By Taige J. Adderley
Today the HBCU (Historically Black College or University) classic descends upon Nassau, Bahamas. People will get to see the Texas Southern University Tigers take on the Central State University Marauders. While Bahamians may be excited to see football played at this level people from those schools probably aren’t. They know the real highlight will be the Battle of the Bands.
When I was 17 my sister, an alum of Florida A&M University, another HBCU, took me to a homecoming. At one of the number of events that surrounded it, I saw a tall, athletic looking young man swaggering through the crowd, letterman jacket on, school crest on full display with the confidence only a football player can have. He was big man on campus and he would tell you all about it. I asked my sister if he was the school’s star quarterback or wide receiver. “I think he plays the drums” she said. At this point in my life I was used to the “band geek” stereotypes made famous by the American Pie movie series (which I would later find out to be true in my own American College experience). But at an HBCU things are a little different. Being a drum Major at an Historically Black University like FAMU gets you the same respect as being starting quarterback at a BCS school like Alabama.
I remember being at the game. It was packed. Florida A&M’s band the famous “Marching 100” gave a frenetic, energy-filled performance at halftime, and then everybody left without concern for the results of the actual game. The band was seemingly more important to the students and alums of FAMU than the game! I thought this was just a Florida A&M thing until i started watching Grambling and Southern University play. The same thing happens in that annual nationally televised game, every year without fail.
I went to the University of West Alabama, a small, predominantly white school where being a jock was everything and members of the band were, for the most part ubergeeks so I turned to my girlfriend, an alum of Howard University for insight. “The band really embodied the school spirit unlike any other place that I’ve been” she told me as she recounted how the Howard faithful would get fired up by the band’s performance at games. She said that Howard’s “Showtime Marching Band” was so crucial to the school that they would travel to most away games. (I’m pretty sure our band did too… maybe not to any basketball games, nobody came to my away games…. oh well).
“It wasn’t at a football game I recognized the importance of the band,” she continues, “It was at orientation, they were our welcoming committee”. Wow, as soon as you get there you learn how important the band is to the school. That was actually astonishing to me to find out.
So if you’re attending today’s HBCU classic be sure to tailgate and watch the game. But if you want the full HBCU experience be sure to watch the “Battle of The Bands”. It may be the most important part of the entire event. .