entry…